Mel Gibson's On-Set Pranks Not So Funny In Hindsight: A Look Back

Scrolling through Mel Gibson's Wikipedia page, we noticed underneath the various allegations of racism, sexism, alcohol abuse etc., was the entry "Prankster." Before he was known for tirades, Mel Gibson was famous for his practical jokes.

During his ten year reign over Hollywood in the 90's and early 2000's, directors and leading ladies, in particular, came to anticipate Gibson's antics. Helen Hunt even claims she "begged" him to spare her on the set of "What Women Want." That's because his "jokes" were not of the Saran-wrapped toilet seat variety. Designed for a scare more than a laugh, his largely female targets rarely seemed to laugh as hard as the movie star himself. In a 1995 interview, Mel explained his penchant for pranks: "A practical joke is based on making people believe the worst, or finding out their greatest fear is and then playing on it."

In an effort to dig up some of his old pranks, we searched archived articles from his heyday. What we found was pretty disturbing. "Every one of his pranks are cruel, insensitive and extreme," says Dr. John Sharp, medical director at Bridges to Recovery mental health clinic and faculty member at Harvard Medical school. While he hasn't treated Mel, he has treated similarly high-profile patients in the past.
"The pranks Mel pulled suggest getting pleasure in other people's pain. It's consistent with what he's allegedly been saying on those taped phone-calls."

We gathered a list of practical jokes reported in press interviews, profiles and other articles between 1992-2002. It appears that over a period of 10 years, Mel's pranks got increasingly darker and more fragmented. "There is clearly an extreme addictive quality in his pranking," says Sharp. "like he's chasing a high and needs to do crueler things to get that same buzz." Mel might say we're just missing the joke.

THE PSYCHO-KILLER
VICTIM: Jamie Lee Curtis
In 1992, on the set of "Forever Young", Mel found himself in the role of executive producer for the first time. It was then, that he launched one his early pranks on leading lady Jamie Lee Curtis. According to the South Carolina newspaper The State: "Making "Forever Young" with horror star Jamie Lee Curtis, he appeared at her door in a hockey mask and carrying a knife." The slasher bit, though bizarre, still seemed innocent enough considering Curtis was famous for playing a horror movie star in the 70's and 80's.

THE FALSE ARREST
VICTIMS: Two Unidentified Women
Then, in 1993, it was reported that Mel played a "Punk'd" style prank on two female friends. The Herald Sun reported: "Gibson had been enjoying a quiet lunch with two unsuspecting women at Warner Bros where his Icon Productions has offices. But when Mel and the women were walking out they were stopped by the head waiter (who was in on the gag set up by the superstar). The maitre d' insisted on searching the handbags of Gibson's lunch guests claiming they had something 'that belongs to us'. The women were even more shocked when the waiter pulled out six pieces of silverware and some salt and pepper shakers." The article continues: "They were pleading their innocence when jokester Gibson could no longer contain himself and broke into fits of laughter." Making people think they're going to jail is not that funny, but at least no one was wielding a knife this time.

THE RANSOM NOTES
VICTIM: Rene Russo
By 1996, during the making of "Ransom"-- a graphic movie about a kidnapped child-- Gibson had upped the ante on his pranks extending their lifespan over a series of days. In an article in the Richmond Times Dispatch, co-star Rene Russo shared her experience: ''Mel worked with a photographer, an old friend of mine, who took nude pictures of me when I was 17, he blew it up and he put bits and pieces of it -- a breast, a finger, a knee -- and he put them up on the bulletin board every day. And he left ransom notes: 'If you want to see her in one piece again . . . ''' For perspective: in a normal work environment, this is the kind of "joke" that gets you fired.

THE DEAD RAT
VICTIM: Julia Roberts
In 1997, Mel was shooting "Conspiracy Theory" with Julia Roberts, then Hollywood's most famous actress, and as big a star as Mel himself. Again he hatched an involved prank that would continue long after the initial joke was made. In an article published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Julia Roberts recounts the affair. "Mel, on the first day of shooting, gave me a rat, wrapped up very nicely with a lovely card...It was like a real rat that was taxidermied. " Despite taking the prank like a champ and disposing of the rat, Julia was continually harassed. Mel would remove the rat from the trash or replace it with a new one, in order to elicit more reactions from his co-star.

Mel giddily explained his process, in a Herald Sun article: "I found a place where they sold freeze-dried rats. I wrapped it up and left it for her in her dressing room. I knew she had opened it because you could hear her screams for miles.''

During press events, both Julia and Mel chummily shared the story, but in an interview with the CBS Morning Show, the actress' discomfort surfaced: "I get a little paranoid when he's around. Yesterday I felt convinced that he was going to come into my room during an interview and do something dastardly behind me. So I kept getting this bad feeling on the back of my neck. But he's--he's really the only thing on this planet that makes me paranoid."

She had good reason for her paranoia, after the rat was long gone, Mel continued his tirade, "pressing a live cockroach into her hand while she was trying to deliver an emotional speech," according to the Sunday Mirror.

THE STALKER
VICTIM: Nancy Meyers
By the time he started filming "What Women Want" in 2000, Mel was infamous for playing practical jokes on his leading women. His co-star Helen Hunt, told the website Mr. Showbiz, "I threw myself at Mel's mercy and said I can't handle it." So the actor spared Hunt and preyed on another powerful woman on-set: director Nancy Meyers. The website reports that he played the old freeze-dried rat trick on her. But that didn't satiate him.

Next, he played on every woman's vulnerability by planting a ruse about a dangerous stalker lurking around the Paramount lot. In an article in the the Columbus Dispatch, Mel says: "I got a memo printed up from the security office at the studio that there was a maniac loose, with a description. We put the memo up around the film set and stuff and had people corroborate the story, and promptly at 6 o'clock I made myself unrecognizable and approached Nancy as the maniac. She started screaming and stabbing me with her pencil. She then chased me out of the soundstage, and I ran atop the makeup trailer and stood there laughing like a hyena. . . . It was a cruel prank -- but I certainly enjoyed it.''

Not everyone was laughing with Mel this time. "He was lurking behind things and watching people," a source told MSNBC Online. "He got a big laugh out of it, but some people didn't think it was so funny. Stalkers aren't funny."

THE GERMAN ALTER-EGO
VICTIM: Randall Wallace, anyone in earshot
In 2002, two years from the release of "The Passion of the Christ" and four from his drunken Malibu arrest, Mel's sense of the absurd was getting more disconnected from reality. One particular "prank", played on "We Were Soldiers" director Randall Wallace, played out more like a personality disorder than a joke.

The Daily Record printed a profile that detailed an alter-ego Mel had developed on-set named Klaus. As Klaus, he would sneak up behind Randall with a megaphone and blurt insults in a thick German accent. Mel described his impulse in the article: "I became this German character Klaus, who was a man who only lived at night. He was pale, and probably some kind of sexual deviant, and he probably liked being whipped and stuff. "So he'd say stuff like 'Vy are you even bothering to attempt zis?'"

Mel continues, going deeper into the persona: "He was the harbinger of doom, the voice of negativity, your inner voice of your inner doubt. Everyone has that inner voice of doubt - and Klaus is mine. I'd like Klaus to surface as a character in a film somewhere along the line." It looks like he has surfaced, though not in the safe confines of a movie.