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Hacksaw Ridge Producer Remembers WWII Hero Desmond Doss

Producer Terry Benedict on the set of Hacksaw Ridge
Movie Info
 

RATING:

R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images

GENRES:

Biography, Drama, Romance, War

RELEASE:

November 4, 2016

STARRING:

Andrew Garfield, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving, Milo Gibson, Luke Bracey, Rachel Griffiths, Nathaniel Buzolic, Matt Nable, Richard Roxburgh

DIRECTOR:

Mel Gibson

DISTRIBUTOR:

Lionsgate

More on this movie at IMDb.com

Hannah Goodwyn - Senior Producer

Getting Mel Gibson's new film, Hacksaw Ridge, to the big screen was no small feat. Hollywood has wanted to tell the story of Desmond Doss since 1945, when President Truman pinned the Medal of Honor on the WWII Army medic's uniform.

But, Doss didn't want any glory or fame for himself. All he ever wanted was to glorify God. So, the answer was always no.

That is until he had a pivotal conversation with his friend, documentarian Terry Benedict, standing in a grocery store parking lot in Chattanooga, Tennessee, during the late 1990s. Benedict remembers that day well.

"I just told [Doss] I really felt that his story and his journey of faith in the most dire of circumstances could be an inspiration for everyone, whether they have faith or not….", Benedict recalls. "I said, 'Listen, I'll do everything I can to protect the essence of your character, and I'll answer to God first, you second, and everybody else can get in line.' He kind of got a big grin over his face and said, 'Alright, let's do it.'"

That conversation was a long time coming for Benedict. It all started for him at the age of 10 when he picked up a copy of The Unlikeliest Hero. An avid reader, Benedict flipped through the pages of the 1967 paperback and hung on to every word as author Booton Herndon detailed Doss' valiant actions on the battlefield outside Okinawa, Japan.

"I had never heard anything like it," he says. "It just stuck with me."

Just a few years later, Benedict met his hero for the first time at a summer camp in Indiana.

"That cemented even further the boyhood hero image in my mind," Benedict says. "He was just so nice and it really felt like he cared a lot for everybody he came in contact with. [Doss] just had a gentle spirit about him."

The war hero became like a grandfather to Benedict. Over the years, the trust that built between them led to the production of Benedict's 2004 documentary, The Conscientious Objector. And it's that award-winning project that became the foundation for Mel Gibson's new movie, Hacksaw Ridge.

"When Mel saw the documentary, he saw the worthiness of a simple man willing to stand by his convictions, live by faith, and let faith in his relationship to God carry the day," he says.

According to Benedict, Gibson even had the cast watch The Conscientious Objector in preparation for filming.

Andrew Garfield (who plays Doss in the movie) studied the documentary, but took it a step further. He traveled with Benedict through Tennessee and into Virginia, where Doss spent his childhood, to gain a deeper insight into the man he was hired to portray.

"He really wanted to crawl into Desmond's skin to be as comfortable as he could and be as authentic as he could be as an actor," Benedict says. "So, we worked together to get him to that point; and of course he had asked a lot of questions to get answers that weren't in the documentary."

"[He] delivers an incredible performance. If you see the documentary and you see Hacksaw, it's just amazing how seamless the transition is.… I'm very happy with how things have turned out."

For Benedict, Hacksaw Ridge gets a lot of things right. One of his non-negotiables, so to speak, was the portrayal of Doss' personal faith and how it influenced his decision to become a conscientious objector.

"[Doss] didn't pass judgment on anybody else. He wasn't trying to convert anybody else to his way of thinking," Benedict says. "He was simply acting out the way that God had impressed him to do."

His friend and childhood hero's faith is evident throughout Gibson's film. But, it's one scene in particular -- toward the end -- that moves him the most.

"I remember Andrew and I had a conversation about that particular scene. The men are waiting for him to finish praying…. He's standing with his back to the men in a very unassuming way. He wasn't again trying to sell anything. He was very private," Benedict says. "That moment in time, you see it in the trailer, where he's got his back to the men praying, I thought that was probably one of the nicest moments, not just in that film, but in faith-based storytelling because too often I think we get too overt in how we show or tell stories in faith. This was just one of those little, small, but yet super poignant moments where understating it carried the day."

Desmond Doss passed away on March 23, 2006, a little more than 10 years before his feature film finally made it to the big screen. Always wanting to point people to God, Doss lived to inspire the next generation. Now, through producer Terry Benedict and director Mel Gibson's film, his legacy of faith and courage will live on for years to come.

Get a copy of Hacksaw Ridge on Blu-ray & DVD

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