Mel Gibson is a renowned actor and filmmaker who has had a glorious career. Despite his success, he has also faced struggles along the way. After several legal issues and controversial statements, Gibson’s popularity in Hollywood declined, affecting his acting and directing careers. That’s when his 1990s Air America co-star Robert Downey Jr. came to Mel Gibson’s aid. 

During a recent interview, Gibson reflected on the time when it seemed that his career was finished, but he was grateful to Downey Jr. that he was able to get forgiveness from the public. 

Robert Downey Jr. became a savior of Mil Gibson’s career

In 2004, Mil Gibson delivered a biblical drama film, The Passion of the Christ, that sparked polarizing reviews, ranging from high praise to vehement criticism. The Anti-Defamation League accused Gibson of antisemitism over the film’s unflattering depiction of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. The Nation‘s magazine reviewer Katha Pollitt criticized the film, stating, 

“Gibson has violated just about every precept of the (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) conference’s own 1988 ‘Criteria’ for the portrayal of Jews in dramatizations of the Passion (no bloodthirsty Jews, no rabble, no use of Scripture that reinforces negative stereotypes of Jews, etc.) … The priests have big noses and gnarly faces, lumpish bodies, and yellow teeth; Herod Antipas and his court are a bizarre collection of oily-haired, epicene perverts. The ‘good Jews’ look like Italian movie stars (Magdalene actually is an Italian movie star, the lovely Monica Bellucci); Mary, who would have been around 50 and appeared 70, could pass for a ripe 35.”

Following the controversy surrounding The Passion of the Christ, Gibson was embroiled in further controversy after an arrest in 2006, during which he was recorded disparaging Jewish people. During the interview, Gibson shared, “One time, I got into a bit of a sticky situation where it kind of ended my career. I was drunk in the back of a police car, and I said some stupid shit, and all of a sudden: blacklisted. I’m the poster boy for canceled.”

The filmmaker continued by stating that during those days of his declining career, Downey Jr. came as a ray of hope in his life. Gibson continued, “A couple of years into that, [Robert] invited me to some kind of award he was getting—we always had this kind of seesaw thing, where if he was on the wagon, I was falling off, and if I was on the wagon, he was falling off. So, I was pretty much nonexistent in Hollywood at the time, and he stood up and spoke for me. It was a bold, generous, and kind gesture. I loved him for that.”

The awards ceremony in particular Gibson referred to is the 2011 American Cinematheque Awards. At the event, Downey, who’s Jewish himself, encouraged people to offer some forgiveness to Gibson. His comments did impact the audience as a statement coming from Downey Jr. held some weight, considering the problematic past of his own that he’d overcome to become one of Hollywood’s most respected and celebrated actors – culminating with a recent Oscar win.

The Iron Man actor said at the event, “[Join me in] forgiving my friend his trespasses, offering [Gibson] the same clean slate you have given me, and allowing him to continue his great and ongoing contribution to our collective art without shame. Unless you are completely without sin, in which case you picked the wrong f***ing industry.”

Downey Jr.’s comment did change people’s perspective, as they tried to see Gibson in a better light and gave his films a chance. The filmmaker made his directorial comeback after a decade of absence with “Hacksaw Ridge,” which was released in 2016. The film won two Academy Awards and was nominated for another four, including Best Picture and Best Director for Gibson. 

Gibson is currently working on a sequel to The Passion of the Christ and a fourth Lethal Weapon movie. Recently, he also starred in the John Wick prequel series The Continental. 

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