In Hacksaw Ridge, the young British actor plays Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to be awarded the American Medal of Honor for his bravery during one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War on the Island of Okinawa in the Pacific.
Tell us a little bit about the film and the character of Desmond Doss?
It’s a true story about a young man in the mid-40s in a small town in Virginia called Lynchburg who, because of his religious beliefs and his kind of core values, doesn’t believe in violence, and he doesn’t believe in taking life. He’s in an incredibly hard dilemma where we find him at the beginning of the story because he wants to serve his country in the war because he feels like it is a righteous war, but he wants to do it in a way where he doesn’t have to compromise his integrity and his values. Desmond Doss is just this incredible inspirational figure, this gentle warrior I’d guess you call him.
So what initially drew you to the story?
There wasn’t any hesitation when I read the script; it was a compelling script and a compelling person to go on a journey with. There’s something about a person following the beat of their own drum and no matter what the resistance to that will be by the society he finds himself in, or she finds herself in, and he sticks to his principles and his inner voice. I saw the documentary that Terry Benedict made, and he was just this remarkable, pure spirit, this kind of clean mountain air guy. I think it’s rare in this world to have someone that is so tuned into themselves, tuned into that still small voice inside that no matter what is thrown at them they know what they can and can’t do, and they live according to their deepest truth.
What preparation did you do for the role?
I visited Desmond’s hometown, and visited the home that he grew up in, and then the home where he passed away. And I just walked the walks that he walked, and I did a lot of reading. With a story like this, one of the joys of doing it is that you get to dive into someone else’s being, and someone else’s life, and the time in which they were alive as well which is endlessly fascinating. So it’s like you get to be a historian and a researcher for however long you have. I had like three months to get myself together, so, yeah, it was great.
Can you tell us a little bit about working with Mel Gibson?
A real highlight for me of my short time being an actor so far is working with Mel as a director. I loved his movies obviously before as an actor and as a director as well. He just tells a story in such a beautiful pure way, and a compelling and exciting way, and it’s never boring. He’s like Desmond in a strange way: he’s got this real innocence and purity, everything’s on the surface. You know exactly what he’s feeling at all times, even if he doesn’t want you to know he can’t help himself, it just is. He’s just so sincere, and passionate, and it’s this infectious thing. I think it’s been a very happy shoot for the entire crew because everything trickles down from the top, and he’s at the top. And of course, having someone who’s such a great actor with their eyes on you just makes you feel so safe.
What was it like working with Hugo Weaving?
I loved Hugo. The amazing thing that I discovered about Hugo is how childish he is, and how much of a kid he is, he’s like a clown in the most wonderful way, he’s so funny and playful. And then, he’s playing this incredibly damaged, bruised, and scary father. He is the rage-oholic, alcoholic in the house that everyone’s terrified of, and it’s totally compelling.
And what about the Australian cast. How was it working with them?
The boys really made this job for me. The boys in the barracks, they’re all such incredible actors in their own rights, and there’s some beautiful scenes with Luke [Bracey]. I just was so grateful for at the end of the day, a really beautiful relationship that we got to create. And then the other boys like Jake Warner, Ben Mingay, Ben O’Toole… they really made this experience rich but also really fun. I think we all needed to keep each other light and joyous, and, you know, the Aussie lads are good at that.
It sounds as if you have enjoyed filming here…
I’ve loved it, it really felt like an extension of home. And the crew here is really something. So unpretentious, so hardworking, and there’s no such thing as a hierarchy. It’s a company and it’s a real community effort. You don’t often get that in films, you find it more often in theatre in my experience but when you find a real sense of camaraderie and community in a film set you can’t get better than that.
What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
A story like this is going to touch everyone in a different way. I think it’s going to be impossible not to be touched by it because Desmond Doss is impossible not to be inspired by, moved by, and totally awestruck by. So I hope that people get to know someone who could potentially be an inspiration for their lives.
Hacksaw Ridge is out March 15
Interesting facts about Hacksaw Ridge
- The Maeda Escarpment – known as Hacksaw Ridge for its sawed-off appearance – stood in the way of the 77th and 96th Infantry divisions’ advancement in the spring of 1945.
- The number of lives Desmond Doss saved is debatable – he estimated it to be 50, while the military put it closer to 100. 75 was the figure finally settled upon.
- Severe damage to his arm prevented Doss from continuing his career in carpentry following the war.