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Mel Gibson Calls Robert Downey Jr. ‘Bold and Generous’ for Urging Hollywood to Forgive Gibson After 2006 Arrest and Antisemitic Remarks: ‘I Loved Him for That’

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Mel Gibson praised his longtime friend and “Air America” co-star Robert Downey Jr. in the latter’s new Esquire magazine cover story. Gibson called Downey “bold and generous and kind” for urging Hollywood to forgive Gibson after his infamous 2006 arrest, which included the “Braveheart” star making comments disparaging Jewish people. Gibson’s antisemitic remarks soured his career in Hollywood.

“One time, I got into a bit of a sticky situation where it kind of ended my career,” Gibson told Esquire. “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. 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 and generous and kind gesture. I loved him for that.”

Gibson is referring to the 2011 American Cinematheque Awards ceremony. Downey was the recipient of the annual prize and used his speech to speak on Gibson’s behalf. Downey, who is Jewish, asked Hollywood to join him 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.”

Downey noted that “unless you are completely without sin, in which case you picked the wrong fucking industry,” then you should consider giving Gibson a second chance.

The “Iron Man” star knew a thing or two about second chances in Hollywood considering he was an industry pariah himself at the turn of the century due to a string of legal troubles in the late 1990s. He was arrested in 1996 for possession of heroin, cocaine and an unloaded gun and given three years of probation. He was then jailed for nearly four months a year later after skipping a court-ordered drug test. He skipped another test in 1999 and was sentenced to three years in prison. Downey served 15 months, then was arrested again four months after his release for drug possession.

Downey’s legal troubles made him a casting risk. Even Christopher Nolan recently admitted that he was “a little afraid” to meet Downey when casting “Batman Begins.”

“I had heard all kinds of stories about how you were crazy,” Nolan told his “Oppenheimer” star earlier thi year. “It was only a few years after the last of those stories that had come out about you.”

Downey’s history with the law also made him a tough sell to Marvel for the career-defining role of Tony Stark. He was former Marvel Studios’ president David Maisel’s top pick, but “my board thought I was crazy to put the future of the company in the hands of an addict.”

“I helped them understand how great he was for the role,” Maisel said in 2022. “We all had confidence that he was clean and would stay clean.” 

Downey’s casting as “Iron Man” and the global box office success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that launched in its wake rehabilitated his image in Hollywood. Gibson’s career, however, never returned to its peak following his 2006 arrest. And yet, he continued to act and direct movies. His 2016 war drama “Hacksaw Ridge” earned him an Oscar nomination for best director.

Head over to Esquire’s website to read Downey’s cover story in its entirety.