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Signs star Mel Gibson has the signs of a devout Catholic, a skeptic, a typical father, a successful filmmaker - and a lucky backer of horses on long odds, he tells Jenny Cooney Carrillo.

Mel Gibson can often be flippant during interviews, full of one-liners as an extension of the notorious reputation he has on film sets as a practical joker (he delivered a dead rat to Julia Roberts on the set of Conspiracy Theory and glad-wrapped Danny Gloverís toilet seat on the Lethal Weapon set). But the 46-year-old Aussie star of hits such as Mad Max, Lethal Weapon, Braveheart (which won him an Oscar as director), The Patriot and What Women Want gets surprisingly serious while promoting his terrifying thriller Signs, directed by M. Night (The Sixth Sense) Shyamalan, in which he plays a priest who turns his back on the church after a crisis of faith triggered by the death of his wife, only to be tested again when mysterious crop circles begin to appear on his farm.†

Your character in Signs has a crisis of faith. As a devout Catholic, how are you handling what is going on within the Catholic Church today?
Of course this question has come up a lot but the two things are very separate. Any institution has this thing about being corrupted, even the Catholic Church. What is happening now - well those guys should be punished hard. It is one of the most heinous crimes committed against kids, but I cannot blame the institution or the principles for the actions of those corrupted few. I have never had a crisis with that. When bad things happen to me, I can separate the human aspect clearly from something else.

Have you ever questioned your own religious values?
Yes, Iím sure we all have had doubts. I was raised in a very particular way but from the age of 17 to 35, I gave it all away. But it slowly came back. I did walk away but some lessons brought me back. You usually return to it in a state of disarray in your life and that was certainly the case for me.

The film has such a great premise about the real meaning of the crop circles. How do you explain the phenomenon?
I am fairly skeptical. I think they are a hoax. There are more of them now and I think they are man-made. Sure, some are difficult to explain. I guess it could be some magnetic field from the inside of the Earth but I am not a guy who believes in little green men running around.

You have a ranch in Australia. If you awoke one morning and saw these crop circles on your ranch, whom would you suspect?
Well now that you mentioned it, probably you! (laughs) It is strange to think aliens would come to a farm and make circles. I have heard that there are some circles that have a more legitimate aspect to them but most are easily explained away. I am not ruling out the possibility. I am just skeptical.

This film has many spiritual aspects to it. As a father, what do you hope your kids will get as a message of this film?
I teach my kids right and wrong and good and bad and acceptance. All of us have to have some form of acceptance on some level or we go nuts. You have to have some ethical standard that you stick to through thick or thin. It is just a book of rules. I hope the kids will get that things aren't always as they seem. I am guilty of this too. There is a lack of humility, that one must have all the answers. It's not about that. You have to be prepared to trust even if things look grim. It's a matter of placing your well being in something greater.

Because you live such a life of affluence, how do you still manage to instill values in your own seven children?
Iím fairly low-tech in the way I live. Some people come visit and think that it is a dump! (laughs) It is just a big, comfortable place with not that much in terms of accessories. As for my kids, they will mix with people of all types because of the circles they run in and they will get into some strange fixes with kids their own age and I am sure they misbehave but I don't want to know! (laughs) They are great and they are regular kids. When I was that age I was nuts - driving too fast and all of that so it is to be expected that they will misstep. But I think I can honestly say that if they do get into a fix, I would be one of the first two people they could call Ė depending on who answers the phone at our house!

This film is also about forgiveness. In your marriage, who forgives first?
Robin and I don't fight much anymore but I think I forgive first. Sometimes, my wife won't talk to me for a few days and I will not know what I did but itís all forgiven in the end because I keep asking her "what's up?" when she isn't talking to me and I have to figure out what I did wrong (laughs) But most of the time we don't go through all the rituals anymore in that - we know weíll still be together at the end of the argument so we now have a short track to avoid all the angst.

When it comes to the title of the movie, Signs, do you believe we are given signs?
That stuff happens to me all the time. I remember years ago I was worried about a friend of mine in Australia. I went to school with this guy but he was having a hell of a time. Anyway, I was down in Australia driving in a country town in Victoria and he suddenly popped into my mind when I passed a TAB and I just decided to stop and place a bet on this horse for this guy. I pulled up and asked for the first race anywhere and it was in Newcastle or somewhere like that, so the guy behind the counter showed me the list and I picked a horse that said "New Beginning". I had maybe $38 in my pocket so I placed it all on that horse and there were big odds on that horse because he was a real stinker and a long shot. So I sat and watched the race and this horse comes from the back and wins. I got like $800 for the guy and then I sent the money this guy and told him that his horse came in!

Thatís an amazing story. How did it make you feel?
It makes you wonder if we are informed about another realm that is larger than the one we see around us. It certainly makes you wonder and realize there are plenty of instances where you know what is going to happen before it happens and you just have to tune in to that more often.

How did you work with M. Night? Did you fully understand his vision when you started the film?
He is a really great director because he is a great communicator. He explained everything that we needed to know. He conceived it and wrote it and directed it and even acted in it. He was involved on every level that a human being could be. We knew what he was trying to say and nobody went in blind. He is an amazing guy.

A recent magazine story hailed him as the new Spielberg. Do you agree?
There is only one Spielberg. I do believe that Night has his great gifts as a filmmaker but they are different. A quote like that is just used to sell magazines.

Can you define success? Has it changed for you?
There are different levels of success. Mainly itís about satisfaction with your effort - which is said to be 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I have been fortunate. It requires a judicious eye when it comes to material and some pitfalls can happen after that. What success is to me is if you can share your visions and stories and have people respond. There will be some cases when you just make blunders but thatís got to be OK too.

What prompted you to make such a large donation to your former acting school, NIDA, recently?
Those poor students looked really hungry! (laughs). I got a really good kick-off from that place and learned a lot of really valuable lessons and they were struggling to make the place better and improve it and create an avenue where very talented people could have that bridge to come through and be educated in a far more sophisticated fashion than I was. So they just asked could I be the front man for it and I asked what they needed and just decided to get in on the act and be part of giving back to it, because it really has stood me in good stead.

Do you have any plans to get more involved with the Australian acting community in the future?
I have a production company in Sydney, Icon Productions, with a great guy heading it up, and it is small but that is the way to keep it and not go nuts and jump in all the way over your head before you know where the bottom is. Yes, Iíd like to see a lot more things get up and running there, especially indigenous things, using the people there to get them to display their multi-talents to the world. I think there is a tremendous talent pool down there and Iíd love to support that any way I can.

Published August 15, 2002

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