Mel Gibson nearly passed on directing and starring in 1995’s Braveheart. It was in the early 1990s, post-Lethal Weapon 3; the actor was in his late 30s (“the Bradley Cooper-Leo DiCaprio stage,” as he calls it) and wanted to be judicious about the scripts he committed to. That’s according to THR executive features editor Stephen Galloway’s upcoming biography of legendary studio chief Sherry Lansing, Leading Lady (out April 25 from Crown Archetype).
Alan Ladd Jr., who’d recently stepped down as MGM chairman and had been brought to Paramount as a producer 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 Hotel.
Eventually, Gibson agreed to direct and, after toying with the idea of having Brad Pitt star, he reluctantly committed to take the title role in the real-life story of the Scottish rebel who battles against England. Budget negotiations got underway.
With 20th Century Fox agreeing to put up two-thirds of the money in exchange for foreign rights, Lansing only had to deliver 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 executives offered just $15 million for Paramount’s share of the budget — not even enough to cover the battle scenes, according to Ladd. The studio also asked for a distribution fee of 25 percent of the movie’s theatrical revenue.
Gibson was furious. “He grabbed a large glass ashtray and threw it through the wall,” recalls agent Jeff Berg. “He threw the ashtray through the wall!”
The actor-director confirmed the incident. “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 the 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. “It was pouring rain,” the exec remembers, “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 best picture and best director nods for Gibson.