Mel Gibson on God, Heroes, and War

His new movie 'Hacksaw Ridge' shows 'what we're capable of as human beings,' he said in a revealing interview

by Ann Oldenburg | Updated 04 Nov 2016 at 11:10 AM

After a 10-year break from directing, Mel Gibson is back behind the camera for his new movie, “Hacksaw Ridge.” The film, opening Friday, is earning early rave reviews and Oscar buzz.

In an interview with Raymond Arroyo, managing editor and lead anchor of EWTN News and host of "The World Over," Gibson was downright garrulous, answering questions with thoughtful remarks while twirling his beard and eating pieces of chocolate ("I work for chocolate!" he joked). He was often philosophical about his filmmaking — and his life. Arroyo's interview with Gibson airs Thursday night on EWTN.

"I got a bit rocked," said Gibson in a revealing interview with Raymond Arroyo.

The only bit of politics the actor mentioned was when he referred to the presidential election as "a tragic joke."

Otherwise, Gibson, 60, shared his behind-the-scenes vision for the story of real-life Desmond Doss, a United States Army corporal and combat medic during World War II who became a conscientious objector and recipient of a Medal of Honor.

"This guy put his life on the line, again and again and again," Gibson told Arroyo, who is also editor-at-large at LifeZette.

Heroes are a constant theme of Gibson's work on the big screen, from "Braveheart" to "Mad Max" — men with faith in their cause who carry on despite their environment, just as Doss does. "I admire and worship heroes and what they tell us," explained Gibson, "not only about what they are, but what we could be. Their souls, their spirits, are amazing."

Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in what was the biggest gamble and the biggest achievement of Gibson's life — the 2004 film "The Passion of the Christ" — told Arroyo that Gibson works from "a place where God exists."

"It's nice of Jim to say that," said Gibson, a traditional Catholic. "I certainly believe in God. I ask for His help from time to time."

But "Ridge" — despite the conviction and commitment to faith Doss shows on the battlefield — isn't a religious movie. Gibson sees it as "a love story." In the first part, Doss falls in love with a nurse, but then the violence of war is shown — in all its graphic drama.

"It's a war film," acknowledged Gibson, meaning it's also an anti-war film. "You can't have an anti-war film without showing at least a modicum of the hell of war, of what it's actually like."

He also told Arroyo, "Anyone who's sane hates war."

Is there something of Gibson himself in the movie? "I don't think I could do what Desmond did, but I like to think I could. I was kind of raised with the idea of some things being more important than life." He's intrigued by the big theme in "Hacksaw Ridge," he said, which is: "People who go to extreme places for something bigger than them."

The actor has gone through some battles of his own. He explained his 10-year absence from directing this way: "You can take some shots along the way and you don't always handle it too well. I got a bit rocked. You have what's called a nervous breakdown and it can take a few years to come back. And I think that's where I was for a little while."

His last directorial effort, 2006's "Apocalypto," set in pre-Columbian Yucatan and Guatemala in 1511, was not appreciated and pretty much bombed at the box office — another bit of "rocking" for Gibson. But he's ready now for "The Resurrection," his sequel to "The Passion," which is in the screenwriting phase and is at least three years away.

Related: Mel Gibson's Quiet Comeback

"It's a tall order because the subject matter is vast," Gibson said. "It's not, 'Man comes back, walks through walls, has holes in hand, eats fish.' It's not that. It's a vast theological experience. And I think you need to delve into what that means ... You take that as the centerpiece and juxtapose it to many things that go on around it and in other realms. It gets pretty wild. It's like an acid trip."

In the meantime, his bushy beard is for his role in "The Professor and the Madman," which he's shooting now. Gibson plays the professor, James Murray, who created the Oxford Dictionary. Sean Penn stars as the "madman."

"He's doing a good job, too!" joked Gibson, adding, "He's a great actor."

But first, there's "Hacksaw Ridge" and a return to the limelight and Hollywood redemption.

What's most important for Gibson, though, is that "it's a story worth telling about a guy who existed, for real. He shows us a light about what we're capable of as human beings. It's just that whole thing of being able to rise above our natures — because he did unnatural things, God-like things, in the midst of the worst place on Earth."

Gibson hopes to make a connection between Doss and the many war veterans today who battle post-traumatic stress disorder. He says these veterans are not getting enough attention. "Love or hate war, you gotta love your warriors," he said.

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