For the past decade, Mel Gibson has received the cold shoulder from Hollywood.
After a DUI arrest in July 2006, the Oscar-winning Braveheart director hurled statements about "f - ing Jews" at an officer. Within hours, the arrest report was leaked, and industry reaction was swift and sudden.
Ari Emanuel, then at Endeavor, penned an open letter that said the industry can't "allow Mel Gibson to get away with such tragically inflammatory statements." (He later dumped Gibson as an agency client.)
Fast forward 10 years in directors jail, and the freeze-out is thawing. With his latest directing effort, Hacksaw Ridge, garnering Oscar-level praise (THR's David Rooney called the movie, about a conscientious objector in World War II, a "forceful comeback … that succeeds in combining horror with grace"), the embattled star is poised to make a comeback.
"I've known Mel for many years, and his talents as a filmmaker are undeniable," says Sue Kroll, president of worldwide marketing and distribution at Warner Bros. "He is a gifted storyteller and has created some really exceptional films."
Read more: 'Hacksaw Ridge': Venice Review
Though Gibson publicly denounced his words and asked for forgiveness in the days following the arrest, he has been in directors jail ever since. In fact, Hacksaw Ridge marks his first foray behind the camera since Apocalypto, a film that opened four months after the infamous comments and whose Oscar chances took a nosedive amid the fallout. It didn't help that Gibson previously had made disparaging comments about gays during a 1991 interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais. He later said he was under the influence at the time of the interview and "shouldn't have said it."
Producer David Permut, who is gay and Jewish, had some reservations before teaming with Gibson on the film, but he decided to get to know Gibson personally before drawing conclusions. What he found was a man well at odds with the headlines.
"Believe me, there were conversations I had with people who were questioning me about going down the path with Mel," says Permut. "But he's not the person some people interpret him to be on the surface. Ask anyone involved with this film - above the line, below the line - they all revered him. The crew would lay in front of the tracks for Mel. It was an amazing experience and a learning experience for me because I got to know the man whom I never really knew."
Permut is glad he did. After all, the producer had been developing the true story of Desmond Doss (played by Andrew Garfield) for 16 years before Gibson enlisted in 2014. That triggered Cross Creek Pictures (Black Swan) to come on board as financier. Lionsgate will release the drama Nov. 4.
In the meantime, Gibson - once one of Hollywood's most bankable stars - also is lining up work as an actor. He is currently in Ireland shooting passion project The Professor and the Madman opposite Sean Penn (Apocalypto screenwriter Farhad Safinia is directing). And he is in negotiations to play a CIA spy in Every Other Weekend, with the current plan to shoot that film in January (Clement Miserez and Jean-Charles Levy are producing the feature along with Peter Safran).
As Gibson's heat index rises, the jockeying to rep him has intensified. CAA and UTA are said to be chasing the star, now repped solely by manager Rick Nicita. Whether Emanuel's WME enters that bake-off remains to be seen, though the agency reps Gibson's partner, writer Rosalind Ross, who is pregnant with Gibson's ninth child.
"I think Mel has been misunderstood by people who may not know him, but nobody can take his talent away," adds Permut. "Ultimately, I think time heals."
A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.