Hacksaw Ridge Actors/Filmmakers Interviews
For me, it’s really exciting in a movie theater with both Christians and unbelievers when the opening scene of the film is a voice reciting scripture. That’s what happens in Hacksaw Ridge opening Nov. 4. It’s a true story of Desmond T. Doss, a young boy enlisting in the Army as a Medic, in WWII for the Battle of Okinawa. He refuses to touch a gun or kill people and is bullied by his fellow soldiers and superiors. The beautiful story by writers Andrew Knight and Robert Schenkkan of romance, family healing, fear and death, and a relentless faith by a young man disliked by everyone around him is another Non-Stop Gripping True Story.
I believe Hacksaw Ridge may be one of the best this year. In interviewing the actors, writers, producers and director Mel Gibson, who made this incredible story of love, faith, and sacrifice I realized every one of them deeply relived Desmond Doss’ world.
Q. It’s about war but Desmond Doss does not want to kill or fight, where does that leave him?
Mel G: I wanted the war situation to be realistic since Okinawa was the greatest loss of life in the South Pacific. The Japanese describe it as a steel rain of bullets along with explosions and napalm and I wanted to make it real. I think it highlights what it means for a man with convictions of faith to go into a situation that is hellish and reduces most men to the level of animals. Desmond manages to hone a spirituality above war, above religion, and performs acts of love, which is the beauty of the story.
Q. How has this film based on faith and vision affected your everyday life?
Mel G: I’m a poor practitioner. I would like to have good faith, and when I see stories like this about Desmond’s unshakable faith, I’m inspired. The movie isn’t so much about religion as it is faith, conviction, standing by what you believe, and pure love. It’s at the heart of God. As far as I go – perfect!
Robert Schenkkan (screenwriter): I don’t think you could tell the story of Desmond without revealing his faith. Desmond is an unusual hero, and it was important to get it accurate to who he is. He joins the Army in 1944, and points out he’s a vegetarian, he doesn’t work on Saturday (his Sabbath), and he won’t pick up a gun, so you can’t tell the story without speaking to the religious elements and faith of his life.
Q: Andrew, because we were not aware of who Desmond Doss was; did you just create him in your mind from the screenplay?
Andrew Garfield (actor – Doss): It’s rare for me to read a script and say I have to do this one. It’s a horrible feeling to have a longing of telling a story to be greater than the doubt that I could do it, but it was a testament to Robert and Andrew (writers) and also to Desmond and who he was. His life needs to be honored not only about his religious community but how his religion becomes transcendent in his actions and embodied at the moment he is face-to-face with a Japanese soldier and doesn’t hesitate to start healing a man in need. He doesn’t see skin color, he doesn’t see uniform, he doesn’t see an enemy, he sees another brother, this was a transcendent act and a rare thing for us to witness in our culture.
I wanted to know everything about him and went to Chattanooga Tennessee where he retired and passed away. I walked through his old woodshed, handled his tools, and walked around the lake he would have walked on. I spent the day praying he would guide me through this – how to move, how to speak. This film will create ripples in the lives of others once they see this film.
Q. Teresa, what was it like to play the female anchor, and the woman behind Desmond?
Teresa P: To be a part of the film that I knew had the ability to affect positive change in the world was a blessing, and to portray this woman with an incredible spirit although vulnerable, was strong and stood by her convictions.
Andrew G: Teresa embodies an unconditional love that’s rare to capture on film. Every moment with Teresa playing Dorothy I felt like I could do no wrong as a man, a husband and a terrible kisser. She profoundly nails the scene in the small prison room with a love that’s threatening to break down the stone walls with a love from every pore.
Q. Vince (Vaughn as Sergeant Howell), and Luke (Bracey as Smitty) how did it feel when you were out in the field of chaos?
Luke B: The first time we saw the battlefield and went up that rope, you couldn’t help but be struck by the absolute devastation and amazing job in creating a hell-like landscape. The special effects crew with the new type of box bombs and pyrotechnics added another layer to it. It helped filming the battle scenes to expose the most truthful story in the melding of the fear all the way down. Mel was instrumental in helping us betray the truth but also technically in making sure it was clear as possible.
Vince V: Each day it was about bringing the right level of intensity of what was going on. Seeing Mel in that environment and visually what he brought to it was incredible. I was impressed watching Mel be a conductor for all these moving parts and organizing 100 people who had to move quickly at a certain moment, along with things being thrown, and explosions. He was tremendous at making us feel relaxed enough to not overthink it but at the same time make it beautiful.
Q. Andrew and Luke how was the boot camp training?
Luke B: We had a week where we all just crammed from nine in the morning till five in the afternoon and worked with guys from Special Forces to do everything in boot camp like holding arms and really drilling it all in.
Andrew G: I think one reason the film works on an emotional level is because of the bond the actors in the barracks created. You can feel the devotion to each other led by Vince. As he said throughout the mockery there was a thread of love underneath every single moment. He was doing it because you he loves us and you could feel it through Vince’s spirit and how he created Sgt. Howell. One of the most moving scenes that makes me cry uncontrollably every time is after the first assault in the foxhole. The young boys who had no idea what they were about to face are naming names of those gone, and it’s a real test of their ability as actors.
Q. Mel, the movie is so moving and inspiring, so given the time we are in and the division of our country full of hatred, how do you think this movie fits in and what lessons can people from it?
Mel G: Real superheroes don’t wear spandex. Of what Desmond shows, I find the most inspiring thing is that he managed to transcend and get above the war and showed us another way to love. This is a love story. The world is in a really bad way. We should feel appalled at the brutality and viciousness of it but this story really accentuates the other side, that in the midst of it something good can come out of it.
Luke and Vince immediately said yes to this film after reading the script.
Luke: I said I would play a rock or a tree just to be part of that story. It’s a privilege to be part of something about what life and humans are worth and the beauty of humanity.
Vince: Mel is one of my favorite directors. A chance to be in a move about people who have a faith, along with a phenomenal filmmaker, is very exciting.
Hacksaw Ridge opens Nov. 4th
Photo Credits: Mark Rogers / Lionsgate