Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson, tells the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), an Army medic, Medal of Honor recipient, and conscientious objector. Doss saved over 75 lives during the Battle of Okinawa without ever holding or firing a weapon.
Luke Bracey plays Smitty, one of Doss’s fellow recruits in boot camp, and Vince Vaughn plays their drill sergeant, Howell. Screen Rant spoke to both men at the Hacksaw Ridge press day about the preparations they did for the roles and their characters’ complex relationships with Doss and his unorthodox philosophy.
First of all, congratulations on this film. I loved it, it was amazing, amazing. And congratulations on the Cubs making it to the World Series.
Vince Vaughn: Thank you, thank you.
It’s been a long time coming, right?
Vince Vaughn: Yeah, a little bit of time, here.
Luke Bracey: Beautiful story.
How was the bonding experience on set? Because I know a lot of war films have their actors go through boot camp together and stuff. How was that experience, did you guys even do anything like that?
Luke Bracey: Yeah, we did some work. You know, there’s a bit of cramming to do, drilling and weapons, kind of stuff like that. And it was actually very organic; we got together and the Aussie boys who were part of the platoon there were all so on board to tell the story in the best way possible. And when everyone’s on the same team, heading in the same direction, it became very organic and kind of took off from day one, from the first minute we got together. And that camaraderie really comes through in the film, you know? It’s certainly not faked. There was a real sense of brotherhood, we were kind of undergoing an important undertaking in telling this story and being a part of this Desmond Doss epic.
And then Vince, for you, when you meet the recruits in the barracks and you start talking to them individually, how much of that is improvised and how much of that is actually on the page?
Vince Vaughn: It was really there on the page, it was really well scripted. I mean, we played around with it a little bit; Mel had some ideas and I had some ideas for lines. But it was really there. And it’s, you know, that galvanizing moment. You’re trying to bring these men together, so you wanna be tough on ‘em, you wanna prepare them for difficult situations, to be able to make the right decisions. Their lives and their friends lives depend on it. And you wanna use a little bit of humor, as well, and kinda get them to hear you when you’re talking with them.
Absolutely. When is it that each of your characters start to gain respect for what Doss is doing and what he kind of stands for?
Luke Bracey: I think for me it’s after he gets beaten up in the barracks, and then Vince comes in, and he proves to be who he says he is. And that’s the first, kind of, “oh wow, this guy is actually maybe one of the strongest around here.” And my character, for me in that scene, is kind of a bit annoyed that no one kind of speaks up. Everyone’s acting tough and then there’s Desmond actually being it. And then slowly from there everything he does I think he just, I just kind of acknowledge it and understand it. Keep running into him on that battlefield and just can’t believe it’s him. And then obviously we have that amazing moment in the foxhole, those couple of scenes there, and they come around in that beautiful way, and you realize that I have a brother there, and someone who’s actually much more similar to me than I ever thought.
Awesome. And for Sergeant Howell’s character?
Vince Vaughn: Yeah, is to prepare—is to get these guys to go to war, so it’s an odd duck to suggest that he’s not gonna bring a gun with him. So it wouldn’t be a fit. I think I respect Desmond, I think my character realizes that this is his belief system, but that it’s not gonna be a wash. And there’s no pride in it, it doesn’t feel good. I think there’s a lot of empathy my character has for these gentlemen, all these guys, what we’re asking of them. It’s a tough conflict between his belief system and what the military is demanding. But I think that there’s a bond that goes—you know, my character never has too much of a turnaround, in that he’s apologizing for anything, and that we have a good sense of humor and a bond between us that kind of laughs throughout it. So I think you’re just on different sides of things, and there’s I think a mutual respect for being true to what you believe is correct.