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Mel Gibson, known for later antisemitic rants, almost starred in 'Schindler's List,' famed agent says

Martha Ross, The Mercury News on

Published in Entertainment News

Steven Spielberg probably didn’t realize it at the time, but he dodged a bullet when he rejected the idea of casting Mel Gibson to star in his Oscar-winning 1993 film “Schindler’s List.”

Turning down Gibson wouldn’t have been easy, even for Spielberg. In the early 1990s, Gibson was a major star, coming off the box office success of his first three “Lethal Weapon” movies and with plans to soon direct his Oscar-winning film “Braveheart.”

“Mel Gibson’s name came up” for the role of Oskar Schindler, according to CAA co-founder Michael Ovitz. Schindler was the real-life German businessman who saved more than 1,200 Jews from the Nazis during World War II.

Gibson “was interested” in the role and in working with Spielberg, Ovitz told The Hollywood Reporter for a retrospective on the film’s 30th anniversary. “His agent put him forward.”

It’s possible that Gibson might have done a fine job playing Schindler. However, hindsight shows that the film’s legacy could been badly tarnished. In subsequent decades, Gibson became known for exhibiting a propensity for antisemitic comments, starting with his 2006 DUI arrest. He was recorded yelling at the arresting officer, “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world!”

In a 2020 essay for The Atlantic, actor Joshua Malina asked why Gibson still continued to get hired to act or direct movies in Hollywood. “Gibson is a well-known Jew-hater (anti-Semite is too mild),” Malina wrote. “His prejudices are well documented.”

 

It’s not known whether Spielberg was aware of Gibson’s alleged prejudices when he was casting “Schindler’s List.” But his main reason for rejecting Gibson was because he wasn’t interested in putting well-known American movie stars in his harrowing Holocaust drama, concerned that their fame could distract from the story.

“It wasn’t going to happen,” Ovitz said. “Steven wanted a non-movie star for the part.”

Irish actor Liam Neeson, then relatively unknown, got the part of Schindler, while British actor Ralph Fiennes also broke out as a star and won an Academy Award supporting actor nomination for playing the sadistic commandant of the Nazi labor camp portrayed in the film.

In The Hollywood Reporter retrospective, Neeson said that other stars considered for the title role included Harrison Ford and Kevin Costner. Spielberg acknowledged that “a lot of people were interested in playing Schindler, and a lot of them were movie stars.”

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