LET THE LIGHT IN
Winter clothes needn’t be thick and heavy and dark. This season, designers offer coats and cardigans that shrug off seasonal strictures. Here, Joel Edgerton feels the benefit
Australian Joel Edgerton fends off the Northern Hemisphere chill in the season’s sleekest menswear
JOEL EDGERTON must be exhausted. He’s 35 days into the shoot for Boy Erased, the film he has written and is in the process of directing, producing and starring in. It’s taken time for the 43-year-old to get to this point of polymathic authority, but he’s glad that success came relatively late. “If I’d come to it too young, I’d have blown it in some way,” reckons the Australian actor. “You know, by becoming one of the casualties of war, the casualties of too much attention. To be very frank, a slow-burning career has given me the opportunity to fail on a smaller scale.”
That slow burn began in the mid-Nineties. After drama school in Sydney, Edgerton and his brother Nash hatched a plan to make short films that allowed the pair’s respective acting and stuntman abilities to shine, but after years of graft, it wasn’t until 2010 that Joel crossed the bridge to the big time. There were appearances in major productions along the way — King Arthur (2004), Smokin’ Aces (2006) and even a turn as Luke Skywalker’s uncle Owen Lars in Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith (2005) — but it was his work in Gavin O’Connor’s MMA movie Warrior and Aussie crime drama Animal Kingdom, that got him noticed by the right people.
“Neither lit the box office on fire,” recalls Edgerton, “but I think film-makers like to watch good films, and both Animal Kingdom and Warrior were well-realised movies. The opportunities suddenly became available that weren’t there before. I was always looking at the level up, the quality of scripts that was a little out of my reach. Movies like Warrior and Animal Kingdom, they lift you up so you can reach the better scripts.”
He hasn’t taken his foot off the gas in the past seven years. There was hunt-for-binLaden thriller Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (2013), Ridley Scott epic Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), Black Mass (2015), and thriller The Gift (2015), his directorial debut. The story of a bullied man terrorising his aggressor years later didn’t smash any attendance records but it enjoyed critical acclaim — The New York Times called it a “superior specimen” — and was further vindication for Edgerton’s late arrival to Hollywood’s top table.
In 2016, he starred alongside Ruth Negga in Loving, Jeff Nichols’ story of a couple arrested for interracial marriage in Virginia, USA, in the Sixties. Edgerton was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as husband Richard Loving, but the film brought the actor something more profound than a trophy. “I think Loving lit a fire under me,” says Edgerton. “I realise that tales of people’s lives being shut down, simply because of the way they’re born, when rights and freedoms are taken away… I get really arced up about it.”
Boy Erased is the fruit of that fire. The film is the story of Garrard Conley, a gay man sent by his parents to undergo conversion therapy in Baptist Arkansas when he was 19, and based on the protagonist’s memoir, which Edgerton only read for the first time in January. “It’s incredibly rewarding and satisfying to know that we’re doing something important in terms of subject matter,” says Edgerton. “I really feel like every day we have the ability to change things; to change people’s attitudes and change some people’s lives by shining a light on something that’s quite insidious.”
Edgerton is eloquent, well-informed and extremely passionate, but sometimes that Aussie nature shines through. “On a production level, it’s a constant kickbollock-scramble every day. All movies are.” The Antipodean community in Hollywood is strong, and Edgerton has enlisted a series of the gang’s brightest lights to make up his cast. Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman star as Conley’s parents, and there’s a role for YouTube sensation and promising young dramatic talent Troye Sivan, and even Michael Peter Balzary, the bassist better known as Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who was born in Melbourne.
Edgerton is adamant there was no cultural nepotism during the casting process. “It just happened that two of my lead characters are Australian,” he says, “and I’m there — but there’s no way I’m cutting myself out of a job.”
If you’re willing to look for it, a resonant theme of injustice can also be found in Bright, the buddy cop movie that’s set to air this month on Netflix. But by his own admission, the analogy is “very much on the surface”.
“It’s a mash-up,” explains Edgerton, “a buddy-cop movie gene-spliced with The Lord of the Rings, you know?” Edgerton is Nick Jakoby, the first orc to join the LAPD in an alternate present day, where his kind, having served the “dark lord” thousands of years ago, are the second-class citizens of the western world. His partner is Daryl Ward, a hard-nosed human played by Will Smith. They might not get along but goddammit do they respect each other. It actually looks like a lot of fun, and for all his virtues, Smith is never better than when he’s wise-cracking, gun-toting and takin’ names. “It’s like you’re told you have to play doubles and then see that Roger Federer is your partner,” Edgerton says of the pairing. “He’s the buddy-cop champion.”
There have been moments, but Edgerton, unlike Smith, isn’t known for levity. “Being in a movie that’s funny, [with] wry humour, a twinkle in the eye, it doesn’t come easy to me,” he explains. “But I like to think I’m a fun person and that I have a sense of humour, and that I don’t walk around with a big dark cloud over my head like I do in the movies.”
With Christmas upon us, will Edgerton indulge in some long-overdue time for himself? “I’m currently five days away from finishing shooting, and I’m starting to plan having actual holidays. I’ll go back to Sydney to see the family, [but] I’m trying to convince my editor to come out for a few weeks so we can work.”
Time off doesn’t normally involve colleagues and computers and work of any kind; that’s why it’s called time off. You get the sense he’s not so keen on the concept.
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