The first thing I ask Adelaide-born actress Teresa Palmer about her role in Mel Gibson’s new drama Hacksaw Ridge is whether or not it can legitimately be called an Australian film.
After all, the true story of WWII hero Desmond Doss is an American tale without a single Australian character in it, but the entire production was filmed Down Under and the cast is mostly Australian.
“I call it an Australian film,” Palmer says confidently. “If it wasn’t for Screen Australia and the immense amount of Australian support, this movie would never have been made.”
Thank God for that, because this is one film the local industry should be proud to claim as its own.
American actor Andrew Garfield (of Spider-Man fame) delivers a career-defining performance as Private Doss, a conscientious objector and Seventh-Day Adventist who voluntarily enlisted to go to Japan in 1942 as a medic.
Doss was sent to fight in the brutal battle of Okinawa, but refused to bear arms or kill another person due to his religious beliefs.
The retaliation he faced from his confused and ignorant comrades was cruel and relentless but Doss, who died in 2006, proved himself to be a living miracle on the battlefield, becoming one of the war’s great heroes without firing a single bullet.
After its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival in September, Hacksaw Ridge received a 10-minute standing ovation.
“The first time I saw it, it was very confronting for me,” says Palmer, who plays Doss’ loyal fiancee Dorothy Schutte.
“I cried for three days afterwards just at the brutality of the war.”
Indeed, Hacksaw Ridge doesn’t shy away from its subject matter. The gore is gruesome and the battle scenes brutal and unflinching.
Even so, it’s difficult to look away – the characters immediately command your attention and emotional investment, and the action is firecracker-fast.
When you remember it all actually happened, you’re even more entranced.
The man responsible for the compelling portrayal of this very important story is director Mel Gibson, whose history in Hollywood has been chequered to say the least.
Asked whether she was hesitant to do a movie with a man who, for many years, was better known for his 2006 drunken, anti-Semitic meltdown than for his films, Palmer is diplomatic.
“I can’t speak to any of that because my experience with him was so positive that he became very quickly my favourite director I’ve ever worked with,” she says, revealing they bonded over a shared love of Adelaide.
Alongside Palmer is a cast that has cherry-picked the best of Australian talent: Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey and Richard Roxburgh. American star Vince Vaughn also provides some welcome comic relief.
“We shot about an hour outside of Sydney in this very small town and they just turned the town into this 1940s street, and it was so beautiful with vintage cars and extras in beautiful dresses,” Palmer recalls of the filming process.
“The locals all came out, probably about 200 people, everyone was very excited.”
Looking back, Palmer describes the Venice standing ovation as a turning point for the film.
“That was a pretty pivotal moment. It was the first time we were all together as a cast and to have such an immense response from the audience was very surreal and humbling,” she explains.
“But we all knew that we were a part of something special.”
Hacksaw Ridge is in cinemas from November 3. See the trailer below.