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

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY| MOVIES - NEALA JOHN­SON

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.”

Pic­ture: STX PRO­DUC­TIONS

Re­becca Hall and, from left, Jason Bate­man with Joel Edger­ton in a scene from

The Gift.

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