The ac­claimed Aussie ac­tor’s poised for lead­ing man sta­tus and Os­car suc­cess, thanks to his bril­liant new film, Lov­ing.

Joel Edgerton is de­tail­ing this year’s Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. He’d been be­fore. But that was then, 2013, aboard Gatsby with Baz et al. And three years ago, it meant just 36 hours on the ground – one red car­pet ap­pear­ance, one press con­fer­ence, a wave to the crowd, gone. “But this time,” says Edgerton, “I was like, ‘Fuck. I have eight days. I’m go­ing to ar­rive early, ac­cli­ma­tise, see a cou­ple movies.’ And I just went to party af­ter party af­ter party...” He’s not jok­ing – the am­far gala, the Hol­ly­wood For­eign Press As­so­ci­a­tion fete at Baoli Beach, and the Van­ity Fair bash at the Hô­tel du Cap with Leonardo Dicaprio, Mick Jag­ger and a Jen­ner. Ken­dall, ap­par­ently. “Yeah, that took some stamina.” Edgerton was, fi­nally, act­ing like the Hol­ly­wood star we al­ways knew he’d be. If the tuxedo fits, wear it. His time on the Côte D’azur this May was to sup­port Lov­ing, the gen­tle ex­plo­ration of a real-life, in­ter­ra­cial cou­ple from Vir­ginia – the pair jailed in 1958 be­fore tak­ing their fight for mar­riage equal­ity all the way to the Supreme Court. The film is more timely than ever, and that res­o­nance – along with stel­lar per­for­mances by Edgerton and co-star Ruth Negga – made Lov­ing the toast of the Croisette, sug­gest­ing Edgerton could be the first Aussie to win an Os­car for best ac­tor since adopted-aus­tralian Rus­sell Crowe in 2000. Va­ri­ety la­belled Edgerton a born-again star: “He’s been on the rise for sev­eral years now, but when you watch him in Jeff Ni­chols’ del­i­cate and orig­i­nal civil-rights drama, you feel as if you’re see­ing a brand new ac­tor.” Truth is, you could say that about most films Edgerton’s ap­peared in. The guy’s a straight-up shape-shifter. It’s his great­est gift, and also the rea­son he’s not yet a house­hold name – in Amer­ica, any­way. Hol­ly­wood prefers its stars to pick a lane and per­form the same trick again and again, but Edgerton re­fuses to be pi­geon­holed. He was an ar­ro­gant, mous­ta­chioed prick in Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, more than hold­ing his own op­po­site Dicaprio, Carey Mul­li­gan and $100m in 3-D se­quins. It’s hard to be­lieve he’s the same guy who played a shred­ded an­i­mal, wrestling Tom Hardy in War­rior. Or the cor­rupt FBI agent who con­vinces Whitey Bul­ger to flip in last year’s un­der­rated Johnny Depp out­ing Black Mass. Edgerton’s joked about his sta­tus in the Hol­ly­wood food chain be­fore: “That’s why they pay us the medium bucks.” Right now, he’s at a cross­roads – the kid who grew up work­ing class in Western Syd­ney poised to be­come a bank­able lead­ing man af­ter a decade spent steal­ing ev­ery scene he’s in. If he’s ba­si­cally un­recog­nis­able in Lov­ing, hid­den be­hind to­bacco-stained teeth and Eminem’s ’90s bleached cut, the Os­car In­dus­trial Com­plex will as­sure his rugged face is ev­ery­where. And the ten­sion of what that could mean for him is pal­pa­ble. Months on from Cannes, we’re sit­ting down to a late break­fast in Bev­erly Hills, not too far from Lau­rel Canyon, where Edgerton and his di­rec­tor brother, Nash, bought a “shitty lit­tle house – a kind of stop-in thing”. He’s dressed like an ur­ban cow­boy – den­i­mon-denim, a felt hat from Venice Beach, tor­toise­shell sun­glasses and half a dozen thin neck­laces that nuz­zle at his neck. He re­moves his jacket to re­veal a snug T-shirt and a tat­too of three seag­ulls peek­ing out from be­neath a larger-than-ex­pected left bi­cep. His eyes, of­ten de­scribed as small, are – more no­tice­ably – ocean blue. It all screams off-duty Hol­ly­wood star, down to the egg­white omelette he or­ders with an apol­ogy. “I’m los­ing weight right now for a fuck­ing job,” he of­fers. “I’ve dropped 10 ki­los in three weeks. Yes­ter­day, I had a can of tuna.” He’s in a con­tem­pla­tive mood, and for good rea­son. Hav­ing bro­ken off an en­gage­ment to fash­ion de­signer Alexis Blake in 2013, he’s since worked non-stop and, fi­nally, it seems the prize is within reach – a shiny gold statue and the spoils that come with it. For Joel, such ex­cess is ir­rel­e­vant – he’s a proud and ded­i­cated am­bas­sador for The Fred Hol­lows Foun­da­tion, un­fazed by the lu­di­crous­ness of celebrity that ar­rives in free three-piece Sav­ile Row suits, ex­pen­sive skin­care prod­ucts and daily adorn­ment. He hasn’t lost his way. And he won’t. “You have to be care­ful about how much you in­dulge and how much you buy a ticket to your own pa­rade.”

The real Richard Lov­ing was a soft-spo­ken brick­layer who looked quite a bit like Edgerton. The two share a strong pro­file and a good-old­boy de­meanour. But Lov­ing had no in­ter­est in the spot­light – he came to promi­nence de­spite him­self. In 1958, po­lice en­tered his bed­room in the mid­dle of the night and ar­rested him af­ter he’d crossed state lines to marry an AfricanAmer­i­can woman. A photo of the cou­ple ran in Life mag­a­zine un­der the head­line: ‘The Crime of Be­ing Mar­ried’. True to his name, Lov­ing was a sim­ple man who couldn’t un­der­stand why the world was so cruel. On pa­per, the part of Richard Lov­ing seems muted. He’s the silent, brood­ing type, his speech sad­dled with For­rest Gump’s south­ern drawl. There’s no ob­vi­ous Os­car mo­ment here, ei­ther – no ex­plo­sive clip that screams, ‘Get this man a podium.’ Come to think of it, even the fi­nale is quiet. There’s no cli­mac­tic scene at the Supreme Court where Richard and Mil­dred are tear­fully re­united. They don’t even de­cide to take their case to the courts un­til well into the sec­ond half of the piece, and it wasn’t even Richard’s idea – it was his wife’s, as well as a few up­start lawyers, per­haps swayed by the idea of mak­ing a name for them­selves. Most of what we’re view­ing is a Nor­man Rock­well paint­ing – a fam­ily eat­ing sup­per around the din­ner ta­ble, or watch­ing TV af­ter the kids have gone to bed. We’re wit­ness­ing the mun­dane beauty of a cou­ple in love. And this is de­lib­er­ate. Be­cause who could have a prob­lem with this? While their will­ing­ness to take on the ju­di­cial sys­tem for­ever changed the US con­sti­tu­tion, the film is a slow burn that hon­ours their truth. And Edgerton is a mas­ter­class in subtlety. “The fact is, when the Supreme Court rul­ing was handed down, Richard was mow­ing his lawn. Mil­dred was at home. I think the ac­tual un-jin­go­is­tic, un-flag­wav­ing as­pects of the truth be­come the strengths of the movie,” of­fers Edgerton. In other, more com­mer­cially minded hands, the story might have been juiced – Argo’d if you will – to set up an ex­plo­sive court­room show­down: “You can’t han­dle the truth!” But here the truth is, once again, greater than fic­tion. “One of the rea­sons we don’t know this story as well [as other bat­tles in the Civil Rights Move­ment],” adds Edgerton, “is be­cause it wasn’t marked by blood. It was a gen­tle, step-by-step process.” Lov­ing is, among other things, a med­i­ta­tion on hu­mans fear­ing what they don’t un­der­stand


and, sadly, it’s all too rel­e­vant in this po­lit­i­cal cli­mate. Set­ting aside the sim­mer­ing US racial ten­sions for a sec­ond (and only a sec­ond), the par­al­lels to the fight for gay mar­riage are ob­vi­ous. For what it’s worth, Edgerton ex­pects change to land in Aus­tralia, soon. “Oh, fuck, it has to. When you look 50 years back into the past and think that a brown woman couldn’t marry a white man? It’s em­bar­rass­ing to think about as hu­man be­ings in a so­phis­ti­cated so­ci­ety. And it’s em­bar­rass­ing to think that we’ll look back even 10 years and go, ‘We were still em­bar­go­ing that kind of re­la­tion­ship?’” Racism is hardly an Amer­i­can prob­lem, but the United States does seem es­pe­cially di­vided – un­armed black men, shot by po­lice, bring the is­sue to the fore on a daily ba­sis, Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign of­ten ac­cused of fan­ning the flames. When asked about liv­ing in the US un­der a pos­si­ble Pres­i­dent Trump, Edgerton smiles and won­ders how things got here. “This is maybe go­ing to come back to haunt me,” he says of Trump’s can­di­dacy, “but it’s like a drunk per­son is me­an­der­ingly driv­ing through the streets and you ex­pect him to be pulled up within five min­utes, and yet three hours later, he’s still driv­ing around and no one’s pulled him over. It’s like a weird kind of col­li­sion of shit that keeps on go­ing.” So-called ‘ca­sual’ racism has long ex­isted in Aus­tralia, which Edgerton ac­knowl­edges with a nod of agree­ment. But he stops short of claim­ing he was pierced by di­rect racial barbs when dat­ing Olympic cham­pion Cathy Free­man. To­gether for two years, the pair split in 2005. “Cather­ine was prob­a­bly more fa­mous than any other Aus­tralian. If any­thing, all peo­ple wanted to do was get a photo with her.” Edgerton’s mo­ti­va­tion for mak­ing Lov­ing – be­sides work­ing again with cel­e­brated di­rec­tor Jeff Ni­chols, the pair com­bin­ing on this year’s Mid­night Spe­cial – was less per­sonal and more about the chal­lenge. “It was the most im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence for me so far,” he says, per­haps be­cause he couldn’t take his cos­tume off at night. When he looked at his bleached hair in the mir­ror for the first time, he ad­mits, “I felt like a po­lar bear.” But the joke ended there. The cast and crew de­scended on Rich­mond, Vir­ginia, for seven weeks, and au­then­tic­ity was the watch­word. Edgerton vis­ited the cou­ple’s gravesite and the pro­duc­tion filmed at the jail in which they’d been im­pris­oned. For the movie to suc­ceed, the char­ac­ter needed to feel lived-in. And so, Edgerton went to brick­lay­ing school – tak­ing five or six classes. Some class­mates worked as ex­tras on the film. “There’s 15 or 16 bits in the movie where I had to lay bricks,” he says, “and I learnt from War­rior that there are cer­tain things, phys­i­cal things mainly, that you can’t fake. If you told me I had to be a bar­tender, I could fake that in a day, like, teach me to make a mojito.” He mimes mud­dling lime. “But brick­lay­ing has an el­e­gance to it. It’s not some­thing you can fake eas­ily.” The role got so far un­der­neath his skin that even now, when he spots a brick build­ing, he’ll think, “OK, that prob­a­bly took 10 guys three weeks to do. Be­cause they lay about 1000 a day.” Given Lov­ing’s lack of lengthy speeches and con­ver­sa­tions, this level of prepa­ra­tion was es­pe­cially im­por­tant to Ni­chols. “You strip away the ben­e­fit of a mono­logue,” the di­rec­tor says of the ob­vi­ous chal­lenge. “There’s no out­ward emo­tion. This idea that he was a brick ma­son was such an im­por­tant part of the story. Ob­vi­ously, the metaphor there is pretty strong – about build­ing your own house. But for me that’s a lit­tle cutesy. The re­al­ity is that he was this blue-col­lar guy who went to work al­most ev­ery day and the rep­e­ti­tion of that as they en­dured this strug­gle over nearly a decade. He still had to go to work ev­ery day. The need to earn a liv­ing didn’t stop be­cause they had some le­gal prob­lems. That was re­ally at the core of his char­ac­ter.” When­ever an Aussie is hired to play a rugged Amer­i­can, a rash of op-eds wail that no ‘real men’ are left in Hol­ly­wood. Ni­chols says, “I don’t want to in­cite ri­ots on the Amer­i­can side... but you can’t fake those hands. Joel’s got those meaty paws that, you know, when you shake his hand... That job – be­ing a brick ma­son – cre­ates a very spe­cific phys­i­cal­ity. The way you’re kind of hunched over. And I thought that the more mus­cle mem­ory he had, and the more ac­cess he had to that stuff, the bet­ter. And he got re­ally good at it at some point. I think he built his dad a pizza oven or some­thing.” In lesser paws, Edgerton might have looked like a pretty boy in a Carhartt com­mer­cial. In­stead, he’s soul-crush­ing. This is no par­lour trick. He ex­udes the agony of a man who feels pow­er­less to change his sur­round­ings. Edgerton is a cere­bral ac­tor. To clear his head, he some­times paints in the morn­ings, a hobby he picked up years ago; noth­ing fancy, just sim­ple (if evoca­tive) fig­u­ra­tive pieces he makes us­ing quick-dry­ing Ja­panese ink. He some­times posts pho­tos of his work to an Instagram ac­count. “If I’m on lo­ca­tion,” says Edgerton, “One of the first things I’ll do is go to an art store, get an easel, and fill up with stuff. It’s kind of like med­i­ta­tion.” When asked if this is one of those hob­bies that’s ac­tu­ally in­tended to im­press women, he laughs: “If you sketch a woman re­ally well, that might be great. But if you sketch them re­ally badly, they might be like, ‘Who the fuck is this sup­posed to be?’” Edgerton de­vours his omelette and an iced cof­fee. The con­ver­sa­tion is easy. But there’s noth­ing ca­sual about this film for him – or its prospects at the Academy Awards. If he’s cau­tious, it’s be­cause he walked this stretch of bi­tu­men with Black Mass. “I had too many peo­ple in my ear, early on, go­ing, ‘It’s a pos­si­bil­ity, it’s a pos­si­bil­ity.’ I bought into that a lit­tle bit too much. It was a re­ally nice learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence just to go, ‘OK, re­mem­ber to check your­self and not buy into that whole myth.’ [But] I hope it’s dif­fer­ent this time.” What­ever does hap­pen in Fe­bru­ary, Edgerton’s al­ready re­ceived the most im­por­tant en­dorse­ment of his work. While Richard and Mil­dred Lov­ing have both passed away, their daugh­ter, Peggy, was on set dur­ing pro­duc­tion, pay­ing the ac­tor a stun­ning com­pli­ment. A very per­sonal mem­ory, Edgerton pauses be­fore de­cid­ing to share it. He looks up and re­veals, qui­etly, “She called me daddy.”

Spend even an hour with Edgerton and you can sense his grat­i­tude – for the work he’s done and for the jobs he’s turned down. He’d like to make more than the medium bucks. But at what cost? “If I’d done a shitty movie,” he says, “maybe I’d have a Maserati. But I’d be sit­ting across from you, bit­ing my tongue all fuck­ing day go­ing, ‘I fuck­ing hate my­self for this shit.’” The idea that any ac­tor in Hol­ly­wood ever re­ally has con­trol over their ca­reer is a bit of a joke. Fi­nanc­ing films is a tricky busi­ness and who’s ‘hot’ changes daily. But an Os­car would cer­tainly help. And Edgerton isn’t averse to talk­ing about the star sys­tem. “If you’re su­per good-look­ing and charis­matic and you like play­ing the same char­ac­ter ev­ery time, good luck to you – you’ll make squil­lions of dol­lars. The in­ter­est I have in be­ing an ac­tor, though, is adapt­ing your en­ergy to play all sorts of dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters.” Thank­fully, in­ter­est­ing of­fers come in reg­u­larly. He’s about to shoot a low-bud­get thriller in ru­ral, up­state New York – It Comes At Night, about a virus and a group of sur­vivors holed up in a cabin. He’ll then bury him­self in sci-fi make-up to play an Orc op­po­site Will Smith in Bright, di­rected by David Ayer.

Edgerton com­pares this char­ac­ter to some­thing from Lord of the Rings – in­sist­ing that his role isn’t mo­ti­vated by easy money. “When I first started read­ing the script, I was like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ Then, within 30 pages, I couldn’t stop read­ing. Days later, I was haunted by it. It was to­tally an­ti­thet­i­cal to what I ever imag­ined I’d be do­ing. But it was one of the best char­ac­ters I’ve ever read.” Still, there’s un­rest; want­ing more but also won­der­ing: ‘When is it time to slow down?’ He re­cently tore his ACL while play­ing soc­cer on the beach in Mex­ico. “The doc­tor goes, ‘If you were 45,’ – which I am, al­most – ‘and you just wanted to go for a jog in a straight line or wanted to ski ev­ery now and then, I’d tell you not to have the surgery.” Edgerton went un­der the knife two days later. He’s not slow­ing down. Not yet. Edgerton’s also go­ing to a lot of chil­dren’s birth­day par­ties these days. If he did want to have kids of his own some­day, he’d be great at it – Jeff Ni­chols’ four-year-old son al­ready has his own nick­name for him – ‘Cookie Mon­ster’. “Ev­ery time we ate lunch,” Edgerton ex­plains with a smile, “I’d try and steal his cookie – just as a joke, and it would elec­trify him and then he’d pro­tect his cookie at all costs.” Still, of fa­ther­hood he says, sim­ply, “Yeah, I think about it. I just turned 42. I have time. Plenty of time.” It moves him to share some­thing truly in­ti­mate. “I made a de­ci­sion, just be­fore I did Ex­o­dus... I broke up from an en­gage­ment.” It was not a de­ci­sion made lightly. Shortly be­fore part­ing ways, he’d taken Alexis Blake and her daugh­ter to the south of France. It was 2013, and the three were pho­tographed look­ing very much like a fam­ily. Of their en­gage­ment, he of­fers: “You’re re­ally close to the line and that [po­si­tion] makes you re-eval­u­ate a lot of things. Right at that time, I made a de­ci­sion that I was just go­ing to work my arse off. To be hon­est, I haven’t changed that thought. I’m se­ri­ously mar­ried to work. Just re­cently I was like, ‘Maybe I need to take a lit­tle bit of time off,’ be­cause ever since then I’ve worked non-stop. And that’s been fine and it’s been re­ward­ing to a de­gree. But at the same time...” His voice trails off. He ad­mits a fail­ing. When it comes to friends and fam­ily, Edgerton says they’ve be­come “out of sight, out of mind. My friends are con­stantly at me about it. It’s like, ‘Haven’t heard from you in a fuck­ing long time.’ I’ll use Face­time with my par­ents, but I’m not con­stantly oc­to­pus-ing hands out to all my friends, re­mind­ing them that I’m around and that I’m well. I could be more mind­ful of the closer peo­ple in my life.” Edgerton’s un­will­ing­ness to take a break may also be framed by the fact he’s well aware of how quickly ‘this’ can go away. He al­ludes to a mo­ment in his twen­ties. “There’s a story,” he of­fers. “I was very friv­o­lous.” Was he ar­rested? “No.” Was he drink­ing too much? “Yeah, that kind of shit. I was a very naïve young kid. I never drank. I never took drugs. I never did any of that stuff. And then, when I hit my twen­ties, I dis­cov­ered all that stuff at univer­sity [the Ne­pean Drama School at Western Syd­ney Univer­sity], then I started work­ing and just hit a mo­ment where I nearly went off the rails. It was right at the cusp of when I was start­ing to get a name for my­self in Aus­tralia and that’s al­ways very volatile, when you be­come some­one in the pub­lic eye – you re­ally do have to be­have your­self.” His fam­ily in­ter­vened, teach­ing him about “good liv­ing and good health. It was a sort of sev­er­ance in my life – mov­ing from a place of what I would call self-abuse to un­der­stand­ing that I had an open fu­ture to some­thing re­ally good and I was will­ing to em­brace it. I’ve dodged a lot of bul­lets in my time, and my twen­ties was a pretty big bul­let.” It’s not to say he’s im­mune to good times. Ear­lier this year, he was linked to 24-year-old model Wanessa Mil­homem, who’d pre­vi­ously dated Red Hot Chili Pep­pers’ An­thony Kiedis. And yet, Edgerton was hap­pi­est while shoot­ing 2015’s The Gift. It’s sur­pris­ing, given the tense psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller he wrote, di­rected and starred in is a story built on a seem­ingly per­fect cou­ple and the child­hood friend who re­turns to ruin their lives. But the shoot meant he was in LA for eight months straight. “That’s the long­est I’ve been in one place in the past 10 years... And I loved that, to have a rou­tine and con­ti­nu­ity. I re­alised how much I skim around the world. “Look, here’s the thing about me – I’m a slow burn. I’m fuck­ing 42 and I fi­nally have a ca­reer. If suc­cess had come ear­lier, I def­i­nitely would have pissed it up the wall...” Still, there’s ex­cite­ment in the un­known. An­other great role, an­other Cannes party and, per­haps, large post-os­car cel­e­bra­tions, all wait­ing around the cor­ner. Lov­ing is in cine­mas in Jan­uary

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