Entertainment Media Columnist, The Hollywood Reporter, and Blogger
Tuesday, August 1, 2006 4:00 PM
Ray Richmond , entertainment media columnist for
A transcript follows.
washingtonpost.com: Ray Richmond, thank you for joining us today for a discussion of the Mel Gibson case.
From your vantage point as an entertainment columnist and blogger who covers the industry, what is the inside Hollywood reaction to what happened and do you think Mel Gibson has lost any credibility as a movie star and movie director?
Ray Richmond: Thanks for having me, good to be here. I thought only smart people got to be a part of the Washington Post world. Glad to be an honorary intelligent dude for a day. But I digress. To answer the question, I'm surprised by the severity of the reaction Hollywood has had to Gibson's DUI and anti-Semitic spewing meltdown at the scene. There's real anger and anything but a forgiving mood. As for credibility, yes, in the short term there has been a great loss of credibility for Gibson. But expect it to subside within a few months when the emotion has cooled and more sober reflection (so to speak) taken hold.
Anonymous: Gibson seems to be contending that he said things he does not at all believe because he was drunk. Have any medical experts opined on whether such a situation is credible?
Ray Richmond: I'm not entirely sure what the medical/psychological community feels about this issue, but I've always been led to believe that alcohol merely acts as a truth serum, if you will, that lubricates the lips and mind and reduces the social inhibitions. It does not in itself create thoughts and belief systems that are not already there. My suspicion is that Gibson's anti-Semitic rant happened because he's an anti-Semite whose tongue was loosened, pure and simple. I have no medical fact to base this on, once again. Purely opinion.
Washington, D.C.: It's kinda scary that Post is hosting a discussion about this, but here goes:
Given the apology, and unless-until demonstrated otherwise, I suppose a charitable path should be taken and allow for the possibility that Mel's one of those alcoholics who can have Tourette-like symptoms in terms of self-destructive behavior. I've known these folks, who will say vicious things they absolutely don't mean simply out of self-hatred as a way of ensuring their own downfall. One's "Id" having free rein, so to speak.
If it wasn't his "id" talking, I'd be curious to know why, if he were an anti-Semite, he'd bother producing a miniseries on the Holocaust (that his father evidently believes never really happened).
Ray Richmond: I don't buy any Tourette's argument. Puh-leeze! I think Gibson would produce a Holocaust mini even if he's an anti-Semite for business reasons, to prove he's not anti-Semitic in a town largely run by Jews. But ABC already decidedly against that, wisely. Woulda been like the KKK making a mini about Emmett Till at this point. And yes, Gibson's dad Hutton is a known Holocaust denyer who believes it's largely "fiction." Mel has never vehemently disagreed with that assessment, that I've seen.
Washington, D.C.: What's your best guess on "Apocalypto's" fate now? Postpone until some time passes to give studio chance to try and 'wait this out?' Perhaps boycotts in certain chains or markets?
Ray Richmond: I actually think "Apocalypto" will be as okay as any strangely-conceived film shot in a dead language could have been. If it tanks, I don't think it will be because of Gibsongate. Mel and his spinners have four months to buff his image back to respectability.
Sterling, Va.: Ray, I'm a big fan of your weekly column in the Reporter and your daily blog. I'm wondering what you see as the ramifications of Gibson's comments in Hollywood since there is such a large Jewish community out there.
Ray Richmond: Thanks for the kudos! Much appreciated. Didn't even know I had readers in Sterling. As I wrote a sec ago, I think Hollywood -- p_ _ _ ed off as it is over this -- will ultimately forgive Mel. There is only one thing in Hollywood you aren't forgiven for: being unsuccessful. And there's only one thing the public won't forgive: not apologizing.
Alexandria, Va.: Hi there. What does this latest controversy mean for Mel's new movie, which was already hard to market in the first place? And do you think it'll affect his star power on future projects?
Ray Richmond: I do think "Apocalypto" will get released on schedule and be mostly unaffected by this mess. Hey, Tom Cruise can act like a wack job and still score with M:I 3. Which brings me to the only really good thing about Gibson's sad tale: it's knocked Suri Cruise off the front pages in Hollywood. For a second there, I'd almost thought the kid actually existed.
Reston, Va.: If a fugitive sex offender like Roman Polanski can still win Academy Awards, isn't the talk of Mel's career being over premature? Hollywood is either very forgiving or has a short/selective memory.
Ray Richmond: Yes, it is premature. Hollywood does have a short memory -- if you're successful. If you aren't, it will bury you and then urinate on your grave.
D.C. actress: It's always seemed to me that Hollywood runs on two dicta: "There's no such thing as bad publicity" and "The talent can say/do anything as long as they show up ready for filming (more or less) on time."
So while I deplore Mel's behavior (and apparent latent anti-Semitism, as well as his sexism and homophobia), do you really think his obnoxious behavior alone will be enough to shut the studios' doors, or will he only be an outcast if he can't manage his substance abuse problems?
Ray Richmond: I don't believe his obnoxious behavior will shut the door. he's still Mel Gibson. He didn't kill/rape/molest anyone. He drove drunk and he said some stuff that unfortunately exposes his less savory side (a side, I might add, that isn't much of a secret to those in the business). There is less shock in Hollywood than there is revulsion. But yeah, as I said, he'll survive this as long as the PR Machine does its job as we know it will.
Hauppauge, N.Y.: Apparently Gibson issued another apology this morning which was specific, contrite and acceptable to the Anti Defamation League which agreed to meet with Gibson after his alcohol rehab. Do you think that Gibson and handlers might be able to turn this around to his advantage? First he'll have to disown his father's vile Holocaust denial (which Mel has never done).
Ray Richmond: I do think Gibson will get the audience with the ADL (I SO predicted this!) but yeah, he'll also have to sell daddy down the river a bit. Dad may get upset, but he is an 87-year-old anti-Semite, so that shouldn't really break Mel's heart too badly if he's even 10% sincere about any of this. And yeah, he may even work it to his advantage. I don't have a big problem with that. He could honestly do some real good if he uses this to be a uniter instead of a divider (in the words of our fearless leader).
Chicago, Ill.: Do you think Disney will cancel the Holocaust mini-series deal with Gibson?
Ray Richmond: Done. Had to.
Gaithersburg, Md.: I disagree that this incident will blow over in a few months. Won't the Hollywood establishment shun him now?
Ray Richmond: Maybe, maybe not. You may be right. It's just my guess from what I know of Hollywood and how it deals with its big players. The agent Ari Emmanuel was courageous yesterday in shunning Gibson and calling on his colleagues to do the same. But I don't believe that will be followed. Especially now that Gibson's damage control team has bitten the bullet and reached out to the Jewish community.
Washington, D.C.: I personally don't care what Gibson said when he was being arrested, and a poll run by MSNBC also indicated that 75 percent of people don't care either. So, why is the press making such a big deal about it? Let's not forget that his arrest for DUI and taking him off the roads is a bigger deal than what's coming out of his mouth.
Ray Richmond: This is why I think Gibson will survive this intact. It was only words, after all, however despicable they may have been. Also, I'm sure there are enough people in America who agree with him about the Jews. Let's face it. If a Jew said the same about Christians during a drunken rage -- "They started all the wars, and they can't make a brisket worth a _ _ _ _" -- it might be very different. As for the press making a big deal, sorry, but it IS a big deal. He's an American icon melting down before our eyes.
Los Angeles, Calif.: Gibson's statement called for members of the Jewish community to contact him. What is Gibson's strategy with this offer, and how effective will it be?
Ray Richmond: I'm not sure of all of the details. He asked the Jewish community to "help him" on his "journey through recovery." I'm not sure if that means supplying bagels and cream cheese or what. It's what Mel has to do to save his hide, bottom line. His publicist also happens to be Jewish, which will help him sell the idea his anti-Semitism was a mere alcohol-fueled aberration.
Anonymous: Was it known in Hollywood that Gibson has a drinking problem? First I'd ever heard of it.
Ray Richmond: Good question. I had never heard he had a drinking problem before, too. Strange. I had only heard the tags of anti-Semitism, homophobia and sexism ascribed to Mel. Never alcoholism.
Washington, D.C.: Is there any chance that the manner in which the officers handled the situation solicited this kind of response from Mel?
Ray Richmond: I tend to doubt it. I didn't get that at all. If anything, I think it's plain to see that the instinct was to be overly nice to him as a consideration of his celebrity status and one-of-the-boys association with the L.A. County Sheriff's Dept. I'm not one to harp on any sheriff's cover-up. I prefer to focus on the fact that the arresting officer was brave for doing what he did. Arresting Mel Gibson took courage. Few who work there would have.
Washington, D.C.: Not excusing Mel's actions, but it seems that there is a trend among those who have reached superstardom to give the world an unrequested peak at who they really are (i.e., Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Tom Cruise, and now Mel Gibson) behind the created persona. This seems to lead to the downfall of many and is a reflection of the public's unrealistic expectations of the rich and famous. After all, they are only people. I guess it really pays to have a good PR rep and manager!
Ray Richmond: Yeah, good PR and spin are what it's all about. And that's really how it always has been. If your image is strong, you'll be popular, the public will love you and fame and fortune will be yours. But never confuse the public persona and the real human. Two different animals. One is created for audience consumption. The other has to live a life. I don't think we have unrealistic expectations of the rich and famous anymore, however. In the tabloid age, their foibles are right out there on their sleeve for all to see.
Herndon, Va.: What did Mel Gibson say?
Ray Richmond: Can't reprint it here on a family chat forum. But he did rant that "The Jews are responsible for all the wars!" and referred to a female officer's breasts with a sexist slur involving sugar. He was also generally belligerent and resisted arrest. Ah, good times.
Anonymous: In the "golden age" of Hollywood, would we, the general public, have ever heard about this? I'll bet some retired Malibu cops are re-telling war stories that would make this story pale in comparison ...
Ray Richmond: Great point. I doubt we would have heard about it. In fact, it seems if certain factions of the Sheriff's Dept. had had their way, we also wouldn't have heard about this. But in the old days, the press always looked the other way (with stars, JFK, etc.). In the age of insta-news and the blogosphere, them days are long gone.
Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Ray, great discussion. I also am a reader of your column. (Loved your take on the Ellen Burstyn Emmy nomination today, by the way.) I heard you've also been talking on your new blog about the Mel Gibson thing. Where do I go to read your blog? Can you give me the address?
Ray Richmond: Thanks. Whoa, does this sound like a planted question or what? So glad you asked (Mom). It's www.pastdeadline.com. Tell all your friends. It's like real life, only better.
Harrisburg, Pa.: I smell a visit to Oprah.
And yes, the Holocaust miniseries was canceled, but the network added that it had been two years and they hadn't yet seen a first draft of a script.
I don't think he ever planned to make it -- rather, he wanted the PR that came with 'saying' he was going to make it.
Ray Richmond: I agree he probably never planned to make the Holocaust mini. Very good point. And I too smell a visit (or 2 or 3) to Oprah. And Dr. Phil. Hey, if it's good enough for Pat "You Are SO Hot" O'Brien, it's good enough for Mel.
Chesterfield, Mo.: Don't you think the police have already punished Gibson by providing the media with verbatim details of Gibson's remarks? Should they have done that? Is it correct legally or ethically? After all, if it was an ordinary citizen, they would not have made a big hue and cry about such remarks.
This is not to condone Gibson's behavior or remarks, but a viewpoint on what the police did
Ray Richmond: I don't have an issue with releasing the details of what Gibson said during his arrest. What would be the value of keeping that under wraps? Better to have knowledge of what really goes through a man's mind in this case -- at least in part because he's such a Christian community icon. It's the very fact he wasn't an ordinary citizen that I believe necessitated the release of the information (which I'm sure tmz.com paid good money for). I don't have a legal or ethical issue with it. I would have had a bigger one with whitewashing or destroying it.
Los Angeles, Calif.: Ray, I'm as shocked to find you here as you are. My question concerns TMZ.com, the folks who were way out in front of this story. Heretofore, a lot of their celebrity coverage has been salacious and judgmental and their cameras roaming LA's hot spots seem to want to provoke celebrities. What're your thoughts on TMZ? And, given that it's backed by Time Warner, will that at some point result in a backlash against that studio by actors sought by the studio?
Ray Richmond: I don't have a big opinion on TMZ.com, which I hadn't regularly visit prior to this. From what I gather, it's run by former attorney Harvey Levin and is is largely about salacious gossip, as you say. I don't know about an actor backlash against a Time Warner enterprise because it's still relatively tame compared to the defamer.com and gawker.coms of the Web. I give them credit for getting this story. But I mean, hey, times change. I recall that the NY Times chased the National Enquirer's tail on the O.J. story for a while.
Las Vegas, Nev.: I heard that some of Mel Gibson's "handlers" are actually Jewish, too! Is that true? If so ... how ironic. Have any of them decided to part ways with him as a result of this incident?
Ray Richmond: I haven't heard about any of Mel's peeps (Jewish or otherwise) bolting because of this. But I'm sure his Jewish publicist Alan Neirob in particular has helped steer the olive branch held out to the Jewish community and the need to mend the fence ASAP.
Alexandria, Va.: This is a great discussion. I love your take on things ... I totally agree with you on the Mel thing ... sad as it is, in a matter of months, it's likely that "All will be forgiven." I would love to start reading your column online at the Hollywood Reporter Web site. Do you also have a blog?
Ray Richmond: Yes. It's pastdeadline.com. And thanks again Mom.
Mel's Family?: Other than his father that we've heard about, doesn't he have a wife and kids? Where are they? Or where were they when this happened?
Ray Richmond: That's a VERY good question. You never hear squat about the extended Gibson clan. Kept very well hidden in the background. The wife is who I'd like to see with Babs Walters or Diane Sawyer. I have no clue what's going down with the wife and kiddies now. But the words "long suffering" spring to mind.
Washington, D.C.: Has there been any response to this incident (either critical or supportive of Gibson) from any actors -- I've read comments from producers and agents but not a peep from any other actors. Any idea why?
Ray Richmond: I heard some supportive comments from a few B-list types (Carnie Wilson) and D-minus list types (Tina Yothers) but not too many others. My guess: those who have worked with Mel will support him, those who haven't won't. But in general, there's a reluctance from those in the industry to discuss this because they fear when Gibson does get back on his feet they don't want to be on Mel's bad list, if you will, for any appearance of kicking him when he's down. And Hollywood just runs on fear, anyway. So it's business as usual.
Sterling, Va.: In regard to Mel's previous struggles with alcohol: I recall reading an interview wherein Gibson admitted to problems with heavy drinking early in his career. Shortly after the success of "Mad Max," I believe, back in Australia. He credited his wife as bringing him through it. So it seems that Mel has a history. Regardless of what he said or meant -- he has a problem with alcohol, he admits it, he is willing to get treatment. I say, treat this as two separate issues; i.e., alcohol abuse and anti-Semitism.
Ray Richmond: I totally agree about treating the two issues separately. Makes complete sense. And to jumble them confuses it all.
New Orleans, La.: In praising the arresting officer, you stated that "arresting Mel Gibson took courage. Few who work there would have." That is a rather provocative remark! Are L.A. County sheriff's deputies normally reluctant to arrest celebrities? Maybe I am being jaw-droppingly naive to ask such a question.
Ray Richmond: Yes, LA County deputies are probably a bit reluctant to arrest celebrities, particularly powerful ones like Gibson who have recorded public service announcements for the department and been longtime friends of local law enforcement. Don't know if you've seen Mel's PSA with Scott Baio, but it's pretty cheesy.
Syracuse, N.Y.: FYI, I know that some people are saying that Hollywood will "never forgive him," etc... but just so you know, columnist Liz Smith is somewhat aligned with your analysis. In fact, she feels that Mel's career will "thrive" as a result of this. In today's paper, she said "... believe me, none of the evangelicals who jammed theaters, stadiums and churches to watch "The Passion of the Christ" over and over again will condemn Gibson for his addiction or his drunken remarks. He has the power and money to finance and release his own films, so he ought to be thanking God the industry has changed since the days when studio moguls ruled the roost. In that atmosphere, he'd be a dead duck, unable to do anything except low-budget movies in Europe. That was Orson Welles' fate, and all he did was insult the egomania of William Randolph Hearst via Citizen Kane."
washingtonpost.com: New York Post/Liz Smith
Ray Richmond: Hollywood will forgive him. That's not wishful thinking on my part. I personally am kind of on the fence, though I'm also inclined to want to help an alcoholic who is (at least on the surface) reaching out. I pretty much totally agree with Liz's words. Again, it isn't because that's what I want to see happen. It's just the truth.
San Antonio, Texas: It seems to me that Mel Gibson is a lying hypocrite who is full of anger and hate. I can readily understand how he became this way when I recall the hateful, antisemitic remarks made by his father, Hutton Gibson, regarding the Holocaust. Although there should be no place for Mel Gibson as a respected and well-compensated molder of public opinion, I am afraid that he will simply skate through this current incident and continue to poison our atmosphere. This is unfortunate for the vast majority of decent Americans who inhabit this country.
Ray Richmond: Skate through? Not entirely. It's clear he will have his feet held to the fire and will be punished for a while. But yeah, ultimately he's forgiven and gets to keep his career. On the other hand, it isn't like he's an in-demand leading man anymore, anyway. He's a little too old for that. My teenage daughter has zero interest in him. He's also rich and can fund his own movies, so he'll get through. And yes, good Christians will forgive him wholeheartedly, if they haven't already. I have issues with this, like you, but I have to face facts.
washingtonpost.com: Mel Gibson Police PSA
Hollywood, Calif.: I heard that Variety's Peter Bart said yesterday that he was warned nearly 20 years ago by those in-the-know about "good Mel" vs. "Monster Mel," and that he's always been known in certain circles as a bit of an alcoholic brute. Were you ever aware of Gibson's "split personality" (assumedly brought on by his substance/alcohol abuse)?
Ray Richmond: I have to admit I wasn't aware specifically of the split personality, but I'd long heard about thre anti-Semitism, homophobia and sexism (as one exec told me, "A typical Aussie male"). I won't agree with that about Aussies males, but this incident would seem to confirm a certain do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do mentality. But again, as Bart says, Hollywood has long known that. The fact Mel has been able to thrive in his career despite this image is a bit remarkable -- and the obvious reason why he'll ultimately be forgiven.
washingtonpost.com: Mel Gibson Police PSA, courtesy YouTube.
Washington, D.C.: No crystal ball here, but you might be underestimating the particularly toxic impact of anti-Semitic bigotry versus some of the others you mention (sexism, etc.). Given the particularly evil history behind these kinds of recurring conspiracy theories, I don't know if typical Oprah-style pleas for forgiveness are going to work in this case (I also wonder if his publicist has any sense of self-respect at all, but different point ...)
Ray Richmond: You may be right. I'm certainly not minimizing anti-Semitism. It's hateful and the worst kind of bigotry. But I'll also point out that Jews make up only about 4% of the US population, I believe. And there is, whether we like to admit it or not, a lot of Jewish hatred in this country. So while I'm not saying a majority agree with Mel, it's also not as if the majority will rush to blackball him forever because of his view.
Washington, D.C.: I think this shows Gibson's true colors. But I have to say, in addition to his words and conduct after he was pulled over, the fact that he was drunk and driving down PCH at 80 mph should be concern for everyone, especially the local community and the sheriff's office. Reports are that he has been pulled over several times before for apparent drunken driving. To me, the real crime is that police officers are letting famous drunk people continue to drive.
Ray Richmond: I agree. Yes, the fact he was twice pulled over previously without being charged fuels my argument about the courage and atypical conduct of the arresting deputy. I'll just bet he got Gibson to the station and was met with something akin to, "What? You arrested Mel Gibson? Oh God! What'll we do?" But the truth is also that if Gibson were also cited for speeding and drunk driving, I wouldn't be having this conversation with you.
Washington, D.C.: With So many other things going on in the world of much more important, it amazes me how the media and the public sop up this trash. Why is it that the media puts more attention on things like this instead of figuring out what is happening to America, its democracy, and its people?
Imagine if the press was just as diligent with exposing issues that actually matter. We have become as bad as the U.K. Why? It's only a big story so people like the invited guests can keep a job.
Ray Richmond: It's stuff like this that focuses our attention on things that are easier to digest than war and poverty and disease. However, I'll disagree with you that this is just tabloid celebrity business as usual. It involves a religious icon slamming another religion and those who follow it. He's an influential figure who exhibited stunningly offensive behavior after a drinking bout. This crosses the line from Hollywood mind rot to something of greater significance, in my view.
Alexandria, Va.: Do you think it's possible that as a well-known member of a very conservative branch of Roman Catholicism, Mel himself has encountered some amount of religious bigotry in Hollywood? This would not excuse his anti-Semitic diatribe, but could possibly explain it.
Ray Richmond: I'm sure Gibson has dealt with religious bigotry and some Jewish power brokers whose style he didn't care for. But I think that's too simplistic an explanation for his outburst. I believe the answer can be found in his dad having contributed to a poisoned outlook and Mel having never quite dismissed the idea.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Ray,
You are the one who is making a big deal about it; as a member of the media, I'm not too surprised. Like you said, 75 percent don't really care. And for the record, I think what Mel Gibson said was BEYOND deplorable. I think it is hate speech, pure and simple. But it's not like it is the President of the U.S. making light of the situation in the Mideast, which is FAR worse than what Gibson said. My point is, the only people who are making this a serious issue is the media, e.g., You.
Ray Richmond: I actually couldn't disagree more. There are surely examples of instances where blaming the messenger is justified, but not this time. I think if you go out into America, the same people who made "Passion of the Christ" a $600 million-plus blockbuster have strong opinions about Gibson's plight (I'm guessing far more supportive of him than non). This isn't just the media whipping up a firestorm from a tiny spark. It's real news because of who Mel Gibson is and what he represents.
Washington, D.C.: Any bets on who will get the first interview on the "Apology Tour"? Who will be the first to insult our intelligence this time around? Oprah? Diane Sawyer? Dr. Phil? Maybe Katie Couric as part of her debut at CBS. So many possibilities! I can't wait. (NOT!) Ugh!
Ray Richmond: I'm picking Diane or Katie. Wait, are either one of them Jewish? Hmmm....
Ray Richmond: Hey thanks for your questions (all very good ones) and hanging with me here, folks. This was a lot of fun and I hope to visit with you again soon on a different subject (or maybe the same, who knows?). I think what's next for Mel Gibson is more of the same: apologies, reports from rehab, plans for meetings with Jewish leaders, etc. Understand that this is big business we're talking about. Gibson is a brand, and that brand has been compromised. So everything will be done to restore it (him) to his previous level of prominence. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. This is one for which I'm happy to have a front-row seat. Take care ya'll!
washingtonpost.com: Continue the discussion with Celebritology
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.