LOS ANGELES (AFP) – It’s sounds an unlikely basis for a Hollywood movie: a depressed husband takes to communicating through a beaver glove puppet, as he struggles to rebuild his life.
Add that he is played by Mel Gibson — the actor ostracized by Tinsel Town since an 2006 anti-Semitic drunk-driving tirade — and that the brown furry beaver has a thick cockney accent, and, well, questions multiply.
But Jodie Foster, who both stars in and directs “The Beaver,” out in North America on Friday, insists Gibson gives the performance of a lifetime, and reception of the film was positive at a press screening.
“Mel was brilliant. Mel Gibson’s performance is extraordinary, and he was really the best actor for this and I’m grateful of the performance he gave, he’s my friend,” she told a small group of reporters.
Gibson’s career has struggled since his 2006 arrest for drunk driving, which exploded into a major scandal because of anti-Semitic remarks he made to a highway patrol officer.
The star of “Braveheart” — for which Gibson won two Oscars in 1996 — had no starring role on the big screen from 2005 until last year’s thriller “Edge of Darkness.”
In March this year he was ordered to follow a one-year domestic violence counseling program, and serve three years of probation, in a plea bargain to avoid jail over the alleged abuse of his ex-partner.
Two-times Oscar winner Foster, directing her third movie, insists Gibson will overcome the nightmare of the last few years.
“I think that’s something that Mel understands in a very personal way, wanting to change and wanting to transform and worried that he can’t transform,” said the 48-year-old, promoting the movie in Beverly Hills.
And the star of “Silence of the Lambs” defends the film’s depiction of a man struggling with mental illness.
“I think there are many genuine examples in our culture over and over again where people will don a different personality, split themselves, in order to cope with an overwhelming situation,” she said.
“We see that in everyday life, that there are things you know you just can’t face, so you find a way to cope.”
She wasn’t the first filmmaker linked to the project — the screenplay was on Hollywood’s “Black List” of top unproduced scripts in 2008, according to the LA Times newspaper.
“I read the script for ‘The Beaver’ and loved it, but there was another director involved at that time,” she said.
“It was such a raw and beautiful first movie for a first time writer that I kept saying to everybody, ‘Listen, if anything happens, call me up’. And that’s exactly what happened.”
Then she had to find a distributor, no easy task given the subject matter and Gibson’s reputation. Gibson also offered to help promote the film, Foster said, although in the end he has kept a low-profile before its release.
Eventually they persuaded Summit — the company that released the “Twilight” movies and the 2009 best picture Oscar winner “The Hurt Locker” — to back it, including both with Gibson, and a violent self-harm scene.
“Summit was the only distributor that said yes to two things: Yes to the violent scene, and yes it’s Mel Gibson,” she said.