Rick Bentley

Mel Gibson’s impressive beard and Benedict Wong on ‘Doctor Strange’

Benedict Wong plays Wong in “Doctor Strange.”
Benedict Wong plays Wong in “Doctor Strange.”

The first time I interviewed Mel Gibson was in 1995 for his film “Braveheart.” That was a time when a person could smoke in a public place without fear of being attacked or arrested.

During the entire interview, Gibson was either puffing on a cigarette, lighting another one, playing with the package or moving the ashtray around like it was a metal detector and he was looking for lost coins.

This came to mind during a recent talk with the actor/director for his new movie, “Hacksaw Ridge.” The film is based on the true story of Pvt. Desmond T. Doss, a conscientious objector who saved 75 lives during one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.

This is a nonsmoking world, so Gibson has turned to another way of keeping his hands busy. He’s arrived sporting a beard that is somewhere between those seen on “Duck Dynasty” and the facial hair of Tom Hanks in “Cast Away.” Gibson spends the whole interview either stroking the beard, twisting it into point or twirling the ends of his mustache.

It’s distracting, but luckily Gibson has a lot of interesting things to say about his latest directing effort.

On the amount of violence that’s in “Hacksaw Ridge,” he says: “Firstly, I wanted to be realistic in the war situations. The Japanese described this battle as a ‘steel rain of bullets.’ I think it also highlights what it means for a man with convictions of faith to go into a hell on Earth. This is a situation that reduces most men to the level of animals and in the midst of that maelstrom, this man hones his spiritual ways. He goes in and performs acts of love in the middle of war.”

One of the ways Gibson made the battle scenes look real was hiring actors with a Japanese heritage to play the opposing army. The director did find it funny that during breaks from filming he would hear all his Japanese extras with Australian accents because most lived in the land down under.

Although the situations couldn’t be any more different, Gibson agrees that there are some parallels to be drawn between the way he portrays Doss and that of Jesus in his “The Passion of the Christ.” Both profess their belief in love and compassion even when condemned and shunned by others.

The final shot in “Hacksaw Ridge” offers a slight glimpse into the respect and admiration Gibson found in Doss. It’s enough to make a person stroke his beard.

Two Wongs

My, how times have changed.

For the majority of my career, I would rarely talk about being a comic book collector because it was looked at as a lesser kind of reading material.

That’s not the case now. The explosion of films and TV shows has made comic books very popular. Now, when talking with actors, it’s becoming clear a lot of people have been hiding their comic book love.

British actor Benedict Wong, who plays Master Wong in “Doctor Strange,” grew up reading superhero comics. His knowledge of “Doctor Strange” was so good, he was a little hesitant about taking on the role. When “Doctor Strange” launched, Wong was Strange’s valet. Wong – the actor and not the character – likes that the role has changed and now he’s the guardian of the mystical library.

“I was looking forward to playing the new version of Wong,” Wong says. “Strange and Wong start out as an odd couple but in the end they are standing side-by-side to face this unknown.”

Wong was excited to be cast in “Doctor Strange” as he and Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the good Doctor, have been friends for years and worked in theater productions together.

In many of their scenes, Doctor Strange desperately tries to get Wong to laugh, including making fun of how the character is known by only one name.

“He was definitely trying to get me and the character to laugh because Benedict can do a great riff,” Wong says. “I really had to hold myself back because there is a seriousness to Wong. He’s not your normal librarian. If you have an overdo book you will probably be fined with broken fingers.”

Wong loves that he’s joined the growing ranks of actors who have appeared in comic book movies. At times, when he was on the set, he felt like when he was 11 and collecting comics. Then he would get a warm feeling and realize that he’s “still a big kid.”

Other news

Fall finale: Fox will broadcast “Empire’s” third season fall finale at 8 p.m. Dec. 14. It will be followed by the special premiere of “Star” at 9 p.m. “Star” follows three young singers who are desperate for a new start and are filled with ambitions of stardom.

Dog days: NBC will air the 15th anniversary edition of “The National Dog Show Presented by Purina” at noon Nov. 24. It will follow the telecast of NBC’s “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.”

More, more, more: Disney Channel has ordered a third season of “K.C. Undercover,” the spy comedy/action series starring Zendaya. Production on the new season will begin in early 2017.

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1