“I didn’t believe it.”
That was producer David Permut’s initial response upon hearing about Desmond T. Doss, the World War II medic who saved over 75 men in the battle at Okinawa without ever picking up a gun.
“A medic on the front lines of World War II? I knew the combat medics needed to be trained in riflery,” says Permut, who with Hacksaw Ridge counts his first Oscar nomination in his 35-plus years as a producer. “When I found out it was true, I was astounded by it.”
“Of all the great war movies of Hollywood’s history and past, how do you make a war movie distinctive or better than some of the great movies made? And what a hook of a man who is not going to touch a gun and stand by his convictions, and wind up being the hero that he became in saving over 75 men and never firing a weapon. It was an amazing story with a unique perspective,” explains Permut who sought out Desmond.
However, there was a mountain to climb. Darryl Zanuck, Hal Wallis, Audie Murphy already had approached Doss for his war stories, but the Medal of Honor vet resisted their offers. “He had Hollywood at his doorstep,” said Permut, “Desmond was a very humble and very modest man; never considered himself as a hero. He never felt comfortable going down the path with Hollywood.”
Here, in our conversation with Permut out of the Sundance Film Festival, the producer recounts the hurdles he overcame in getting Hacksaw Ridge before the camera (Permut was in Park City for his latest movie The Polka King). Hacksaw Ridge marks a huge comeback for director Mel Gibson whose last directorial was 11 years ago, Disney’s Apocalypto. It’s also Gibson’s first Oscar nod since collecting two trophies for 1995’s Braveheart as director and producer. In total, Lionsgate’s Hacksaw Ridge counts six Oscar nominations including Best Picture. Bill Mechanic is also nominated for a best picture nom alongside Permut. The World War II film has grossed over $164M worldwide to date.