From 1996 to 2001, Robert Downey Jr., one of today's most bankable movie stars, was entrenched in an endless cycle of self-destructive drug use and arrests. He was fired from "Ally McBeal" and denied a role in a Woody Allen film. Many wondered if he'd ever bounce back.
At one point, he famously told an L.A. judge, “I have a loaded gun in my mouth and my finger's on the trigger" He continued, "and I like the taste of the gunmetal."
But friends stuck with Downey and helped him back on his feet, ushering him towards his eventual comeback. Among those friends was Mel Gibson, star of the upcoming film, "The Beaver." Gibson and Downey had stayed close after appearing together in the 1990 film, “Air America," and in 2001, after Downey was released from prison, Gibson made plans to direct Downey in a Los Angeles stage production of "Hamlet." When that production fell through, Gibson stepped in yet again, paying for Downey's hefty insurance bond so he could star in his 2003 film, “The Singing Detective.”
Today, the tables have turned. Downey is the "Iron Man" and Gibson is on the hunt for his own comeback. The question is: Can he do it?
A few years after helming the controversial "The Passion of the Christ,” Gibson was slapped with a DUI in 2006 in Malibu -- but not before he launched into an aggravated, anti-Semitic tirade against the arresting officer. Gibson apologized and was put on probation, agreeing to attend self-help classes and meet with Jewish leaders to help find "an appropriate path for healing."
A few years later, however, more hell broke loose. Tapes of Gibson hurling racist slurs at his then girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, reached every last corner of the web. A photo of a battered Grigorieva was submitted to Los Angeles sheriff’s department after she claimed he physically assaulted her. Another tape featured Gibson telling Grigorieva that she “deserved” to be hit as their daughter cried in the background.
Gibson was dropped by his agents; his long-gestating film projects were stalled; and executives wondered if he could ever bounce back. In a recent, candid interview with Deadline, Gibson said that he’s trying to rebuild his family, working with Grigorieva in court to arrange settlements and custody issues with their daughter. “Marriage is marriage,” he said. “Everybody has problems.”
Indeed. But it's hard to deny that Gibson’s problems are excessively destructive, even by celebrity standards. Can moviegoers forgive Gibson’s rap sheet of anti-Semitic and racist rants, domestic abuse and general bigotry? Will they plop down 12 or more bucks to support his quirky indie dramedy about redemption?
Jodie Foster, director and co-star of “The Beaver,” which opens on May 6th in limited release, is wondering the same thing. “Can you put aside the private things that you know about him because they've been exploited on the Internet?” she asked in an interview with NBC. “Can you put that aside when you're watching an artist? I don't know. That's a good question. It's celebrity and all this is different now than it used to be.”
The darkly comedic film follows Gibson’s character -- a depressed CEO who dons a beaver hand puppet so he can better communicate with his wife (played by Foster) and two sons. The film’s trailer depicts a haggard-looking Gibson embracing his new life with the puppet, complete with triumphant, orchestral music and familial embraces. Long delayed due to studio fears, the film was finally set to open in early April, and was then delayed yet again.
“This is one of those projects that was doomed the minute Gibson's ranting tapes were released to the public,” Will Leitch wrote in Yahoo! Movies. He continued, "It's a celebrity culture we live in, one that won't be able to separate Gibson the bad person from Gibson the actor, or even the character with the puppet on his hand."
Curious, The Huffington Post ventured over to Union Square in Manhattan to ask people whether the knowledge they have about Gibson’s unsettling personal history is enough to keep them away from his new film.
Some of the varying responses are below:
Video by HuffPost's Hunter Stuart