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The Surprising Story Behind Mel Gibson's Casting As Santa In Fatman

Fatman is a Christmas movie that's probably unlike anything you've ever seen before. The decidedly dark film follows Chris Cringle and has the man in the iconic red suit, a grizzled and jaded version more dangerous than jolly, pit against a deadly assassin who's been hired by an angry 12-year-old to take out Santa Claus. And it's very much not a comedy.

Mr. Cringle himself is portrayed by Mel Gibson. It's a casting decision made by co-directors and co-writers Ian and Eshom Nelms after a chance encounter with Gibson four years ago, they explained during a recent interview with ComicBookMovie.com. In a strange twist of fate, it was the substantial beard that Gibson was sporting at a screening of Hacksaw Ridge that sparked the idea, and which bumped screen legend Jack Nicholson from the top of their list.

"When we first wrote the script, 14 years ago, we saw Jack Nicholson in the role. But in 2016, we attended a screening of Hacksaw Ridge and Mel did a Q and A afterward," they told CBM. "He had an incredible beard. He was at the tail end of the awards run and you could tell he was exhausted, but still incredibly passionate — and that's when we saw our Chris Cringle. He fit perfectly in our minds with the Santa we'd written. Tired, but incredibly passionate — a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders!"

What could Santa have to be worried about, you ask? Well, in the Nelms' story, Santa doesn't just vacation somewhere warm until it's time to suit up every year; this version of Santa looks like he lives a fairly modest lifestyle in a remote cabin, and he's ticked off about the lack of respect the public has for him and the holiday. But that's just the beginning of his problems.

Mel Gibson makes an unconventional Santa

While the idea of a dark, grim version of Santa Claus sounds like a concept that's bound to be cheesy and at least a tad tongue-in-cheek, the Nelms always knew that they wanted to play it straight. That's probably why the trailer for Fatman looks very much like a traditional action movie, with just a sprinkling of dark humor. In fact, were it not for the overt references to Christmas, Gibson's Cringle could be the lead in a thriller about a grizzled, retired soldier who's had enough of his job but is forced back into the field by circumstances beyond his control.

It was a unique story that drew Gibson in, as he explained during a recent interview with Movie Web. "I knew it when I read the script, that it was different," the actor said, "that it took iconic characters and put them in absurd situations in the form of a western so it was therefore, kinda, in a weird way, fish out of water for everybody and therefore amusing."

Fatman premiered in theaters on November 13th and was released via On Demand and other streaming services the following week, on November 24. It remains to be seen how Fatman will hold up over the years and if it will become a treasured, if unconventional, holiday classic.