Mel Gibson finds a link to his past in his latest action-thriller Blood Father

Mel Gibson is back, fronting a movie for the first time in five years – in a role that seems to have a few parallels with his real-life struggles. He tells us what attracted him to the film

Director Jean-Francois Richet, left, with Mel Gibson. Photo by Andreas Rentz / Getty Images
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Mel Gibson is not one for over-elaborating. “It was a cool story,” he says of what attracted him to Blood Father, an old-school thriller that gives him his first leading role in several years.

His character is John Link, an ex-convict and recovering alcoholic, who is living in a trailer and scratching out a living as a tattoo artist. Gibson says he could relate.

“It’s a character I thought I could do. I’m a parent,” says the father of seven children. “It ticked a lot of boxes.”

Adapted from the novel by Peter Craig (the son of actress Sally Field), the film is directed by Jean-François Richet, who made the hugely impressive two-part gangster film, Mesrine (2008), starring Vincent Cassel. For Gibson, agreeing to the filmmaker's latest project was a no-brainer.

“I saw Mesrine – I knew he was good,” he says. “So I was interested to see what he did.”

Richet returns the compliment praising Gibson’s acting ability.

“A good story and a good actor,” he says. “It’s true.”

It has been a while since Gibson has been given this much to do on screen, with the film a throwback to the old-fashioned stunt-driven action of his Mad Max and Lethal Weapon days, the franchises that made him famous.

While he also appeared in retro action vehicle The Expendables 3 in 2014, the 60-year-old star admits it is getting harder to do the more physical scenes.

“You’ve got to work out and stay in shape, but it’s easy to hurt yourself,” he says. “Nowadays, you bend over and it’s, ‘Aargh’. Things change.”

As Blood Father unfolds, Link is reunited with his teenage runaway daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty), who is in deep trouble with some very dangerous men. Seeking redemption for his own troubled years, Link gets to play the protector, at great personal cost. It was a theme Gibson immediately warmed to.

“Sacrificing yourself for someone you love – it’s always an uplifting theme and it goes through myth and religion,” he says.

Gibson studied with a tattoo artist to prepare for the role.

“The guy let me tattoo his arm,” he says, understandably still surprised. “He let me drill his arm with the ink and write my initials in there.”

Of course, given some of the darker aspects of Gibson’s life in recent years, one cannot help but wonder whether he is exploring some very personal demons in this film. His own battles with alcoholism have been well-documented, though he stops short of saying that he related to Link quite that closely.

“I know guys like that,” he says. “I know guys from biker groups, who had crazy lives and reformed. I know a guy who was with a biker group and now he helps people get sober. He’s a parole officer and he gets people out of jail. He takes care of people and he’s a really good person – but he had a dark past.

“It’s interesting to see what happens to people, how they change, how they redeem themselves – and that was what was interesting to me.”

Blood Father perhaps offers Gibson his own shot at redemption – an uncomplicated way to prove to Hollywood he still has it. Did he feel nervous after so long out of the spotlight?

“One always has a healthy concern that you can do it or that it will work in the time allotted with the money,” he says. “You just have to jump in and act as if everything is going to be great, but you never know.”

He makes an ear-curling creaking sound.

“You wonder,” he adds, “did I get rusty?”

While Gibson is a successful director in his own right, with films including Braveheart (which earned him two Oscars) and The Passion of the Christ under his belt, he admits it was "a welcome relief" to just act in a project, with the real pressure resting on Richet.

But was the Frenchman concerned about directing an actor with such a rich history as a filmmaker?

“If I were to think about that, I wouldn’t work,” he says. “I’m just directing an actor – not an actor-director.”

As his comeback continues, Gibson is back behind the camera for Hacksaw Ridge.

An independent movie based on a true story, it stars Amazing Spider-Man's Andrew Garfield as WW2 US Army medic Desmond T Doss, a highly decorated war hero who refused to carry weapons for religious reasons. Its budget was half that of 1995's Braveheart.

“It’s a tough game nowadays,” Gibson says with a sigh. “Unless you’re a superhero movie, where they give a lot of money and time.”

But, he adds, it is not impossible. “Jean-François made an exceptional film for nothing.”

Blood Father is in cinemas from Thursday, September 1

artslife@thenational.ae