'Hacksaw Ridge' Star Andrew Garfield Shares How God Spoke to Him Through Christian-Themed Film

Nov 04, 2016 10:13 AM EDT

Hollywood actor Andrew Garfield recently opened up how he was inspired by the dauntless faith of his "Hacksaw Ridge" character, the late World War II U.S. Army medic Desmond Doss, and how God spoke to him while making the film.

The Mel Gibson film, which hit theaters today, tells the real-life story of Doss, a devout Seventh-day Adventist who despite being brutally challenged for his faith, refused to bear arms or kill in the Battle of Okinawa.

"One of the main reasons I was drawn to doing it and to playing him was his awareness of his own ego and humanity, but his faith was the strongest part of him," Garfield, 33, told Time Magazine reporter Sam Lansky of his character. "He was empty enough to be in touch with spirit, to be in touch with his own deep inner-self, to be in touch with God."

While he is not a Christian, Garfield said something drew him to the film in a powerful way: "I think when... you get pulled toward something-it means there's something urgent happening," he said. "I was so soothed spending time with Desmond because he managed to transcend or get underneath the pervading cultural attitudes through his faith and become a symbol of, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'; of, 'I will sacrifice myself for my brother.'"

He added, "The fact that he was able to say, in the face of men with guns, with the innocence of a child: 'I can't do that.'  There's a part of me that wants to do that just to shut you up, to be accepted and loved by you, and to make you like me. But to suffer you not liking me, you not understanding me-to listen to this deeper thing, I'm pretty sure that's God speaking to me, whatever I understand God to be."

Garfield also praised the "tremendous intellect" of director Mel Gibson: "It was vital to me that we communicated that Desmond's faith was deeper than any dogma, deeper than any set of man-made rules, but that he was in touch with a deep knowing in his bones, as opposed to any ideology. [Gibson] was in line with that, and I felt totally reassured that we could make the same movie together."

As earlier reported, Gibson, known for directing the 2004 film "The Passion of the Christ," made some slight changes to "Hacksaw Ridge" prior to its release to make it more acceptable for Christian audiences, cutting out all of the f-bombs and taking of the Lord's name in vain. The film still has an R rating, however, as it contains a significant amount of blood and gore violence befitting a war film.

"Hacksaw Ridge" has nevertheless received high praise from a number of Christian critics, including author Brett McCracken, who emphasized that "From start to finish in Hacksaw Ridge, the faith of Desmond Doss is central."

"It is tested, but it is never in doubt," he wrote. "There are very few major Hollywood films that have characters like this. And contrary to some perceptions (or wishful thinking) about one's faith, Doss shows that while it is deeply personal to him, it is not private. It is something that has bearing on how he lives, how he works, and how he serves and loves people around him."

Meanwhile, in December, Garfield is will appear in another Christian-themed film, starring in Martin Scorsese's Silence, in which he plays a 17th-century Jesuit priest who travels to Japan to minister to outlawed Christians.

"I underwent this spiritually transformative process that St. Ignatius created-a retreat where you meditate and imaginatively walk with Jesus through his life, from birth to resurrection," the actor shared when asked what sort of research he did to prepare for the role. "My experience was very personal. Hopefully we're dying on the cross every day and being resurrected in a truer way every day. That's the idea, for me-the old self being shed in order for the truer self to emerge."