A GIFT TO DIRECT AT LAST
A major role behind the camera has taken Joel Edgerton some time to achieve, but his first role at the helm has left him happier than ever
It’s been general knowledge for some years now that Joel Edgerton has more going on than just acting. He’s directed a couple of shorts, wrote The Square for his brother Nash to direct, dreamt up The Rover with his mate David Michod, scripted last year’s cop drama Felony and stepped in to find a new director and do uncredited rewrites when the (as yet unreleased) western he was to star in alongside Natalie Portman, Jane Got a Gun, was falling apart.
Now, finally, he’s directed his first feature film: thriller The Gift, about an old high school classmate who reappears in the life of Simon (Jason Bateman), wreaking havoc on his marriage to Robyn (Rebecca Hall).
Edgerton admits he could have got around to it sooner.
“There were times where we almost were financed,” he says of The Gift, “and out of fear I ran and hid in certain productions (as an actor). I’m thankful that I did because some of the films, like Black Mass (next month’s gangster biopic in which he co-stars with Johnny Depp), I’d hate to think I’d have missed that boat.”
The delaying tactics couldn’t hold out forever, so in January Edgerton assembled cast and crew in Los Angeles and made his film.
The Gift was born out of its writer-director’s fascination with bullying.
“I kept seeing bullying in the zeitgeist. So I thought: What if I were to tell a bullying story well after school is finished, about the idea of your past coming back to haunt you?
“Twenty-five years after school, someone could tap you on the shoulder and be like, ‘Hey, do you remember me?’ If you hadn’t been a good person, that could be either a beautiful experience that led to a resolution or a very dangerous experience that led to an inability to move forward.
“This and The Square and Felony are all about a guy doing a bad thing and not properly taking responsibility for it. The Gift just has a bigger gestation period between incident and accountability – 25 years.”
The outcome of that tap on the shoulder in The Gift definitely falls into the dangerous category. The film plays something like a horror movie with its gradual rises in tension and slow reveals.
Jason Bateman plays Simon, a rising star at a tech firm who’s just moved to California with his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall).
While out buying furniture, they run into Gordo (Edgerton), an old schoolmate Simon dismisses as a weirdo and expects never to see again.
But Gordo overhears their delivery address and is soon dropping around uninvited, leaving gifts. Robyn, who has been through the ringer trying to have a baby, feels a strange affinity for him and slowly learns there is more in her husband’s dismissal of Gordo than he’s letting on.
“Jason’s character has this theory that you just move forward, you don’t look back; that time fixes everything and apology is a weakness,” says Edgerton.
“But your future is your past, and vice versa. Unless you make shifts and changes and have acknowledgments and understanding, you’ll keep living the same s--- out over and over again. That part is very personal to me.”
Edgerton says he cast English actor Hall because, “I needed someone you could trust the moment you saw her”. As for Bateman: “He needed to be very likable in the first instance, then let the jerk seep in when it was necessary. Jason’s shown that through all his comedies – we just had to tune the funny part down.”
The difficulty of directing a film you’re acting in was heightened for Edgerton given he’d transformed himself to play socially awkward Gordo.
Weird director vibe aside, the 41-year-old was a pig in mud calling the shots on scenes where Hall uncovers Bateman’s deceit.
“Those scenes made me feel the happiest I’ve ever been on set. I was steering the ship but they were elevating what I thought we were doing ... I was like, ‘I am really privileged to be doing this’.”
Given the upward trend of his happiness chart, it’s no surprise to hear Edgerton is determined to direct again.
“I’m scared now ... We had such a good reception with this one, I’m terrified I’m gonna suffer from, like, second-album blues and fall apart the next time around.”
Rebecca Hall and, from left, Jason Bateman with Joel Edgerton in a scene from