What drew you to the character of Desmond Doss?
It was one of those stories that rang a bell inside me. I felt compelled enough that I knew my drive to do it would supersede any doubt I had about myself being able to do it. Desmond was in touch with his spirit, with his own deep inner self, with God. In that way it was very inspiring.
How did you find working with Mel Gibson as a director?
He’s incredibly instinctive and emotional–all blood and guts, nerve endings, viscera and muscle. Simultaneously, he’s got a tremendous intellect.
The film puts spirituality front and center. Were you surprised to see how that theme crystallized in the finished film?
It was definitely in the script. I sat with Mel and talked at length about it, and my only concern was: I don’t want to do this film if the message is, “Christianity is the only way.” And he agreed. 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.
Your next film, Silence, is also about faith–you play a priest. How did you research the role?
I was prepping for a year. 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. 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.
This appears in the November 07, 2016 issue of TIME.