“Meeting with Mel was intimidating”: Benedict Hardie on Hacksaw Ridge

Benedict Hardie.

Melbourne native Benedict Hardie’s list of acting credits includes The Water Diviner, The Outlaw Michael Howe, Strangerland, Deadline Gallipoli and Molly

Hardie is increasingly notching international gigs as well, starting with Syfy’s mini Childhood’s End last year. 

Next month sees the release of his two highest-profile features to date, with roles in eOne’s The Light Between Oceans, directed by Blue Valentine’s Derek Cianfrance, and Icon’s Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson – both of which land in Australian cinemas on November 3.

The actor describes Oceans, which filmed in late 2014 in New Zealand and Tasmania, as his first international gig. Hacksaw followed, with the shoot taking place in Sydney late last year.

The audition process was similar for both, Hardie says.

“They both involved an audition with the casting director, followed by a meet and greet with the director. In the case of LBO it was a long chat where Derek mostly asked me questions about my life, my childhood, and I told him anecdotes that were loosely connected to the script material, but [it] was also a broad-ranging get-to-know-you chat.”

“Meeting with Mel was more intimidating, and he was flanked by two of the film's producers David Permut and Bill Mechanic. All three of them turned out to be lovely and humble people, but that meeting was much shorter, and I guess it was more about them making sure I wasn't completely intolerable to be around.”

Cianfrance has a rep as an actor's director, having worked with the likes of Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne and Bradley Cooper on his last two features.

Hardie describes working with the American filmmaker “an absolute game-changer for me.” 

“His style and his philosophy is hugely rewarding for actors. Hugely challenging too, but an incredible experience. He’s focused on creating the environment where actors don't have to ‘act’, where truthful moments happen, and they only happen once. No rehearsals, no blocking, no calling action or cut; it was thrilling to be a part of. A nightmare for the crew at times, but really inspiring for me personally.”

The film saw Hardie work alongside heavyweights such as Michael Fassbender, Rachel Weisz and Alicia Vikander. 

“The film set is definitely their home turf, no doubt about that. They're three very different actors, in terms of their approach and their energy on set, but all an absolute treat to work with.” 

Hardie is equally full of praise for Hacksaw Ridge director Gibson.

“You often expect big stars to have big egos, but Mel was not only approachable and a very funny man, he was also hugely collaborative and creatively experimental. He didn't dictate the terms of a scene. He probed, questioned, and pursued the creative impulses that came up while he was immersed in all the production elements.”

The shoot for Hacksaw, which debuted at Venice in September to effusive reviews, saw Gibson back in Oz for the first time since Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. 

Like most Australian actors, Hardie had a connection to Gibson’s work from an early age.

“He's such an icon, and he can do that rare thing where he can appear in blockbusters without losing any of his individuality. I think history will remember him first as a director though, and judging by his energy on set, I think he's got a huge body of work still to come.”

Hardie plays Captain Daniels, who represents Andrew Garfield’s Desmond Doss when he is court-martialled for refusing to pick up a weapon, and describes the Braveheart star as “a very deep-feeling director.” 

“He really delves into the emotional reality of each of the characters while directing. Occasionally he would give technical direction, like faster or louder, but he never did so insensitively to the character's situation. When he talked to Hugo [Weaving, playing Doss’ father] about a moment, you could see that Mel felt Tom Doss's pain as much as Hugo did.”

“On top of that, he's also a natural comedian, and was often looking for little unexpected twists on a moment to try and bring some lightness to the story. It was a pretty big rush whenever I could make him laugh.”

Hardie saw a cut of the film at a small screening in late July and was “floored”.

“It's rare to watch a film you're in and lose yourself, but that happened for me. The performances are beautiful, and everything looks gorgeous, until, of course, it doesn't. The film manages to depict the brutality of war in a way I had never experienced before.” 

“It’s undeniably shocking but never indulgent or schlocky, and always stays anchored in the lived reality of the characters. The human story of the film never slips out of focus. In another director's hands I think it would have been a film about war, but in Mel's hands I think it's a film about humanity trumping war.”