"I felt like sending Michael Richards a note," Gibson says in an interview in Entertainment Weekly's Dec. 8 issue. "I feel really badly for the guy. He was obviously in a state of stress. You don't need to be inebriated to be bent out of shape. But my heart went out to the guy."
The 50-year-old actor-director added: "They'll probably torture him for a while and then let him go. I like him."
After his Nov. 17 tirade became known, Richards apologized on David Letterman's "Late Show" on CBS, saying his remarks were sparked by anger at being heckled, not bigotry. He also apologized to the Rev. Al Sharpton and on the Rev. Jesse Jackson's syndicated radio program.
Gibson, star of the "Lethal Weapon" movies and director of "The Passion of the Christ," was mired in a scandal of his own this summer for anti-Semitic comments he made to police in Malibu, Calif., during his arrest on suspicion of drunken driving. He publicly apologized.
"No, people aren't like that," Gibson tells the magazine. "Those are just the headlines: 'Mel Ostracized by Hollywood!' Hollywood is what you make it. There is no great pooh-bah up there saying, 'Go! You are condemned!'"
Gibson says he's not anti-Semitic.
"I never have been and never would be," he says. "But (the incident) hit this fear thing in me. My God, I made people afraid. ... And it was a horrible feeling. That's when I said, 'My God, I don't want to be that monster."'
His new movie, "Apocalypto," from the Walt Disney Co.'s Touchstone Pictures, opens Dec. 8. It is a Mayan-language epic filmed in Mexico that chronicles the decline of the native civilization over a thousand years ago.
He's confident his past remarks will not hurt the movie at the box office.
"It's primarily entertainment," he says of his production. "An 18-year-old college guy, out with his buddies, he's going to get into the chase. The movie will stand on its own, regardless of any unfortunate experience I may have stumbled upon."