TODAY | April 13, 2012
>> half hour with mel gibson in the hot seat once again, a screenwriter claims that gibson went on hateful anti-semitic rants and derailed a project they were working on together. we're going to talk to that writer exclusively in just a moment. first we have "today" national correspondent amy robach joining us with the story.
>> ann, good morning to you. talk about a vicious war of words. it began when joe eszterhas teamed up with mel gibson to make a film about a jewish wash yore. the collaboration turned very ugly and even scary, says the writer. now the two hollywood heavy weights are going after one another. new troubles for mel gibson .
>> he's moving from famous to infamous.
>> reporter: in this nine page letter famed screen writer joe eszterhas fired off directly to gibson . he writes, i've come to the conclusion that the reason you won't make the maccabees is the ugliest possible one, you hate jews .
>> joe eszterhas has lambasted mel gibson in this extraordinary, multipage letter.
>> reporter: eszterhas says gibson regularly used slurs to describe jews . it all began last year when eszterhas, whose credits include "basic instinct" and "flashdance" teamed up with gibson to write the screenplay for a movie about jewish warrior jude today maccabee. gibson was to be the producer and director for the already controversial film dubbed the jewish braveheart until warner brothers stopped production. that's when eszterhas fired off his scathing letter to gibson , which leaked online. in the letter eszterhas recounts threats gibson allegedly made about ex-girlfriend oksana greg riffva, writing you said you'd become friends with two fbi agents or former fbi agents and they were going to help you to kill her. the letter describes wild outbursts that eszterhas said put his family in fear for their lives while staying at gibson 's home. i kept the golf club by my bed and held my rosary with my other hand.
>> it comes down to a battle between two hardened dinosaurs.
>> reporter: it's not the first time gibson 's been under fire. he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor battery charge after the infamous audio recordings with his ex-girlfriend.
>> you need medication.
>> you need a [ bleep ] in the side of the head, all right?
>> reporter: some call gibson 's 2004 film " passion of the christ " anti-semitic. a complaint he denies. several years later when arrested for drunk driving he told the officer the jews are responsible for all of the wars in the world, according to a police report . he pleaded no contest to a dui, and later apologized for the incident. gibson denies eszterhas' allegations. in a letter he sent to eszterhas and also provided to nbc news, gibson writes the great majority of the facts as well as the statements and actions attributed to me in your letter are utter fabrications. i would have thought that a man of principle, as you purport to be, would have withdrawn from the project regardless of the money if you truly believed me to be the person you describe in your letter. gibson says he apologized for what he called his intensity, and said he's pressing on with the project, without eszterhas' screen play . in 25 years of script development, i have never seen a more sub standard first draft or a more significant waste of time. he says eszterhas is upset because warner brothers rejected the screenplay, adding the decision not to proceed with you was based on the quality of your script, not on any other factor.
>> if you believe joe eszterhas , it was a brilliant script, but mel gibson didn't like because, quote, he hates jews . if you believe mel gibson , joe eszterhas wrote a terrible script.
>> reporter: nbc news reached out to oksana grigorieva for a response and her pr representative told us this is an extremely serious situation. there is no scenario where i think that these comments, if they were uttered by mr. gibson , are acceptable or tolerable. ann?
>> all right, amy robach . thank