CANNES, France — In Mel Gibson's new movie "The Beaver" a hand puppet does most of his talking. At the Cannes Film Festival, Jodie Foster continued to supply most of the words for her pal, though Gibson did share a few wry quips.
Foster, director and co-star of the darkly comic drama, spoke for an absent Gibson at Tuesday's news conference for the movie, which arrives after the latest scandal in his private life.
Gibson did turn up on the red carpet for the festival's glitzy premiere of "The Beaver" later, and though Foster had predicted he would not be talking, Gibson had a ready answer when a festival interviewer asked him how he got into the dark head space of his character.
"I faked it," Gibson said, before adding, "Hey, I don't know. It doesn't bear too much analysis."
Gibson has stayed out of the limelight in the months leading up to the U.S. theatrical debut of "The Beaver" on May 6, while Foster has been out publicizing the film and defending her star after his ugly breakup from then girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, who had accused Gibson of striking her. Gibson pleaded no-contest and has been sentenced to three years probation for the incident.
As Foster was editing "The Beaver" last year, recordings surfaced of disturbing arguments riddled with sexist and racist comments that purportedly occurred between Gibson and Grigorieva.
"I can't excuse Mel's behavior. Only he can explain that," Foster told reporters at Cannes. "But I do know the man that I know. He's been a friend for many, many years, and as a friend, he is kind and loyal and thoughtful, and I can spend hours on the phone with him talking about life. And he's complex, and I appreciate his complexity and what his complexity brings to his work."
The film stars Gibson as a suicidally depressed husband and father who tries to sort through his problems with an unlikely therapist, a beaver puppet through which he communicates with his wife (Foster), their two sons and his colleagues at the failing toy company he runs.
The puppet initially rejuvenates his home life and business, but it gradually turns into a dangerous alter-ego that forces Gibson's character to an even darker place.
Critics have praised the performance as one of the best of Gibson's career, some viewing it as almost an on-screen therapy session for the actor to work on his own troubled life.
"The Beaver" was shot before the blowup over his relationship with Grigorieva, which further eroded Gibson's reputation in Hollywood after his anti-Semitic rant during a drunken-driving arrest in 2006.
Foster said she did not know whether the film might help restore Gibson's tarnished reputation, but it does offer a glimpse of his soul.
"Anything that you do that you obsess about and think about and give that much to, for six months of your life in his case and for years in mine, allows you to look deeper at yourself and at the people around you, at the effect of what you do, and that has to have kind of a therapeutic, cathartic end," said Foster, friends with Gibson since they costarred in 1994's "Maverick."
"I think he's proud of what he's shown, and I think he wants people to see that side of him. And he's an incredibly private man, so what he shows on the screen is as deep as you could possibly get, and that's our way as actors of telling people, `This is who I really am.'"