For a superstar, he's not afraid of a good battle. By now in his career Mel Gibson has been in almost all of them.
When we sat down in a midtown Manhattan hotel, he was upbeat about his new film We Were Soldiers, a story about a bloody battle in Vietnam. Of course, that's his job — but he was surprisingly genuine and candid about the U.S. war on terror. And he's a fan of Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, who he calls a nice guy. Is he acting?
McCuddy: Could the current war on terror escalate into another Vietnam?
Gibson: I don't think so. I don't think it's going to be, it would not be a war of the same nature. The nature of it is totally different.
Gibson: Well, it involves a direct assault on this country. And they (the Taliban) are harder to find. The battleground is not as clearly delineated. There's going to be a lot more intelligence and covert stuff, I think.
McCuddy: And the temperament of this country seems different now.
McCuddy: About that war.
Gibson: I think it gave us cause for a pause. I think that the country here, because of that conflict, has considered very seriously whether or not to go to war now. ... There's always been some huge incident that's dragged them into it. Vietnam was different in that respect because if you look at all the other major wars that this country has been involved in, it's usually been some kind of 'event' that sparks the whole thing. It almost seems too convenient to me at times. Whether it's a boat down in Cuba, or a Pearl Harbor, or a big building — crashes into — a big plane. Or some sort of event. Vietnam didn't have that.
McCuddy: Are we going win this war, do you think?
Gibson: (Holds his arms in the air) Can you win any war? I mean, you're always going to have differences.
McCuddy: You've fought in all of them on film.
Gibson: (Laughs) Yeah.
McCuddy: You've been in everything.
Gibson: I won two of the 'em! Fortunately, I've never had to really do it.
McCuddy: If you had to, if Mel Gibson had to serve in any war, in any period of time, what would it be?
Gibson: I think there is no answer that you can give for that. The Cold War! Okay? I think um ...
McCuddy: Gibson is back and he's Dr. Strangelove.
Gibson: There you go. Gibson is back and he's just doing espionage. Yeah. He's only sending radio messages across the curtain. Man, I think the idea of having to go there, it's my 'id.' Or having to send my kids there, it's my 'id.'
McCuddy: Col. Moore (the man Gibson portrays) said he'd go after bin Laden and he'd enjoy it. What about you?
Gibson: (Big exhale) Well, he seems to be an elusive guy, doesn't he? Bin Laden. I hear he's pretty big, too. I have a feeling that they know where the hairs on the wart of his ass are, but for some reason they don't want to get him. But that's my cynical theory.
McCuddy: We need a terror. We need a face.
Gibson: We need a bogeyman, yeah. And when they do get him, you can be quite sure that there will be someone else to take his place.
McCuddy: Hey, you bought one of those pulpy fiction novels that Bill O'Reilly wrote.
McCuddy: Are you going to play Bill O'Reilly?
Gibson: No, no.
McCuddy: Why not?
Gibson: Ummm, not tall enough. (Laughs)
McCuddy: You can do pretty good impressions. Can you try a little O'Reilly?
Gibson: I've only met him once. I'd have to work on that. My mother's maiden name's 'Reilly' so we're probably related way back.
Gibson: We're afflicted by the same demons.
McCuddy: I'm frightened for you.
Gibson: (Laughs) He's a nice guy!
So is Mel Gibson. Whether or not he's a nice guy with a hit movie remains to be seen. A patriotic film about Vietnam? That may be Gibson's toughest battle of all.
'We Were Soldiers' opens March 1.