“It was all posturing bullshit,” recalls Gibson of his actions at Paramount as detailed in a new book about former studio head Sherry Lansing.
Mel Gibson nearly passed on directing and starring in Braveheart. In the early 1990s, post-Lethal Weapon 3, the actor was in his late 30s (or as he calls it “the Bradley Cooper-Leo DiCaprio stage”) and he wanted to be judicious about the scripts he committed himself to.
According to THR executive features editor Stephen Galloway’s upcoming book Leading Lady (out April 25 from Crown Achetype), Sherry Lansing, who was the head of Paramount at the time, recalls the dramatic deal negotiations to bring the real-life story of the Scottish rebellion against England to the big screen.
Alan Ladd Jr., who’d recently stepped down as MGM chairman and been brought on as a producer at Paramount by Lansing, arranged a meet-up between Gibson and the studio head, who hoped to convince him to sign on to the project over breakfast at the Four Seasons. Eventually, Gibson agreed to direct and, after Brad Pitt passed on starring in the film as Gibson had wanted, Gibson agreed to starring in it as well. Budget negotiations got underway.
With 20th Century Fox agreeing to put up two-thirds of the budget in exchange for foreign rights, Lansing only had to cough up one-third of the preliminary budget of $65 million to $70 million. But when Gibson went to Paramount to meet with the studio’s head of business affairs, Bill Bernstein, the studio offered just $15 million for its share of the budget (not enough to cover the battle scenes, according to Ladd) and the studio also asked for a distribution fee of 25 percent of the movie’s theatrical revenue.
The actor felt disrespected and undervalued and, as agent Jeff Berg recalls, Gibson (a smoker) reacted accordingly: “He grabbed a large glass ashtray and threw it through the wall. He threw the ashtray through the wall!”
Gibson recalls, “I was like, ‘What the f— do you people mean? I turned down three jobs — blah, blah, blah.’ I was kind of upset, probably a little over the top. It was all posturing bullshit.”
A week later, Paramount revised its offer, putting up one-third of a $54 million budget and taking a lower distribution fee.
During production, Lansing visited the set, which had to be relocated to Ireland from Scotland due to weather, where she saw 1,700 Irish soldiers acting as extras and a 20-minute cut of what Gibson had shot. The exec remembers: “It was pouring rain, and I was wading through water in these galoshes, wet and cold, but all I could think about was the film. I said, ‘Do you understand how great this is?'”
Braveheart would go on to win five Oscars, including a best picture and best director nod for Gibson.