For two decades, Mel Gibson was at the top of the Hollywood tree. Building on his successes as an actor, he won an Oscar in 1996 for directing Braveheart and routinely commanded salaries of more than $20 million.
But allegations of domestic violence and anti-Semitism in recent years have rocked the American star’s career. And now, incendiary new claims from a scriptwriter have re-ignited that scandal in dramatic fashion.
On Wednesday, it was announced that Warner Bros was shelving “The Maccabees”, a film about the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid Empire in Judea in the second century BC that was to have been directed by Gibson.
A nine-page letter to Gibson from writer Joe Eszterhas, leaked to The Wrap, gives his detailed opinion on why the plug was pulled:
“I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason you won’t make “The Maccabees” is the ugliest possible one. You hate Jews.”
“I believe you announced the project with great fanfare – “a Jewish Braveheart” – in an attempt to deflect continuing charges of anti-Semitism which have dogged you, charges which have crippled your career,” he said, alleging that Mr Gibson never intended to make the film.
Eszterhas, who has previously said that Gibson “shared the mindset of Adolf Hitler,” worked on the script for two years. He sent the script off to Warner Bros executives in February, and was told it had “no feeling” and “no sense of triumph”.
The letter paints a lurid picture of the Academy Award winner, claiming that in their meetings he “continually called Jews ‘Hebes’ and ‘oven-dodgers’ and ‘Jewboys’,” and described the Holocaust as “mostly a load of horseshit”. According to it, Gibson is said to believe that there is a “Jewish/Masonic conspiracy to destroy the Catholic Church”, and almost pushed the writer into quitting when he proclaimed: “What I really want to do with this movie is convert the Jews to Christianity.”
To help ensure the accuracy of the film’s historical setting, Eszterhas says Gibson hired two “Biblical advisors” whom he referred to as “Father Fucko” and “Rabbi Clueless”.
In his response, published on rival blog Deadline, Gibson claimed that the only reason the project was dropped was that the delivered script was of poor quality. “Contrary to your assertion that I was only developing Maccabees to burnish my tarnished reputation, I have been working on this project for over 10 years and it was publicly announced 8 years ago,” he wrote.
“Both Warner Brothers and I were extraordinarily disappointed with the draft. In 25 years of script development I have never seen a more substandard first draft or a more significant waste of time.”
A Warner Bros spokesman appeared to indicate that the project had not been whollycanned: “We are analysing what to do with the project,” he said.
Since his arrest for driving under the influence in 2006 - when Mr Gibson told an arresting officer “Fucking jews… the jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” – the actor’s career has stalled somewhat. Winona Ryder claimed in 2010 that Mr Gibson had called her an “oven-dodger” (a reference to the gas chambers) at “one of those big Hollywood parties”. In the same year a cameo appearance in Warner Bros’ blockbuster comedy The Hangover part 2 was cancelled after complaints from the cast and crew.
The Eszterhas letter depicts Mr Gibson as living an isolated and lonely life despite his £500m fortune. He is said to read few newspapers or magazines and rarely turns on the TV except to watch movies - often his own. But there was little sympathy from The Anti Defamation League, long-time critics of Mr Gibson.
“The latest revelations would be surprising if not for the fact that it fits nicely into a pattern of a serial offender, a serial hater, and a serial bigot,” said its director Abraham Foxman.