In LA there are loads of organizations that are always holding talks and presentations with famous Hollywood types. Of the many groups out there, I belong to a few and one of them is Australians in Film.
Like anyone from Australia, I came here to LA to do the stuff I couldn’t get done back home. So it’s always with that strange feeling of comfort mixed with animosity that I sign over my membership fees every year. Despite my love/hate misgivings, I find myself at their events on a regular basis. Apart from being able to stand in a room and hear a bunch of Australian accents, which is like an audio version of eating Tim Tams, they have these great screenings and Q&As.
So far at AIF I’ve seen Q&As with Geoffery Rush (Shine), Shekar Kapur (director of Elizabeth), Rose Byrne (Damages) , Philip Noyce (Salt, Rabbit Proof Fence) and a host of other Australians out here, in the thick of the film biz.
The most memorable of all of these though, has to have been the Mel Gibson one. I saw this when he was promoting Apocalypto, about a month after the “Jewish incident” with the cop when Mel was caught driving home drunk. So it’s standing room only in the theatre, packed to the rafters with people who want to see the crazy monkey at the zoo.
For all the non-Australians reading there is another layer to all of this that I need to explain for you to truly understand the animosity that was thick in the air. There is a thing called the Tall Poppy Syndrome that we hold near and dear to our hearts. The analogy goes that if there is a field of poppies and one of them grows higher than the others, you cut it down so that everything is the same level. That is more Australian than meat pies and Speedos.
We despise the Australians who do well. Especially the ones who leave the country and do well. And we love nothing better than to trash them. Ask Nicole Kidman, Kylie Minogue, Hugo Weaving, etc. But we are all whores for the limelight and want to be associated with them, so we champion them, but we hate them, but we love them, but we hate them, my sister, my daughter, my sister, my daughter…
And with Mel, what’s not to hate? He left Australia, did really well, lost his accent (the highest of all sins) and he’s an anti-gay, anti-Semitic drunk. I brought a shot gun.
A hush falls as he comes at the end of the film. Once I was over the initial starstruck, “Oh my God, that’s really him” moment, I began to take in the man. He looked literally like he just stepped out of his own kitchen; bad 501s, a white t-shirt, a red sailing jacket and clogs. Yes, that’s right, black clogs.
Well, he gets marks in my book for not giving a fuck.
He sits down with the moderator and gets asked the first question. He thinks for a moment, rubs his face in a hungover kind of way and launched into an answer that rambled on about I don’t know what. Wow, did you come to this thing drunk already?
He answers a few more questions from the moderator. His voice is deep and rich like chocolate mixed with a pack a day. It’s actually intoxicating. Actually, his whole demeanor is. I look around the room. No one is talking, texting, fidgeting, nothing. He has everyone in a kind of trance and the thing is, you didn’t even feel it happening.
Then he takes questions from the audience. Arms shoot up into the air, looking not unlike a field of poppies. Mel scans the room of urgently silent pick-me’s and chooses a woman in the front row. He smiles at her. She wants to have his children.
Woman: How did you cast the film with so many unknown actors that look like Mayans? Where did you find them all? (if you haven’t seen the film, it’s about the end of the Mayan empire, the entire cast except the lead had never acted.)
Mel: Well, we cast Mexicans, Native Americans, Canadian Indians, Guatemalans, just from all over the place and it kind of worked, you know. Because, let’s face it, they’re basically all the same.
There is a huge politically correct intake of breath from the crowd. No one can quite believe that he just said what he just said.
Mel waits for his comment to register. He sees everyone’s reaction. Then he shifts in his seat, leaning forward.
Mel: Well, if you think about it, lines on a map are a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of these continents. So actually, they really are all the one people.
And just like that, he became the smartest man in the room. I was in awe. There is a reason that this man has done as well as he has here. He’s the most charming, smart bastard you will ever meet. He gave everyone exactly what they were looking for, then flipped it 180 with a stubbled smile. I have a crush on him and I hate myself for it.
He went on from there to answer an array of questions and no matter how dumb they were (and my God people ask some dumb ones sometimes) he would pull a kernel of something out of it, blow it up, use it to say something about his film, and leave the person feeling like they’d just had a little tete-a-tete with him.
I was surprised he didn’t get a standing ovation on his way out.
Since then of course, he’s gone on to disgrace himself many times over in the media over his religious views and his family life.
But on the night I leave wondering where on my person I’ll get my Mel tattoo.