After a couple of comic roles in What Women
Want and a vocal performance in Chicken
Run, veteran actor and star, Mel Gibson has
re-teamed with Randall Wallace in his new film,
We Were Soldiers. Wallace wrote the Academy
Award winning film, Braveheart.
Gibson has tackled warfare in several different
eras -- the Revolutionary War in The Patriot
and Scotland in Braveheart and he's
not shy about the violence or the politics. However,
in this film, Gibson delivers one of the best
performances of his career as real-life General
Harold "Hal" Moore, the first American commander
ordered to engage North Viet Nam in battle thus
dragging the United States into the controversial
and costly conflict.
The mega-star recently talked about the movie
at the Essex House in New York City along with
a stellar cast that included Madeleine Stowe,
Greg Kinnear, Sam Elliot, Chris Klein, Keri Russell,
Barry Pepper and the real life General Harold
Moore. Dressed in a denim shirt and jeans and
warm fleece vest, Gibson was nursing a terrible
cold and continuing stirred soup during the interview.
Nevertheless, the ruggedly handsome actor was
in jovial mood as his publicists looked on.
Was this film finished before September 11th?
It makes us think of that when the names of the
dead soldiers scroll down at the end.
Yeah, principal photography was finished in August
Why did you want to do this film?
Great story! True story, book, script and Randall
[Wallace, the director]. And, then I met the guys.
They actually get into your heart with their story.
These are tough men who are incredibly compassionate
and they have big soft hearts and they've been
wounded. All of them! Whether they took a slug
or not, they're wounded. So, it was kind of a
heart wrenching - I just sympathized with them.
Is one of the reasons your Dad moved to Australia
because of the Viet Nam war?
Well, I don't know if that's totally true. I'm
sure because he's a sane man and he went to WWII
and did his thing with Guadell Canal in the U.S.
Army. He wasn't a fan of war. And, who is? However,
going to Australia did not insure any kind of
escape and that wasn't the primary purpose. He
went because he hurt himself and he had to start
a new job. But, even in Australia, you were still
Was your brothers drafted?
No, my brother got called up, he went in and
he flunked. You could still be drafted first by
America. Or if you didn't do that, even as a permanent
resident, you could be drafted one year later
by Australian Forces because they were in Viet
Nam too and we were Allies there. So, the best
thing it did was give you a year.
It must have been a relief when your brother
Yeah, I would hate to send my children to a war.
I don't even care if it's a just war! I'm not
a big fan of that conflict. I think there's a
lot more going on than there appears to be.
Viet Nam or Afghanistan?
Viet Nam. Nobody knows what's going on in Afghanistan!
Do you think this is a pro-Arm Forces movie and
the kind of film that encourages young men to
sign up? That to me is sad. I think the film makes
a real distinction between that. There's a quote
from General Moore. 'You're not fighting for your
country, your Mom or apple pie, or an ethic or
idea or anything. You're slugging it out for each
other. You are fighting for the guy next to you.'
So there is an unselfishness that defines heroism.
People who would hate each other on the street
love each other on the battlefield because they
have to. And, that's about the best thing you
can say about war. If people behaved like that
in their normal life, there probably wouldn't
be any wars. It's kind of where you have to get
to but it's hard. Most people have to have their
backs to the wall. Whatever you think of the Viet
Nam conflict - political football or statistical
war - it doesn't change the fact that ordinary
men and women had to go and deal with it.
Could this story have taken place during any
It's the soldiers, not the war. It's about the
people. It's a very personal thing and I think
that is what was forgotten when a lot of the guys
came back. They came back and were kicked in the
teeth. They got the cold shoulder. Their sacrifice
was never acknowledged.
How did you meet General Moore for the first
time? Did he size you up?
I'm sure he does that. That's what he did for
a living. That guy's a good radio operator or
pilot. Were you nervous? Yeah, really. I'd read
this book and he just hopped out of the car. He's
just a great guy.
General Moore's family seems to be similar
He's Catholic like me. The family thing - he
has five kids and has been married to the same
woman throughout his life.
Do you think the filming was more intense
It was intense. It was a different thing [than
Braveheart] all together. When you're dealing
with pyrotechnics instead of horses stepping all
over you, you think be careful, watch your eyes,
etc. There's not a lot of CGI in this. All of
those Napalm drops are real! That stuff is thousands
of gallons of fuel going off in a second and half
and it's very close. You get sunburn! And, it
was 118 degrees out there and it's hot, stinking
and noisy! There were 12 or 13 elements going
off because when the Napalm goes off, there's
a B-52 flying low overhead. It's just amazing
how many elements could be put in a shot. Sometimes,
you'd wait half a day and then it would all be
over in a few seconds.
Were you glad that you were acting in front
of the camera rather than directing?
Randy had a lot of balls. I have to admit it.
The effects guys would be wide-eyed at what he
wanted to see in one shot. He'd make the most
of it. He'd have four or five cameras on it. But,
they had never down anything with so many elements
in a single set up - ever! That includes close
ups, dialog, we're talking the whole deal!
Did you feel like the leader of all these
Yeah, I did. It was cool. They could all beat
the hell out of me on the obstacle course and
that's OK. If anyone gave me any shit, I'd say
This is Randall's first movie. Did you ever
want to help?
No, he's done one film before - The Three
Musketeers. This is a sophomore deal and it's
the one to get on board. Of course, I have ideas
and stuff. But I would never presume to think
my idea was better than his idea because he has
thought longer and harder than I have. But, he
is a man of generous nature and he's not overly
concerned with his own ego. So, he'll ask 'well,
what do you think of this?' By and large, I'm
just there to follow orders.
This film included the wives and that's unusual
for a war movie. Was that element always there?
Oh, yeah. That's what I liked about the book.
Did you read the book? If you read the section
on the wives... It's just a chapter of thirty
pages. It's just the wives and children talking
and saying what it did to their lives. It's just
heart wrenching. I've never seen that in a lot
of other war films - the silent hell of the war
going on at home. The women feel every bullet.
It's almost worst not to know.
Is there a price to pay for being Mel Gibson,
a guy who has it all? A marriage that's last for
20 old years, a career, Oscars, the transformation
from being to pretty guy to-
[laughs] -the old guy!
Is there a downside or a price to pay for
Well, you've got to give if you're going to take.
It's a balance thing. [jokes] Ying and Yang, man!
That's the way it is. You just have to make up
your mind what parts you want and what parts you
don't. And, don't regret because that can be very
fatal. That can be like -- just one item of loss
of personal anonymity can get you if you're not
careful. If you don't get on it right away, which
is, accept that and move on. If you don't like
that, then get out of the game.
What are you doing next? Talk about Signs.
Signs - I had a great experience in Philly
with Night [M. Night Shyamalan]. I play an Episcopal
minister. I read it and five minutes later, I
was on the telephone saying I have to do it.
Do you bring your kids to the set with you?
Sometimes. It depends on the scheduling and you
try to make it work the best you can.
Will you direct again?
Yeah, I think I'm really going there in a big
way. I do know what I'm going to do [next] but
I'm just not talking.
Would you to a Lethal Weapon 4?
No. They need someone like Brad. Someone in his
or her ass-kicking prime. Are you amazed at your
continued popularity? I don't get it. I'm hanging
on. Hey, they pay me, I turn up.