WASHINGTON — Mel Gibson has had more ugly scandals than hit movies in the past five years, but longtime friend Jodie Foster still feels he's "the most beloved actor" in Hollywood.
Foster stuck by Gibson when he was reported to have made anti-Semitic and sexist slurs in 2006 and she's still defending him now that he's pleaded no contest after being charged with misdemeanor spousal battery for a fight he had with his then-girlfriend.
"I'm not defending his behavior," she said in a recent interview. "I'm defending the man that I know. And I know he's kind and loyal and is an incredible professional. He's probably the most beloved actor of anybody I've ever worked with in the film business. And I don't say that lightly."
Foster, who first costarred with Gibson in "Maverick" in 1994, finds it strange that she's been criticized for being loyal to him.
"When somebody's struggling, you don't run away from them, you love them and you stand close to them," she said.
Foster says the difference between Gibson and anyone else who's experienced pain is that Gibson's troubles were made public.
"As I said to him before," Foster explained, "I don't mind seeing you in your underwear, but I'm not interested in seeing your underwear against your will. A lot of mistakes that people make, that we've all made – which, by the way, I don't think are as unusual as people might think – aren't usually played out" on the news.
Foster plays Gibson's wife in the upcoming film "The Beaver," a movie she also directed. It's about a depressed man who can only speak to his family and co-workers through a beaver puppet he wears on his left hand.
The movie is serious, for the most part, but that didn't stop Gibson, a notorious prankster, from having some fun on the set, Foster recalled.
Gibson pulled a practical joke on Foster during a kissing scene they filmed in the shower in which Gibson mocked Foster's tendency to break out if a guy hadn't shaved before kissing her.
After locking lips with Foster, Gibson bent down so she couldn't see what he was doing and when he stood up, Foster said the actor's "whole face is broken out, totally red." She shouted, "What did I do to you? Was it my skin?" Then, Foster continues, "he starts going `She's an animal! Look what she did to my face! She's an animal!' All day. That's what I got all day."
But it was no joke when Gibson ended up with a bloody head filming a scene where he and the beaver puppet get into a fight. The scene called for Gibson to use the puppet to smash a lamp over his head, but Foster says the prop guy didn't properly score it.
"He smacked his head open and lots of blood came pouring out," the actress said, "but he did finish the take" and that's the one used in the movie.
Though most of Gibson's personal trauma happened before he started filming, he was in the middle of a custody battle with his then-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva when he had to return to the set to film his final scenes. Yet Foster says Gibson was a pro that day.
"That's what we do for a living. It's focus. But, there's a lot of pain in his face and I'm so grateful in some ways that he is as deep a person as he is," the actress said. "He has lived through a lot of struggle in his young life as well as now. He brings all of that depth of feeling to what he does on screen and I'm really grateful to what a deep person he is."
Gibson showed a different side in a series of phone calls with Grigorieva. The 55-year-old Oscar-winner's sexist and racist rants were leaked to celebrity website RadarOnline.com.
Grigorieva also accused Gibson of hitting her during a fight at his Malibu home in January 2010.
He was charged with misdemeanor spousal battery. As part of a plea deal, Gibson was put on three years' probation last month. He was also told to get domestic violence counseling for a year and perform 16 hours of community service.
In 2006, Gibson was arrested for drunken driving. A deputy's report leaked to the celebrity website TMZ.com revealed that Gibson used anti-Semitic and sexist slurs.
None of this changes Foster's opinion of Gibson. "You can pretty much call anyone you like who actually knows him and ask them what they think of him," she says, adding that it would be difficult to find anyone with a bad word to say about the actor. "He's such a good person."
"The Beaver" opens in some cities on May 6 and wider on May 20.