'Hacksaw Ridge' Composer Rupert Gregson-Williams on Working With Mel Gibson; Hear Score

Hacksaw Ridge
Mark Rogers/Cross Creek Pictures

Teresa Palmer and Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge.

For Hacksaw Ridge, the Mel Gibson-directed film based on WWIl conscientious objector Desmond Doss, composer Rupert Gregson-Williams had to musically navigate both the miraculous grace of love and the brutal ravages of war. 

The key, he says, was getting into the head of the Army medic who saved 75 men on the frontline of Okinawa while refusing to carry a gun, and portray Doss as a real man of faith, not as a superhero. “Trying to understand and represent someone's motives whose principles are so specific and deeply spiritual is not an easy task,” Gregson-Williams tells Billboard. “Mel and I both felt it was important not to represent Desmond as a conventional war hero - he wasn't. I wanted to drill down into the spiritual heart of the man and not represent him falsely. Andrew Garfield’s performance is so powerful I didn't need to tell people how brave and special a man he was.”

Garfield is already earning Oscar buzz for his riveting portrayal of the first conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor. The Summit Entertainment release opens on Nov. 4. 

Gregson-Williams found his way into the Doss character by writing a theme built around two cellos and two bassoons, with a two-part harmony reminiscent of a Gregorian chant. He took a lighter touch for the love story between Doss and his wife Dorothy, a nurse who captures his heart the minute he sees her. 

Gibson and Gregson-Williams spent hours talking about Doss and his character in order to foster Gregson-Williams’ understanding of his humility, in the face of committing unbelievable acts of courage. “Mel was very hands-on with the birth of the themes for the film, and was careful to guide me emotionally,” says Gregson-Williams, who has scored such films as Hotel Rwanda, The Legend of Tarzan, Over The Hedge and the HBO series Veep. “By that, I mean that it wasn't about musical style, instrumentation, tempo, etc., but about the subtleties of a principled hero. Mel and I had long conversations simply about story.” 

Gregson-Williams recorded the score at London’s famed Abbey Road Studios, with an orchestra that expanded up to 70 musicians, and a 36-piece choir. “Abbey Road is legendary, but also a fantastic sounding space,” he said. “I worked with Hozier on a song for Tarzan earlier in the year in the same room. You can get a punchy rock sound or a sweeping and epic orchestral sound in the same space. One of the best in the world.”

The exclusive video below showcases Gregson-Williams’ emotional score, which is by turns delicate and sweeping. Varese Sarabande will release Gregson-Williams’ 75-minute score on Nov. 4.