Mel Gibson (search) said Thursday that his film "The Passion of the Christ" (search) was unfairly prejudged for a year before its release — but he forgives his critics.

Gibson told Jay Leno on NBC's "The Tonight Show" (search) that he would try to adopt a loving attitude "even for those who persecute you."

"For a year, it's been nothing but nasty editorials and name-calling," he said.

The movie, which grossed $23.6 million on its opening day Wednesday, is based on Gospel accounts of the last hours of the life of Jesus. Some have praised Gibson's commitment to his subject while others have called the movie excessively bloody, obsessed with cruelty and unfair in its portrayal of Jews.

Gibson acknowledged the movie is violent and said it was R-rated for a reason.

"The Bible is R-rated. I mean, look at that book. ... That's a hot book," he joked.

But he noted that many other films were violent, mentioning "Kill Bill: Vol 1," the Quentin Tarantino martial arts bloodbath.

"Why am I being picked on for this? There's far more violent movies," he said.

Gibson alleged that a copy of the script was obtained "nefariously" before the film was completed, leading to "all these accusations of anti-Semitism," which he denied.

"That's not what the film's about," he said. "It's about tolerance."

Gibson said he never considered changing the script because of protests.

"I don't know any director, any artist who would bow to this kind of pressure. It's un-American," he said.

In his opening monologue, Leno joked that the movie, which cost Gibson $30 million to make, was doing so well that "there's now talk of turning it into a book."