Robert Schenkkan Q&A: ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ writer
“It was a very satisfying experience, after a very long time,” says screenwriter Robert Schenkkan during our recent webcam chat (watch above) when asked about the long and sometimes torturous path to get “Hacksaw Ridge” made. Schenkkan came on board 10 years ago to write the script, but the World War II film languished in development hell.
The project eventually took off when Oscar-winning director Mel Gibson (“Braveheart”) took the reins as director. Co-writer Andrew Knight was brought on board to help with the script while Schenkkan was away working on the HBO adaptation of his Tony-winning play “All the Way.” Working with Gibson was a highlight for Schenkkan, who is quick to praise the helmer: “He’s a movie star as an actor, but he’s a very accomplished director and and excellent screenwriter. I found Mel to be nothing but generous and imaginative and demanding, in the best kind of way. It was a great experience.”
“Hacksaw Ridge” tells the inspirational true story of army medic Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a deeply spiritual and passionate pacifist who served during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II and saved countless lives while never using a weapon. Doss later became the first Conscientious Objector in history to be rewarded the Medal of Honor for his acts of bravery.
Schenkkan acknowledges that it was no easy feat writing about this real life hero: “The challenge with a character like Desmond Doss, is that the temptation would be to write him as a secular saint. That it was all divinely inspired and orchestrated and he was just along for the ride. And that’s just not very interesting and I don’t think it’s true. It does a considerable disservice to what he actually achieved.”
The cast and crew of “Hacksaw Ridge” are now enjoying the fruits of their labor, as the box office hit has been enthusiastically acclaimed by critics and various awards groups. Schenkkan is no stranger to awards, having won a Pulitzer Prize (in 1992 for his play “The Kentucky Cycle”) and a Tony Award (in 1994 for “All the Way”) and numerous other accolades including three Emmy nominations (two bids in 2010 for “The Pacific” and a nom earlier this year for “All the Way”).
But his experience on this project, particularly when he first saw the completed film at its premiere in Venice, is a memory that he cherishes most of all. He reveals, “The first time I saw the film completely put together was in Venice, at the film festival. So we’re all sitting in the back, Mel, the actors and myself, and the film concludes, and the audience stands up and applauds. For 10 minutes! And they turn so they are facing us and applauding, and eventually we all just instinctively just walked down from the rear of the theater to embrace and shake hands and just have this human moment with each other. It was just so moving. Completely unexpected, certainly something you hoped would have achieved.