By WONG CHUN WAI
FOR two weeks, actor Mel Gibson was just another regular guy in Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur. He walked into an Indian shop for his roti canai and teh tarik in Jalan Telawi and even tried banana leaf rice.
He went to a gymnasium, shopped for groceries and played with kids at the house of a businessman where he stayed.
For a big Hollywood name, not many Malaysians recognised him instantly. Many took a while to recognise the famous face and found it hard to believe that the man himself could be at their regular mamak shop.
For one, Gibson looked smaller in real life. In some ways, he is a little shrunk, unlike the hunky stature that we are used to on the big screen. He even looks older.
The American actor-producer-director is known for his roles in Mad Max and Lethal Weapon. In 2004, he produced and directed Passion of the Christ, the eighth-highest grossing film in history, and is regarded by Forbes magazine as one of the most powerful celebrities.
On Tuesday, my colleagues and I were invited to meet the 51-year-old Oscar winner at his suite at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Singapore.
Together with Malaysian businessman Datuk Vinod Sekhar, he was preparing to talk to delegates at the Forbes Global CEO Conference.
Wearing a chequered shirt, a blue blazer and matching denim jeans and “recycled US$10” brown Crocs slip-ons from Costa Rica, Gibson wanted to talk about a new passion: the environment.
Gibson is known for his philanthropy to the indigenous people of South America but not so for the green cause, espoused by actors like Leonardo DiCaprio.
But that seems set to change now with his involvement in Green Rubber Global, a tyre-recycling company.
Green Rubber is a subsidiary of the Petra Group of Companies headed by Vinod.
It was Vinod's father, Tan Sri B.C. Sekhar, fondly known as Mr Natural Rubber, who pioneered the Delink techonology that Green Rubber is using to turn old rubber into new.
The technology essentially reverses the process of vulcanised rubber, thus transforming them back into their original raw state and make them usable again for high-end applications.
Gibson tells his listeners that he has taken up the cause because “I have seen the process and it blew my mind,” rattling off figures “that there are over two million tyres in dumpsites awaiting disposal, the number-one waste hazard in the United States.”
The shareholders of the company, which also includes actor Bruce Willis, believe that by 2020, China and India would have gobbled up all the world’s rubber supply.
The worldwide deficit would make the recycled rubber valuable. And profitable, of course.
Not everyone is convinced of the reliability and even practicability of the process. There is strong resistance from the rubber industry, while others claim the equipment would be too expensive.
But Vinod has set up a factory in Sungai Buloh, Selangor, and another one will soon come up in New Mexico in the United States.
Gibson’s new green image has certainly generated huge interest, even among the serious businessmen attending the conference. Seasoned reporters, used to meeting celebrities, jostled to pose for photographs with Gibson.
He even did an impromptu tap dance on stage before the panel discussion started.
The moderator of the panel discussion had to remind the delegates that “there should be no movie-related questions.”
Gibson told his attentive listeners that pushing the environment cause was difficult because “I use disposable razor” and “use wood to build houses.” He believed education and marketing would help.
His last film, Apocalypto, was about the decline of the Maya civilisation, which reached its peak around 600.
“It deals with the destruction of environment in a subtle way,” he said, adding that he would consider making a movie about the environment.
“I did not learn enough in school, I did my learning as I moved along but I will see what I can do.”
Asked whether he would make a movie about recycling rubber, he told a reporter that “maybe it could be called Stretch.”
Gibson, who owns an island in Fiji and multiple homes in California, said he would be heading to the Pacific for a rest.
The man who was spotted at Singapore’s banana leaf Apollo Indian Restaurant in Race Course Road said he would be returning to Malaysia. And, of course, Bangsar.