Beaver: Starring Mel Gibson as Boozy Suicidal Man

The dramatic comedy The Beaver, directed by Jodie Foster, starring Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster and Anton Yelchin, will be released by Summit Entertainment on May 20.

One of the most fascinating aspects of The Beaver is the puppet itself, and how it affects not just the characters but also the cast. Specifically Mel Gibson. Gibson gave his all in preparing for this aspect of the part. By the time production began, he had become completely adept at manipulating the beaver physically, able to endow the creature with a mesmerizing speaking voice and an electric personality. It was uncanny.

Gibson notes, “the dynamic of actually slipping a furry puppet on your hand and having it talk instead of you actually gives you a little bit of freedom and there a certain kind of strange, effortless magic in it. Because you’re relaxed enough to not worry about it so much, the puppet can achieve brilliance through you or you can achieve brilliance through the use of the puppet.”

Furthermore, Gibson proved a master at coordinating his hand movements to the beaver’s words, feelings and attitude. More and more it came to appear that the beaver was real.

“Mel got really into the puppeteering,” says Foster. “I kept saying ‘oh don’t worry about the puppeteering, you know it doesn’t have to be perfect.’ But in the end Mel was really right because as time went on and Mel got better and better at lip syncing the puppet with his words, it really made a big difference because you do start forgetting that the beaver is not a real person.”

But in the story it’s through Walter (Gibson) of course that the beaver’s magic works its effects most powerfully. In Kyle Killen’s word, once Walter ‘resets’ his personality as the beaver he meets life on his terms and turns it to his advantage, transforming himself from a depressed loser into a dynamic, creative family-and-business-man.

“The beaver supplies a missing link,” says Gibson. “He has a spokesperson, a buffer for what’s clearly been going wrong for so long—a middle man who can be charming and express things that he perhaps can’t.”

Walter moves full steam ahead. The beaver’s manic energy captivates his younger son, Henry, and turns him into a first class woodworker. It also affects Walter’s wife Meredith

who welcomes her revitalized but wacky husband back into her life since he now more nearly resembles the man she once knew.

(The older son, Porter, however remains unmoved by the change in his father and wants more than ever to stand apart from him, even repudiate him.)

The beaver also exerts a positive force in the workplace. He reverses the declining fortunes of JerryCo by retiring several tired lines of toys, and he introduces production on “The Beaver Mr. Woodchopper Kits,” sales of which become a worldwide phenomenon. JerryCo production — and profits — reach new heights.

But by the time Walter and the beaver appear opposite Matt Lauer on the Today Show, the beaver has morphed into a less benign, more manipulative alter ego with disastrous results. And on the home front, Meredith determines to separate family from the beaver and his feverish schemes before any real damage is done. Soon enough, the craze for the Mr. Woodchopper Kits fades, as fads are liable to do, and the fortunes of JerryCo begin to decline.

The dramatic temperature of the story rises significantly here and it’s reflected in the visual style of the film as well as the action. According to the director of photography, Hagen Bogdanski, the appearance of the beaver on the morning show marks the first time we see the beaver as an isolated image in the film.

“Before this we always see the beaver on Walter’s hand, as part of Walter. We never see him alone but always connected to the family. Now we see him in a different way, in a less connected manner now that the phenomenon is less positive.”

Adds Gibson, “the trick, I think and the thing that Jodie pulled off beautifully was to tread that fine line stylistically between not just making it some goofy thing about a guy with a hand puppet but making it have some kind of substance and looking at it in as real a way as possible.”

The atmosphere on the set of The Beaver throughout the filming was one of deliberate purpose and intense creativity, combined with a deep sense of excitement and conviviality.

Cherry Jones says, “It was delightful to work on The Beaver and that is because we had a superb director. Jodie is someone who has grown up in this business and she has the utmost respect for each and every person on the crew and every actor, and she shows it.

“I also felt that she was doing a marvelous job of directing, going for depth, never resorting to elbow nudges. Golin adds, “Mel is just about the most down to earth actor I’ve ever worked with. He’s a really great filmmaker in his own right and he’s been so supportive of Jodie, and so collaborative.”

“I was so fascinated by Mel and Jodie, it’s been a fantastic learning experience for me, just being around them, watching and listening,” says Anton Yelchin.

“It began immediately in the rehearsal period. Mel had so many interesting ideas about the character, he has such insight into Walter, and that was so important for me because Porter and Walter are so linked.

They’re essentially struggling with the same issues and so I could feel my character grow just by listening to him and watching.

“And listening to Jodie is so enlightening. She understood so deeply how to balance the comic and tragic aspects of the story, and had so much insight into Porter. And because she’s such an extraordinary actress herself, she has such a grasp of what you need in every situation. She knows how to support you as you search and dig deep inside to come up with it yourself.”

Jennifer Lawrence who plays Norah echoes Yelchin’s words. She says she is awestruck by her director.

“I’ve said it over and over. I don’t think I’ve ever met a person I respect more than Jodie. First of all, she’s just about the smartest person I’ve ever come across but even more important for the film she knows how to talk to actors, how to help them.

“And technically I expect that she’s a genius. She knows exactly what she wants with the camera, how it will cut and how to explain it clearly to the cast and to the crew. She’s amazing.”

One aspect of filming that gave everyone pleasure was to see Jodie wear two hats simultaneously, director and star, and how she juggled both when necessary.

“It’s astonishing how much Jodie brought to the role of Meredith,” Golin says. “On the page Meredith may just read as The Wife. But Jodie has given her much more weight and substance. And it’s interesting to see her work as an actor and director simultaneously. She’s so gifted, she makes it look easy. But I know it can’t be. But that’s the impression Jodie leaves.”

After nine weeks of filming, production on The Beaver wrapped November 20, 2009 at Cinema World Studios in Brooklyn.