Any actor or actress would admit that it’s tricky to play roles based on real people.
On one hand, they do mountains of research to make sure they’re staying as true to life as possible. On the other hand, they try to add their own touches to the performance so that their work can be called their own.
American actor Andrew Garfield, 33, faced that *dilemma when playing Desmond Doss in recent Mel Gibson film Hacksaw Ridge. Doss was a US army medic during World War II who refused to carry a gun because of his *pacifist beliefs, but saved 75 lives without firing a single shot. His actions made him the first *conscientious objector–a person who objects to serving in the armed forces for moral or conscience reasons–to be presented with the Medal of Honor, the US’s highest military honor awarded for personal acts of *valor above and beyond the call of duty.
This isn’t the first time that Garfield has endured the responsibility of playing a well-known figure. He starred as the *titular character in two of the Spider-Man movies, which according to him brought a different kind of pressure. “Spider-Man is so active in people’s imaginations that everyone has their own version of the character in their head. But there’s only one version of Desmond,” he said.
His first stage of research was to study as many images and documentaries of Doss he could get his hands on. But Garfield soon realized that he needed to learn not only the veteran’s external characteristics, but also “his essence, his insides, that deepest part of himself”, he said.
To help achieve his goal, Garfield traveled to Chattanooga in Tennessee to visit the last home Doss lived in before he died in 2006. The actor wanted to walk where Doss walked, handle the tools Doss handled, while all the time keeping in mind how the research would affect his performance.
“For me, with a man like Desmond, I don’t think I could have gone too far in terms of getting to know who he was,” Garfield said. “But it can’t be an impression of him. That doesn’t interest me。”
“There are certain things that are wonderful as resources you get to mimic. But then there is the other part of the *alchemy process in making the character you.”
Garfield explains that it’s like the difference between slipping into someone’s clothes and stepping into their skin. Until he goes deep inside a role based on a real person, he doesn’t feel he’s done the work justice. And it’s not until he fully understands the character that Garfield feels confident he can do the things asked of the role in the script without hesitation or thought.