In the Spring of 1945 - as the war in the Pacific entered its final, most deadly days, and U.S. forces in Okinawa encountered some of the most ferocious fighting ever witnessed - a single soldier stood out from the rest. This was Desmond T. Doss, a conscientious objector, who despite vowing to never kill, served boldly as an unarmed medic in the infantry ... and went on to single-handedly save the lives of dozens of his fallen fellow soldiers under lethal fire without firing a single bullet.
An unwavering Seventh Day Adventist, Doss was living in Virginia when he voluntarily enlisted in the U.S. Army. He had no interest in fighting, but rather Doss wanted to serve as a "noncombatant" medic. It was not a path with which the military was familiar, but Doss persisted. Skinny, vegetarian and unwilling to train on Saturdays let alone carry a gun, Doss was initially ridiculed and abused by his compatriots - who, convinced he would be a dangerous liability in the foxholes with them, tried every which way they could to drive him out of the army. But Doss persisted all the way to Okinawa, where his unit was ordered to take part in the near-impossible capture of the massive Maeda Escarpment - aka Hacksaw Ridge. Atop this steep, looming 400-foot cliff lay heavily fortified machinegun nests, booby traps and Japanese soldiers in caves who vowed to fight to the end.
It was there that Doss demonstrated that he was made not only of principle but also rare courage. Facing a desperate assault of heavy fire, Doss refused to seek cover. When his battalion was ordered to retreat, he alone remained behind and ran repeatedly into the kill zone, with nothing but his convictions, to drag to safety an estimated 75 badly injured men who were destined to die had he not intervened.
Doss would go on to receive the Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman in October of 1945, with a citation that drew attention to "outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions." It was then that the journey to bring Doss's story to the screen began. Those who heard what Doss had achieved and understood how unusual it was (there have since been only two other conscientious objectors awarded the Medal of Honor) immediately saw that that it was a potent and provocative story. But it would be another half century before it became a reality - in part because Doss chose to lead a quiet, humble life without the notoriety a film would bring.
But now with a screenplay by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan (Kentucky Cycle, All the Way) and Australian writer Andrew Knight (The Water Diviner), as well as a highly accomplished team led by Academy Award®-winning director Mel Gibson, Doss's unsung story would at last be told as only 21st century filmmaking could. It would be not only a story of what men endured on Okinawa, but of the loved ones back home who shaped and bolstered Desmond Doss's belief.
Producer Bill Mechanic, explains: "Desmond never wanted to sell his life rights, he didn't want to popularise himself, feeling that that would be a contradiction to who he was. It wasn't until late in his life that people convinced him that it was time to tell the story so that it would live on."
Doss passed away at the age of 87 in March 2006. Several years before that, filmmaker Terry Benedict had received his blessing to begin producing a documentary about Doss, "The Conscientious Objector", and secured the life rights to his story. Feeling the time was also right to explore bringing Doss's story to motion picture audiences as a multi-layered drama, Benedict approached producer David Permut.
Permut says "For the most part, Desmond has been a forgotten hero by the general public and I'm very proud that we had the opportunity to immortalise his legend in a film that presents a truly unique perspective of war, conviction and a man who stands by his beliefs at all costs."
Permut approached Mechanic, who was thrilled to become involved in the film.
Mechanic says: "I always saw this story as being about a man who has very strong beliefs - which are then tested in an absolute hell that he comes out of even stronger."
In search of a screenwriter who could navigate all the historical, biographical and spiritual territory of Desmond Doss's story, producers David Permut and Bill Mechanic hired Robert Schenkkan- who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his Kentucky Cycle plays, an epic story of Western history and mythology told through the intersecting stories of three Kentucky families. In 2014, Shenkkan won the Outstanding Play Tony Award® for All The Way, as well as numerous other awards, for its mesmerising take on President Lyndon Johnson's first year in office, in the wake of the Kennedy assassination. Schenkkan's passion for humanising large historical events seemed a unique match with the material.
It was certainly not a story that lent itself to a conventional structure - combining seemingly disparate elements of romance, family struggles, probing of faith and the brutal realities of war. But by utilising Doss's own verbal accounts of what happened, and accounts from Army records, Schenkkan honed in on exploring how Doss's steadfast belief that it was wrong to kill, even in a war he believed was just, emerged.
Mechanic explains: "We both felt you have to understand where Desmond comes from to understand the decisions he makes. We discussed at one point starting in Okinawa, but it was just too important to explain the impact of Doss's parents, of his meeting his wife Dorothy, and the formation of his rudimentary belief system as a young man."
Schenkkan played with some of the early chronology to craft a tight structure. He carved secondary characters from amalgams of real people, and streamlined events from Doss's early life. But when it came to Doss's incredible feats on Hacksaw Ridge, the screenplay hewed as close to the factual record as possible. That meant the film needed a director who could both expose the intimate inner life of the Doss family and also re-create the epic combat in Okinawa with a mesmerising realism.
That specific combination is why Mechanic began doggedly pursuing Mel Gibson. With films that span from the classic, Academy Award® Best Picture-winning Braveheart to The Patriot, We Were Soldiers, The Passion of the Christ and his most recently directed film, the Mayan civilization epic Apocalypto, Gibson has become known for meshing big themes with atmospheric style that takes audiences into revealing worlds. Mechanic had previously worked with Gibson on Braveheart and has watched as Gibson has continued to expand creatively.
"I first sent Mel the script for Hacksaw Ridge in 2002, and in 2010, and then again in 2014," recalls Mechanic. "His people had read it earlier, but up until the third time I sent it, Mel had been more interested in directing projects that he'd developed himself. In 2014, he read it overnight and by the morning he was essentially in."
For Mechanic, Gibson was always the ultimate choice. "Hacksaw Ridge felt to me almost like a companion piece to Braveheart," comments the producer. "It pulls together the same themes of faith, violence and war, though it's a very different story about a man from a very different time and background. To me, what also sets Mel apart as a contemporary filmmaker is how experiential his filmmaking is, how visceral the storytelling is in his films. He's become a consummate director. He's equally great with characters, with actors, with the camera and the editing process and with giving audiences a new experience."
Gibson saw in Hacksaw Ridge a chance to bring into the light a forgotten hero - and he was drawn to Desmond Doss as man who determined to find a way to live by the values that meant everything to him, even when they seemed in conflict with the whole world around him.
Says Gibson: "Desmond Doss abhorred violence, it was against his principles, his religious beliefs, but he wanted to serve his country in World War II as a medic. How does somebody go into the worst place on earth without a weapon? It was all the more compelling to me, because it was a true story, and I thought I could bring my visual language to it."
Gibson notes that Doss never called himself a conscientious objector. That was the army's term. Instead, he called himself a "conscientious co-operator," believing with unflagging tenacity that he had plenty to contribute without having to kill other human beings.
"He was a co-operator in the sense that he passionately wanted to join the war effort, but he wanted to enter it as someone aiming not to take life but to save it," says Gibson. "Still, you have to ask, what kind of madman goes into that kind of a conflagration seen on Okinawa without being armed? Doss defied what anyone could have expected from that situation. Somebody mentioned to me that the Congressional Medal of Honor is usually given to people who have a singular moment where they make a snap decision and do one heroic thing. One of the things that stood out to me about Desmond is that in Okinawa, this guy was heroic 24/7, for a whole month. He took heroism to another level not often seen."
"Once Gibson came aboard, we brought on Andrew Knight (The Water Diviner) to help build upon the incredible screenplay that Schenkkan had written several years earlier," says Mechanic.
Gibson looked to weight the balance between the home-front - where Desmond became the man he was - and the battlefield - where Desmond had to put his beliefs into action amid utter frenzy. "The first part of the film is a story of Desmond coming to grips with the difficult relationship with his father and his father's demons, and of finding his true love, who keeps him thinking of home," says the director.
Mechanic notes that when it came to the battle sequences, Gibson zeroed right in on the most essential and creative details. "Mel has such an eye for war action, I feel he was the real creator of all the battle sequences, regardless of who wrote the scenes," says the producer.
Yet even in the most frenetic action, Gibson wanted the humanity of the character to hold sway. He says of the battle sequences: "The important part was to give you the sense that this is the worst place anyone has ever seen, which it was for these men. And here's Desmond, this guy you've hopefully come to know and to love, thrown into this terrible place where he will finally see how measures up to the standards he has set for himself."
Finding the actor who could encapsulate the distinctive man who was Desmond Doss - humble, comedically romantic, peaceful yet full of unexpected depths of bravery -- would be key.
Bill Mechanic explains: "It was 14 years for me making the film, so I looked at many actors over that time to play Desmond Doss. He's a difficult character to portray because he's so inward, he's not going to explain himself a lot of times in the movie, so it had to be somebody who could inhabit his persona so fully that you could see who he was."
Mechanic knew that physicality was not the heart of the role, although it would take the lead actor into searing action. "Even if he was a Superman with a body built like The Rock, you still wouldn't believe that a person still could do what Desmond did," the producer muses. "It would take something else to believe in Desmond and that's what Andrew Garfield brought."
The Golden Globe® and Tony Award®-nominated actor known for his roles as Peter Parker in The Amazing Spiderman and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network , immediately jumped at the role.
"There wasn't any hesitation when I read the script" says Garfield. "I think it's rare in this world to have someone like Desmond, who is so tuned into themselves, so tuned into what that still, small voice inside is saying, that no matter what is thrown at them, they know what they can do, and what they will not do."
Doss's rare respect for the enemy and the sanctity of all human life also awed Garfield, who says it gave him pause. "Desmond treated the enemy with as much care as he would treat his fellow Americans. That's hard to wrap your mind around, but I wanted to try to understand it more, and to learn from his perspective on life and on the world - this beautiful perspective he had that we're all one. Even though I believe this is a story that transcends any specific religion, it's a very spiritual story," says Garfield.
Despite the fact that Doss is now deceased, Garfield says he felt a heavy responsibility to honor his life and achievements. He spent three months prior to production devoted solely to exploring Doss and his surroundings in depth.
"The preparation was extensive," Garfield comments. "I visited Desmond's hometown, the place where he retired, the home he grew up in and the home where he passed away. I walked the walks that he walked. I read all the books about him, absorbing as much as I possibly could. But that was just scratching the surface, really. One of the joys of doing a story like this is attempting to dive into someone else's being, the time in which they were alive, which is endlessly fascinating. You get to be an historian and a researcher."
Mel Gibson was gratified to see Garfield cut to the heart of the character he so wanted audiences to get to know. "Andrew is an amazing actor. He's not your typical looking action hero but he has those qualities inside him," Gibson observes. "He's a guy who, like Desmond Doss, has real convictions and so he was able to portray Desmond in a real and moving way. The film is so focused on his character, he really had to be our quarterback and he was."
Garfield was equally exhilarated by the working rapport with Gibson. "Working with Mel as a director has been a real highlight of my time being an actor so far," he says. "Mel tells a story in such a beautiful, compelling way. He's a bit like Desmond Doss in that he's got this real innocence and purity to him. With Mel, everything is on the surface, and you know exactly what he's feeling at all times, even if he doesn't want you to know he can't help himself. He's sincere and passionate, and it's infectious."
One of the most beautiful and transformational moments in Desmond's life comes on the cusp of war - when he bumps into the ravishing young nurse he is determined to charm and make his wife. Dorothea Schutte did indeed marry Desmond Doss, and became a beacon in his darkest moments at war.
Mel Gibson was excited to cast rising Australian actress Teresa Palmer in the role. "Teresa is so beautiful on camera and she brings a real warmth to this character that it needed. You almost see her as Desmond's angel of mercy because Teresa puts that quality out there," says the director.
Palmer felt an immediate connection to Dorothy. She explains: "I wanted to play Dorothy because she's such a strong woman who knows what she wants yet she also has a tenderness and complexity to her. My grandmother and my grandfather both served in World War II - my grandfather was a fireman and my grandmother sent Morse code. I can remember them telling me stories about their romance during that time, and the script felt reminiscent of those tales that I grew up listening to."
Like her cast mates, Palmer also dove into research. "I really studied how women of the time spoke and walked, their elegance," Palmer says. "I also thought a lot about my mother, her faith, and her gentler way of seeing the world, which reminded me of Dorothy."
But Palmer equally wanted to get a sense of that head-spinning, first-love passion that unfolds between Dorothy and Desmond on the screen. "Dorothy so fiercely loves Desmond, and from the start, her belief in him is completely unwavering. I wanted to ensure that this love felt authentic and real and connected, because it is such a foundation for how they live."
Andrew Garfield found instant chemistry with Palmer as the two tried to capture what they had seen of the couple's relationship. "There's this amazing This is Your Life episode about Desmond where you see he and Dorothy interact together on stage," Garfield explains. "They're these very direct, no games, joyous, emotionally available people - and that's what Teresa and I were excited about playing. Teresa is this unconditionally loving, nurturing force."
Says Palmer in turn of Garfield: "Andrew lived and breathed Desmond Doss, he stayed in accent the entire time and he even held himself like Desmond the whole time. That put pressure on me, because he is so giving to his craft. I didn't want to let him down and so I wanted to bring my all too."
Producer Bill Mechanic says Palmer did just that: "We wanted someone the audience can see is able to inspire Desmond's ongoing faith while he's at war. Teresa plays Dorothy as a woman of her times yet whose beliefs are as strong as Desmond's."
Desmond Doss and the remarkable man he became was shaped by his environment - by the Great Depression and the pre-war years, by the dynamics of small-town Virginia life, by his faith, and more than anything by his family. So casting Doss's parents was a vital link for Mel Gibson. The director says: "If you're making a film about someone who really existed, you have to investigate those he loved, those who loved him, and the forces exerted on him by the people around him."
The most overwhelming force on Desmond as he was growing up was that exerted by his father, Tom. Theirs is a defining relationship in the film, both because of the deep shame the two share and the abiding love they find in spite of it.
Tom Doss is a traumatised man, whose inner being was shattered by the horrors of the Western Front and the loss of his childhood friends in World War I. Permanently haunted and unable to return fully to the world of the living, he wreaks havoc on the family with bottled emotions that boil over into violent alcoholism.
Australian actor Hugo Weaving, known for films ranging from The Matrix to Captain America, plays Tom Doss with insight and compassion. "Hugo Weaving is a stalwart, and his acting prowess is renowned, so he was a welcome addition in this vital role," says Gibson. "He brings Tom Doss to life with an intense and human reality."
Weaving says Tom immediately struck him as both authentic and tragic. "There's a lot to make you understand what has brought all this anger about in Tom," says Weaving. "His flaws are very human. He talks a lot to Desmond about friends who died in World War I, so you get the sense of this cycle of male aggression being passed from one generation to the next. To me he's a very critical character within the whole arc of the film. He's also a very complex, damaged, and ultimately sad man, which is a compelling challenge for an actor."
Weaving did his own research as well. "I wanted to understand more about post-traumatic stress, and what it was like to be on the front lines in World War I," he says. "It's something I've been interested in for a long time - the effects of that particular war - so I did a lot of research, and also really tried to use my imagination to understand what it was like."
While Tom is vehemently anti-war throughout Desmond's youth, Desmond chooses a different path - one that shuns killing but not serving or risking one's life. Notes Andrew Garfield of Tom's influence: "Desmond turns his father's anger into a fierce determination to serve, and to not be his father. I think the inability to heal his father of his alcoholism or his self-loathing gives Desmond this deep drive to serve others. That's why he never felt like he was ever serving enough until he was depleted and literally couldn't move anymore."
Garfield was amazed by how deeply Weaving embodied Tom. "Hugo is such a funny, playful person but as this bruised, raging alcoholic that everyone's terrified of, he is totally heartbreaking. You really feel for him, as I believe Desmond felt for his father."
With a husband in turmoil and two sons who desperately need her direction, it falls to Desmond's mother, Bertha, to try to hold her family together, physically and emotionally. It is she who becomes Desmond's moral anchor - and when he goes to war, his youthful urge to protect his mother morphs into a drive to protect all human lives.
Academy Award® nominee Rachel Griffiths, recently seen in Saving Mr. Banks, immersed herself in the challenging role of a woman who was both traditional and a powerful influence.
"I did a lot of research on the lives of women who endured the Great Depression into the War years," Griffiths says. "They were often married to men who'd been terribly affected by World War I and they were also raising families through one of the most difficult financial times in modern history. Then, just as they seemed to be coming out of the toughest times, the world starts sending their sons off to war. I think it was a particularly difficult time in human history to be a woman and a mother."
The gritty yet tender photographs of Depression-era rural women taken by the iconic photojournalist Dorothea Lange especially inspired Griffiths. "In the faces of these women you can see that they're drawing on a deep strength and faith within that I'm not sure that we have so much in modern times," she observes.
She also explored the Seventh Day Adventist church to which Bertha belongs and its philosophies, which are the underpinning for Desmond's ethics. "It was really important to me that faith is not a didactic character in this film. It's an underlying force that informs people's moral choices in the screenplay, and that feels very authentic," says Griffiths.
Most of all, Griffiths sees the story as evoking questions about right and wrong, duty and honor, that remain as universal and relevant as ever. "I'm fascinated by stories of conscience, when somebody has to lean hard against the tide of public opinion. Who has the courage when it really matters to stand up for what they believe in? Sometimes the price those people pay is a huge price. What's wonderful about this story is that Desmond is vindicated in his faith, and his values turn out to be justified."
Griffiths believes Mel Gibson has an unusual capacity to explore this very specific kind of territory. "I've worked with some very intellectual directors, who, if you ask 'Why would I be doing this?' their answers can be very detached. They talk in pictures, in a cinematic language. Mel talks in a human language. He's always looking for that sense of life and the camera is always right in the action. He does that great thing of putting you in someone else's shoes, whether it's a warrior in ancient Scotland or Desmond Doss."
Sergeant Howell/Vince Vaughn - The Drill Sergeant of Company B, Sergeant Howell is quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and tries to be hard but fair with his men knowing full well that even a minor loss of focus could be fatal to them. When he initially encounters Desmond Doss, the idea of a soldier who refuses to pick up a weapon makes no sense to Howell's way of thinking.
Taking the role is popular star Vince Vaughn, known for both comic and dramatic roles ranging from Wedding Crashers to True Detective. Here, he does something different from what has been seen before. Says Andrew Garfield: "The humanity Vince brings to this role is something gorgeous. Desmond and Sergeant Howell go on a journey that is emotionally complicated and Vince took his character on a real perspective shift, approaching the role with both sensitivity and humility."
Vaughn was fascinated by the total re-think that Desmond Doss causes in the typically straightforward military style of leadership. "In the beginning, Sergeant Howell is clearly an adversary who's attempting to prevent Desmond from following his instincts," notes Vaughn. "However, you see that Howell ultimately becomes a mentor as well. He gives Desmond skills that he's actually able to use when they go into battle. It's a very rewarding journey - rather than signifying one archetype, Sergeant Howell gets to represent different archetypes."
Vaughn notes that Howell is blown away by what he sees from Doss even before they get to the heat of battle. "Sergeant Howell had probably seen a lot of guys giving him excuses or reasons to avoid things," says Vaughn. "But with Desmond, it becomes very evident that this person is actually being true to who he is and he's willing to go through a lot to stick to his guns. If someone has conviction in their actions and is willing to pay a price for that, it's hard not to admire that."
He, too, jumped into researched, especially exploring beneath the prototype of the barking drill sergeants to understand their vital role in preparing newcomers for what really happens in war. Part of his insight came from having military in his own family, and visiting troops in combat. "I've gone over to Iraq and Afghanistan in the past with the USO to entertain the troops, and if I can take their mind off the conflict, or just reach out to them even briefly, I've done my job. I've always really enjoyed being able to give back to our troops," says Vaughn.
Also drawing Vaughn to the role was a first opportunity to work with Mel Gibson. "I think Mel is one of the great directors alive," he says. "Apocalypto was incredible, on another level. To attempt things that are pioneering in cinema today is very unique."
Gibson says of Vaughn: "You see his talent as he treads a fine line between being a really hard guy and a compassionate guy. You can see a trace of another life where Sergeant Howell is a reasonable fellow, not the maniac that he appears to be at first. Vince took possession of the character and played it out in full. He had a lot of fun in between takes, but he never really dropped character."
Fellow actor Sam Worthington was also surprised by Vaughn's performance. "People think of him as a great comedian, but Vince is a committed team player and he wants to do roles that are interesting and out of his wheelhouse, and I love that kind of bravery," he says.
Smitty Ryker/Luke Bracey - Smitty Ryker, the natural leader of Desmond Doss's company and his greatest rival, is played by rapidly ascending Australian actor Luke Bracey, recently seen in Point Break . Ryker is a fictional character created to be emblematic of the many men who challenged Doss with their skepticism.
Bracey was strongly drawn to playing Smitty. "I'm a history buff and World War II has always fascinated me," Bracey explains. "That's what drew me in initially, and then it was the unique story of Desmond Doss, and on top of that having Mel Gibson direct it."
The most intriguing part for Bracey was exploring how Smitty's deep suspicion of Desmond turns, over time, into the deepest kind of respect. "Smitty's mistrust of Desmond evolves," says Bracey. "Smitty initially doesn't understand Desmond. He's a guy who prides himself on being able to read people immediately, but Desmond keeps making these strange decisions that contradict who Smitty perceives this man to be. But when he sees who Desmond is in battle, all these bricks Smitty has built between the two of them get knocked away. He sees so much strength of character in Desmond and he realises they're actually similar kinds of guys. They have a strong brotherly connection by the end of the film."
Bracey viewed dozens of World War II films and documentaries, especially those based in the Pacific, to get a real sense of what it was like for the soldiers. He also engaged in intense physical preparation.
Mel Gibson was impressed with what Bracey brought to the character, inside and out. "Luke is a really great up and comer with all the action hero attributes - but here he takes on a role where he does things perhaps you don't expect him to do," Gibson summarises.
Captain Glover/Sam Worthington - Captain Jack Glover was a real person - a former Detroit policeman - and as Commanding Officer of the 307th Infantry, 77th Army Division, 1st Battalion, Company B, he was tasked to create an entirely new unit from scratch. In the film, facing the stark, life-or-death stakes of war, Glover feels he doesn't have time for anomalies such as Desmond Doss. Glover tries to move Doss out on a psychiatric discharge, but when that doesn't stick, he places restrictions and pressures on Doss, who still refuses to buckle. When Glover tries to court martial him, and that too doesn't work, his hand is forced - but Doss surprises him again.
The Australian actor Sam Worthington, seen in such blockbuster films as Avatar , Clash of the Titans and most recently Everest, portrays Glover. He was excited to play a real-life hero and honor the unlikely connection between Glover and Doss.
"The real Captain Glover was a very strong man. But I liked the idea that he and Desmond were coming at the idea of saving lives from two different angles. Doss was ready to try to do it without a weapon as a medic. Glover believed you're only as good as the man next to you, and if the man next to you in a warzone doesn't have a weapon it will most likely end tragically. I liked getting both sides of the argument," says Worthington.
Worthington has starred in a number of films set in war and has spent a lot of time contemplating why it is a force that both compels and repels us. "I think war brings out the worst in man, but at times it also brings out the very best. We've been inundated with so many movies about war, though, so it's great to see a truly fresh angle we haven't seen before in Hacksaw Ridge."
One of the most intriguing members of the film's cast is Damien Thomlinson, a real-life war veteran who portrays a badly wounded soldier named Ralph Morgan. Tomlinson brought a deeply personal perspective to the film's battlefield scenes. He served in the Australian armed forces in East Timor, in the South Pacific and then in Afghanistan - where in 2009, he lost both legs in an IED strike. The injury was so severe that he says, "There's no real reason why I should be alive."
Thomlinson had been studying acting when a teacher told him about a casting call for a double amputee soldier. He decided to take the chance. "I asked my manager to get in touch with the casting agent," recalls Thomlinson, "and two days later I was in a room reading for her. Two weeks later I was written into the script."
Once he joined the production, Thomlinson was excited to see how much emphasis was being placed on veteran's' true experiences. "It's great how accommodating the cast and crew were to me, and to other veterans. They had five guys on set one day who'd all been injured in service overseas. Mel had a good talk with them, Sam Worthington had plenty of time for them, and it all made a huge difference. From the experience of a war veteran, I know these small things really matter to people who've served."
Thomlinson especially understood what it means to have a compatriot risk his own life to save yours. "The character I'm playing would not have been a priority to save," Thomlinson points out. "Desmond staying with him was completely counter to standard operating procedure in World War II. It shows tremendous strength of character, which is inspiring."
The scene in which Ralph Morgan loses his legs and is rescued by Desmond Doss, a documented event, meant reliving one of the most emotionally and physically painful experiences of Thomlinson's life. But he was ready to give it his all.
"I always knew that scene was going to be heavy," Thomlinson says. "I was worried about whether it was going to bring anything back, because I don't remember anything from the night that it happened to me. But the next day I was just content that Mel was happy with it, and that I'd brought my best game so that we could get the best out of Andrew Garfield, who was mind-blowing through the entire experience."
Mel Gibson says: "For Damien, it was a strange and painful journey to do what he had to do in the film but he really pulled it off. I don't think he's done a lot of acting on camera before, but he was great. He was willing to go deep in there and explore that place where he was injured. It's no small thing."
Garfield was moved by Thomlinson's resolve. "Damien was amazing and went fully into a moment of agony and terror," recalls Garfield. "I hope it was healing for him in some way to relive that, to maybe get a bit more clarity around that moment. It was really humbling to be around."
Thomlinson says he was grateful to have the chance to share his experiences and knowledge - and even help one of his fellow soldiers. "Early on, I was asked if I knew someone with army medic knowledge to be Andrew's consultant. It was amazing for me to be able to call someone who was there the night of my incident, someone who pulled out his A-game and went a level above to keep me alive. To able to then give him the call that we needed a medical liaison for Mel Gibson's new film ... that meant a lot to me, to be able to give back."
The film's supporting cast includes a roster of veteran Australian actors such as Richard Roxburgh, as well as several up and coming stars including Ryan Corr, Jacob Warner, Luke Pegler, and Hugo Weaving's son, Harry Greenwood.
The ensemble in the barracks particularly struck Andrew Garfield. "The boys in the barracks are such incredible actors - Jake Warner, Ben Mingay, Ben O'Toole and Firass Dirani, to name a few - and they made the experience rich, but also fun. I think we all needed to keep each other light and joyous, and these Aussie lads did just that."
Desmond Doss's defining moment came in the battle to capture the Maeda Escarpment - known as Hacksaw Ridge for its precipitous, sawed-off appearance - which stood in the way of the 77th and 96th Infantry divisions' advancement in the Spring of 1945. The Ridge was being tenaciously defended by desperate Japanese soldiers who sprayed heavy fire and explosive mortars on the approaching Americans well hidden within machine-gun nests and deep caves across the steep terrain, causing mass casualties. Had it not been for Doss carrying his fallen comrades one-by-one out of peril and lowering them off the 400-foot summit, those causalities would have been far higher.
Mel Gibson wanted to bring the visceral immediacy that has been a hallmark of his work as a director to the Hacksaw Ridge's battle scenes. Though certainly no newcomer to pulling off epic, complex battle scenes in wars spanning from The American Revolution to Vietnam, the film marks the first time Gibson has explored World War II.
Gibson's approach was to keep it very, very real - to utilise as many in-camera effects as possible, with little reliance on CGI. This led to the innovation of several live special effects, which were created and employed by Second Unit Director and Stunt Coordinator Mic Rodgers, Special Effects Supervisor Dan Oliver and Lloyd Finnemore as Assistant Special Effects Supervisor.
Bill Mechanic says: "From Braveheart to Apocalypto , Mel's style is to essentially do everything practically, which really keeps you with the characters in a world that feels like you are there."
To re-create Okinawa's infamously intense pyrotechnics on set, the Special Effects team created a new device, which they dubbed a "bomb box," an alternative to standard battle-scene tools such as pot bombs, which don't emit an authentic amount of debris. Assistant Special Effects Supervisor Lloyd Finnemore describes the device as: "An explosive that lives inside a cardboard box, sitting above the ground, which also contains safe debris that is thrown out at speed. The device also houses an element that produces a flash, so that it creates a strong, high-explosive signature. With this, we were able to carry off practical special effects that would normally require massive amounts of computer generation."
Gibson adds: "These devices create explosions that stunt artists can get amazingly close to - and by close I mean they can stand right over them, or three feet away, or whatever it takes. When I was showing early cuts of the film, people would say to me 'Wow, great CGI, it looks real' and I'd say 'Well, it is real - our special effects team was that good.' For me, the aim is to always find the truth of the moment and they stepped up to do that."
That is part of what makes the experience of Hacksaw Ridge so personal for the audience, says Mechanic. "These real explosions make you feel as if you're immersed yourself in this raging battle," says Mechanic. "And on top of that, Mel shoots in a way that the camera is always right in the middle of everything which only heightens that impact."
The directorial job was intensely physical. Says Visual Effects Supervisor Chris Godfrey: "There are directors who stay inside their tents, but Mel physically embeds himself in the process. Mel might be in the tent, but if something wasn't working, he'd run out, throw himself on the ground and demonstrate what he wanted. There was our director, who has been in the game for 40 years, doing all this action stuff, then running back into the tent for another take. It's hard to say no to a man who willing to literally throw himself into the action for his art."
Second Unit director Mic Rodgers first met Gibson on the original Lethal Weapon , when he was chosen as Gibson's stunt double. Rodgers subsequently worked with Gibson on all the Lethal Weapon franchise films, as well as many others including Braveheart , Bird on a Wire , Maverick , Point Break and Ransom . Of the suite of effects his team used, Rodgers says: "There are a lot of explosions, wire pulls, fire gags, flame thrower fire gags, and we developed a way to actually hit a soldier with a flame thrower in real time. The idea was to keep everything very kinetic and realistic."
After coordinating explosions, atmospheric effects, bullets, and squibs, only a small amount of CGI was added at the backend, with Gibson giving the CGI team the mandate of "doing what you can do without anyone noticing."
For the actors, the sheer immediacy of the production's approach only made what their characters were going through that much more intense. "In a way, it makes your job easier when the explosions are so real because you are reacting naturally to that," explains Vince Vaughn. "Along with your preparation and the relationship you've developed with the other guys, when these effects are so authentic and graphic, you really can dive into that reality."
Hacksaw Ridge takes place in three starkly contrasting worlds: small-town Lynchburg, Virginia where Desmond grows up and develops his resolute philosophies of life; the WWII-era barracks where Desmond proves his unrelenting determination to serve as a "conscientious cooperator"; and the frenzy on the cliff-like terrain of Hacksaw Ridge itself.
To create all this, Mel Gibson assembled a crack team of craftspeople including director of photography Simon Duggan (The Great Gatsby, 300: Rise of an Empire, I, Robot); production designer Barry Robison (X-Men Origin : Wolverine); Oscar®-winning costume designer Lizzy Gardiner (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert); and Oscar®-nominated editor John Gilbert (The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring).
Production took place entirely in Australia, which was able both to simulate 1930s Virginia and the scrubby, harsh terrain of Hacksaw Ridge itself. Gibson says working there brought many advantages. "The level of the performers and the crew are excellent, as good or better than anywhere in the world. It's a great place to shoot and I think it will remain so."
Much of the challenging task of bringing Okinawa's demolished surroundings to life fell to special effects supervisor Chris Godfrey and his team. Godfrey explains what was required: "Okinawa was the last stand before the Allies reached Japan, so the Americans had been bombing it for weeks. Germany was already out of the war, so all resources were focused around Okinawa. The ridge was devastated in all directions, so that's where we came into play, trying to show the different scales to the devastation, from a ruined farmhouse surrounded by greenery to broken tanks."
The crew worked with closely with a bevy of experts, including a WWII battleship expert, who sourced reference footage, mapped out how the ships would have attacked, the size of the weaponry they deployed and the size of the explosions themselves. Godfrey says: "There are a lot of wonderful experts who know the fine minutiae of World War II and we relied on that knowledge."
The Hacksaw Ridge set was especially transporting for the cast. "It took your breath away," recalls actor Luke Bracey. "When they drove us up to the set to shoot the first scene, it was really confronting. There was a nice grassy hill and then a little bit of red clay, but beyond that it was just desolate, an absolute wasteland, full of crater holes, and shell holes, and burnt trees - we got this jarring image of a landscape that's been completely torn apart, and we understood a little bit of what those soldiers must have felt."
That was the reality Desmond Doss faced - a reality of harrowing war but one to which he carried his own ironclad belief in the power of cultivating peace. Sums up Mel Gibson: "How do you pay tribute to a man like Desmond Doss? I think the best you can do is try to make a story that feels true. Desmond went way beyond what most of us could do, and he was exceptional, but it's a reminder of how we all can try to measure up against that."
Andrew Garfield (Desmond Doss) is an award-winning actor who consistently captivates global audiences with transformative performances spanning feature films and notable theatre productions. Establishing himself as one of the most versatile actors of his generation, Garfield continues evolving his body of work in powerful roles and compelling narratives.
He will also be seen in Martin Scorsese's adaptation of the literary classic Silence , co-starring Liam Neeson and Adam Driver. The film tells a story of young Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century who were persecuted during their search for a priest who has forsaken his faith. Paramount Pictures will be releasing the film on December 23rd, 2016.
His previous film credits include: Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which combined have grossed over 1.5 billion at the box office; David Fincher's The Social Network, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe® for Best Supporting Actor; Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go opposite Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan; Ramin Bahrani's 99 Homes, Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus; Spike Jonze's robot love story I'm Here; Robert Redford's Lions For Lambs; Revolution Films' Red Riding Trilogy - 1974, directed by Julian Jarrold; and John Crowley's Boy A, for which he earned the Best Actor BAFTA in 2008.
Garfield started his career on the stage in a youth theatre production of Bugsy Malone. In 2006, he won the Milton Shulman Award for Outstanding Newcomer at the 2006 Evening Standard Theatre Awards for his performances in Beautiful Thing, Burn/Chatroom/Citizenship, and The Overwhelming. Garfield made his Broadway debut in 2012 in the revival of Arthur Miller's Pulitzer Prize-winning Play Death of a Salesman, opposite Phillip Seymour-Hoffman and directed by Mike Nichols. His portrayal of Biff Loman earned him a Tony Award® nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Play. In the spring of 2017, he will return to the UK's National Theatre in Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize winning drama Angels in America. Directed by Marianne Elliott, Garfield will play Prior Walter opposite Denise Gough as Harper Pitt and Russell Tovey as Joe Pitt.
Sam Worthington (Captain Glover) graduated from Sydney's prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in 1998. Upon graduation, he continued in the theater with a production of "Judas Kiss," directed by Neil Armfield, for Company B at the Belvoir Street Theatre.
Worthington made his feature film debut with the Australian film, Bootmen. His performance garnered him an Australian Film Institute (AFI) Award Nomination for "Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role" in 2000. Additional Australian film credits include Dirty Deeds with John Goodman, Toni Collette and Sam Neill; Getting' Square with David Wenham; and Geoffrey Wright's (Romper Stomper) contemporary adaptation of Macbeth in which he played the title character. It was Worthington's layered performance in Cate Shortland's critically-acclaimed and commercially successful Somersault which distinguished him from his peers. He earned an AFI Award for "Best Actor in a Leading Role" and a Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA) Nomination for "Best Actor - Male" in 2004. The film made a clean sweep of the AFI Awards, winning in all 13 film categories-the first time this had ever occurred in the awards' history.
With smaller roles in international films such as Hart's War, The Great Raid and Rogue under his belt, Worthington screen tested opposite Daniel Craig for the role of "James Bond" in Casino Royal. Although he did not land the much-coveted part, it proved to be the perfect dress rehearsal for the following year when James Cameron hand-picked Worthington to star in Avatar - Cameron's first narrative film since his 1997 Oscar-winning blockbuster Titanic. Avatar is the #1 highest grossing film of all time at over $2.7 billion worldwide. Avatar received several nominations for the 2010 Academy Awards® including "Best Picture." The film won 2010 Golden Globe Awards® in the "Best Motion Picture - Drama" category as well as for "Best Director."
Additional film credits include: Everest, The Keep Room, Cake, the Australian box office hit Paper Planes, Clash of the Titans, Wrath of the Titans, Man on a Ledge, Last Night, Terminator Salvation and The Debt.
Worthington's television credits include some of Australia's most acclaimed productions: "Love My Way," which won an AFI for "Best Television Drama Series," and "The Surgeon," which was nominated for an AFI for "Best Telefeature or Miniseries." Last year, he starred in and produced (with his company Full Clip Productions) the well-received Australian period miniseries Deadline Gallipoli alongside a cast which includes Hugh Dancy and Rachel Griffiths.
Worthington can be seen next in The Shack, which is based on the best-selling book. He begins shooting the much-anticipated Avatar sequels next year.
Luke Bracey (Smitty Ryker) is a star on the rise with a variety of coveted roles, most recently starring as Johnny Utah in Warner Brother's cult classic Point Break. Born in Sydney, Australia, Bracey grew up an avid surfer and sportsman. He studied at The Scots College in Bellevue Hill where he fell in love with entertaining and performance.
Bracey's reputation and strong performances continued to impress. He was awarded the role of Cobra Commander in the mega-franchise GI Joe: Retaliation, in 2013. In the Fall of 2014, Bracey broke out as a leading man in two films. In November Man, he played a CIA operative opposite Pierce Brosnan.
Bracey then followed in the footsteps of Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum and Liam Hemsworth to star in the October 2014 film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks best-selling novel, The Best of Me, in which he played a wrong-side-of-the-tracks teen who falls in love with the daughter of one of the town's most prestigious families.
Teresa Palmer (Dorothy Schutte) is becoming one of the most globally recognised actresses, bringing her talents to the US and worldwide from Adelaide, Australia. She has starred in many major films including Summit Entertainment's box office hit Warm Bodies with Nicholas Hoult and John Malkovich, based on the popular novel, as well as Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg's I Am Number Four.
She was most recently seen starring in James Wan's thriller Lights Out. Earlier this year, she starred in Terrence Malick's Knights of Cups with Christian Bale and in Lionsgate's The Choice, with Benjamin Walker. The film is based on the popular novel from highly acclaimed author Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook).
She has also completed Message from the King with Chadwick Boseman, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2016, as well as the Australian film Berlin Synrome and the Australian thriller 2:22.
Palmer's other recent films include Warner Bros. highly anticipated remake of the 1990's hit film Point Break; the crime thriller Triple Nine, starring with an all-star cast including Kate Winslet, Casey Affleck, Chiwitel Ejiofor, and Woody Harrelson, among others; the tumultuous love story The Ever After, which she also co-wrote and produced with Mark Webber; Cut Bank, starring opposite Liam Hemsworth, and the Australian film Kill Me Three Times. Her additional film credits include Parts Per Billion with Josh Hartnett and Rosario Dawson; the 1960s period drama Love and Honor starring with Liam Hemsworth; the Australian thriller Wish You Were Here with Joel Edgerton; Relativity Media's '80's coming-of-age comedy Take Me Home Tonight with Topher Grace and Anna Faris; Jon Turteltaub's The Sorcerer's Apprentice for Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Walt Disney Pictures with Nicolas Cage; Adam Shankman's comedy Bedtime Stories with Adam Sandler; December Boys with Daniel Radcliffe; and Restraint with Stephen Moyer.
Palmer was awarded the 2011 Australians in Film Breakthrough Award, commending the level of success she has already garnered in her young career. She was named one of Australia's 'Stars of Tomorrow' by Screen International and first caught the attention of audiences worldwide with her leading role in, 2:37, an Australian independent film that screened to acclaim at both the Cannes Film Festival in 'Un Certain Regard' and at the Toronto International Film Festival. The Australian Film Institute nominated Palmer as Best Actress for her complex portrayal of a high school student with a dark secret in the film. Beyond her acting pursuits, she has also segued into working behind the camera as a director, writer and producer developing both features and documentaries.
Additionally, she is the global face of Artistry Cosmetics (Amway) and has done several advertising campaigns with them that have been seen worldwide. She also has a health and wellness blog called YOURZENLIFE.com and recently launched the parenting arm YOURZENMAMA.com. Palmer resides in Los Angeles, California.
Hugo Weaving (Tom Doss) is widely recognised for his role as Agent Smith in the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi Matrix trilogy, as well as for his starring role in V For Vendetta and for portraying the ageless Elrond in the award-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. He most recently starred opposite Kate Winslet and Judy Dench in Jocelyn Moorhouse's The Dressmaker.
Weaving portrayed six characters of different periods and genders in Cloud Atlas, directed by Tom Tykwer with the Wachowskis. His popular roles also include Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull in Joe Johnston's Captain American and he's been seen in Johnston's The Wolfman and The Keyman. His most recent films include Strangerland, The Mule, The Healing, Tim Winton's The Turning and Mystery Road.
Weaving's voice work includes: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga 'Hoole; Noah the Elder in George Miller's Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two; and Rex the Sheepdog in the beloved classic Babe and its sequel, Babe: Pig in the City.
Weaving has garnered four Australian Film Institute (AFI) Awards, starting with Jocelyn Moorhouse's Proof and continuing with awards for The Interview, Little Fish and Oranges and Sunshine. He also received a nomination for Stephan Elliott's The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Equally well known on stage, Weaving has been seen recently in Waiting for Godot at the Barbican Theatre and in the Sydney Theatre Company's Endgame and Macbeth, as well as portraying Astrov in Uncle Vanya at Lincoln Center and in Sydney.
Rachel Griffiths (Bertha Doss) is well-known to both film and television audiences around the world for her award-winning work in such projects as ABC's award-winning "Brothers and Sisters" as well as HBO's Emmy®-winning drama series, "Six Feet Under" (Golden Globe® and SAG® Ensemble Cast Awards and two Emmy® nominations).
Griffiths was nominated for an Oscar® for her work in the acclaimed 1998 biopic, "Hilary and Jackie." Griffiths is also well known for her motion picture debut in "Muriel's Wedding" (AFI and Australian Film Critics Circle Awards), in which she played Rhonda, Muriel's indefatigable best friend.
Griffiths graduated from Victoria College and commenced her career on the stage with both the Melbourne and Sydney Theatre Companies. Her stage credits include A.R. Gurney's "Sylvia," Wendy Wasserstein's "The Sisters Rosensweig," Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," Ibsen's "A Doll's House" and David Auburn's "Proof," for which she won the Green Room Award. Griffiths made her Broadway stage debut in the 2011 production of Jon Robin Baitz's "Other Desert Cities," starring opposite Stockard Channing and Stacy Keach.
Ms. Griffiths has been continually recognised for her outstanding performances, including four Primetime Emmy® nominations for her portrayal of Brenda Chenowith in "Six Feet Under" (for which she also earned the Australian Film Institute Award and a Golden Globe) and for Sarah Walker in "Brothers and Sisters." She received her third AFI for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture in Rachel Ward's, "Beautiful Kate." Griffiths also received an AFI writing/directing nomination for her short film, "Roundabout" (as well as honors from the Melbourne Film Festival and the Australian Film Critics Circle).
In 2012 Griffiths took on the role of Christine Assange in the Australian television project "Underground," based on the formative years of the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. The following year she appeared in the Australian/NBC Summer television series "Camp." That same year she appeared as Aunt Ellie in John Lee Hancock's "Saving Mr. Banks" opposite Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. In 2015 she made her television directorial debut in the AFI and Golden Globe award winning "The Nowhere Boys" for ABC3. In 2016 Grififiths starred in the Irish film "Mammal," directed by Rebecca Daly, which had its International premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Most recently she wrapped on ABC-TV's "When We Rise" opposite Guy Pearce and Mary Louise Parker.
Vince Vaughn (Sergeant Howell) has become one of Hollywood's most highly acclaimed triple threats - as an actor, producer and screenwriter. A Chicago native, Vaughn first caught the attention of critics and audiences in Doug Liman's independent sleeper hit and cult classic Swingers. He reunited with Swingers screenwriter and co-star Jon Favreau in 2001 as producer and star of the comedy classic Made.
In the summer of 2003, Vaughn starred alongside Luke Wilson and Will Ferrell in Old School, a Todd Phillips comedy sensation that's now become a modern day comedy classic. In the summer of 2004, Vaughn re-teamed with Phillips to star opposite Ben Stiller in the hit comedy Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story. The film opened number one on its way to grossing $114 million at the box office. In 2005, Vaughn teamed up with Owen Wilson in the runaway comedy hit Wedding Crashers. With a domestic box-office take of over $208 million, the New Line Cinema release is the one of the highest grossing R-rated comedies of all time and the ninth R-rated film in cinematic history to pass $200 million domestically. In addition to reinvigorating the R-rated comedy arena, the film went on to become one of the highest selling DVDs of its genre. Just one year later, Vaughn re-teamed with Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin as co-producer of the holiday film Fred Claus, where Vaughn played Santa's disgruntled and bitter brother Fred, who returns to the North Pole after a long absence
Vince just wrapped production on S. Craig Zahler's Brawl in Cell Block 99 in Staten Island. He recently appeared in the critically acclaimed HBO series "True Detective" alongside Colin Farrell which premiered June of 2015 on HBO. Additionally, Netflix just renewed "F is for Family", a sixepisode animated series from Vaughn's production company Wild West Picture Show Productions based on the comedy of Bill Burr for a second season.
Wild West also produces DirecTV's "Undeniable with Joe Buck", a 10 episode series which features one-on-one in-depth interviews with various sports legends from Bret Favre to Wayne Gretzky which is just starting its second season. Additional WWPS credits include ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary on the '85 Bears which Vaughn also narrated along with the TBS original sitcom "Sullivan & Son", and the Vaughn-narrated the documentary film, Art of Conflict: The Murals of Northern Ireland, which premiered at the 2012 Galway Film Festival in Ireland.
Vaughn's film credits additionally include The Internship, The Watch, The Dilemma, Couples Retreat, Four Christmases, Into The Wild, The Breakup, Old School, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Thumbsucker, Domestic Disturbance, The Cell, Psycho, Clay Pigeons, Return To Paradise, A Cool Dry Place, Rudy, The Locusts, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2.