If you were mak­ing an ar­gu­ment for Aus­tralia’s dom­i­nance in Hol­ly­wood, it would be easy to point to the likes of Chris Hemsworth. The man has gone from Sum­mer Bay to the sil­ver screen in a way that few peo­ple could have imag­ined. From fronting one of the big­gest Marvel fran­chises of all time, to lead­ing in­die re­leases to box­of­fice glory, Hemsworth is a les­son in what it looks like to be a movie star. He made $90m this year alone, for good­ness sake. But there’s an­other fig­ure who epit­o­mises the depth of Aussie tal­ent in Hol­ly­wood. He is proof that we can be movie stars, of course, but we can also do a lot more than that. We can be di­rec­tors, ac­tors and writ­ers. Or, in the case of Joel Edger­ton, we can some­times be all three at once. A lit­tle over three years ago, Edger­ton made his big-screen di­rec­to­rial de­but with The Gift, a gritty psy­cho­log­i­cal drama that he wrote, di­rected and starred in along­side Ja­son Bate­man and Re­becca Hall. It was the sleeper hit of 2015, earn­ing not just praise from the likes of Va­ri­ety and the New York Times, but box-of­fice dol­lars, with more than a ten­fold re­turn on its $7m bud­get. Im­pres­sive stuff. Just over a year af­ter The Gift was re­leased, Joel Edger­ton picked up a book by US au­thor Gar­rard Con­ley. “You know the feel­ing of not want­ing to put some­thing down?” he says, when we meet in Syd­ney, “I just felt this in­cred­i­ble mix of feel­ings, of com­plete shock and awe and amaze­ment and then sad­ness. And when I put it down, I felt like, ‘OK, this is my next movie’.” The book was called Boy Erased: A Mem­oir, Con­ley’s ac­count of grow­ing up as the child of a Bap­tist pas­tor, only to be outed in col­lege and sent to a gay con­ver­sion ther­apy pro­gram. It is a bru­tal, mov­ing de­pic­tion of the harm – both phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal – that he and his fel­low ‘stu­dents’ un­der­went while en­rolled in the pro­gram. At first, Edger­ton didn’t know ex­actly what he wanted to do with the story – only that he knew he had to be in­volved. “I called the pro­ducer who gave me the book and I said, ‘Just get the rights if you can be­cause some­one needs to do it.’” But Edger­ton wasn’t alone in his pas­sion for the project that would be­come the film Boy Erased. When Lu­cas Hedges was con­firmed for the lead – as well as Rus­sell Crowe and Ni­cole Kid­man, who Edger­ton says were make-or-break ad­di­tions to the cast – the news launched a fierce bid­ding war among dis­trib­u­tors. Net­flix, Ama­zon Stu­dios, new­comer An­na­purna Pic­tures and Fo­cus Fea­tures were all keen to get the rights – with Fo­cus Fea­tures even­tu­ally win­ning out. A lit­tle less than a year af­ter prin­ci­pal pho­tog­ra­phy started in At­lanta, Boy Erased pre­miered at the Telluride Film Fes­ti­val in Colorado. The re­sponse was im­me­di­ately over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive, with crit­ics high­light­ing the strong per­for­mances and sto­ry­telling, and Van­ity Fair prais­ing it as a “smart, em­phatic, di­rect piece of writ­ing”. Edger­ton is look­ing for­ward to peo­ple see­ing his film but he’s not one to pore over re­views. “Look, you put some­thing out there – a piece of art is a labour of love – and then peo­ple have a po­si­tion where they get to crit­i­cise it or praise it,” he says. “It’s a nec­es­sary part of the process. Ob­vi­ously every­body would rather a pat on the back than a slap across the face, but it’s al­ways nerve-rack­ing putting some­thing out there.” It doesn’t hurt that Edger­ton has as­sem­bled a truly stel­lar cast. Be­yond Hedges, Crowe and Kid­man, the film also fea­tures Aussie act­ing and singing sen­sa­tion Troye Sivan, Xavier Dolan and Joe Al­wyn. Flea (yes, he of the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers) also makes an ap­pear­ance. The re­sult is a pow­er­ful, emo­tional jour­ney, one that is not only con­fronting at times, but that raises is­sues that are still more than rel­e­vant to­day. Be­tween Queer Eye mak­ing a come­back and films like this year’s Love, Si­mon win­ning awards, it would be easy to as­sume that LGBTQI rights are a set­tled is­sue, that the fight for ac­cep­tance is over. But only last month, some Aus­tralian politi­cians spoke out against im­ple­ment­ing pro­tec­tions that would pre­vent re­li­gious schools from ex­pelling gay stu­dents or fir­ing gay staff. While in the US, a leaked memo re­vealed the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was con­sid­er­ing nar­row­ing the def­i­ni­tion of gen­der, a move that would ef­fec­tively de­fine trans­gen­der peo­ple out of ex­is­tence. Boy Erased is a re­minder that when it comes to civil rights – and even sim­ple ac­cep­tance of oth­ers – the con­ver­sa­tions are rarely ever fin­ished, the strug­gles never truly won. “I have said – and I hon­estly mean it – that it would be great if this film didn’t have to ex­ist,” says Edger­ton. “As a film­maker, ev­ery time you make some­thing, you hope this lasts for­ever and peo­ple watch it for years to come. “But this feels like a dif­fer­ent kind of movie for me. It feels like some­thing that ac­tu­ally does have a level of im­por­tance to it and, sadly, has a rel­e­vance to it,” he adds. “It’s im­por­tant to get those defin­ing mo­ments for mi­nori­ties on film, to record them and to show that these things hap­pened.” Edger­ton may never be the big­gest star in the world. But he’s some­thing else, some­thing gen­uine that re­minds us that movies can be fun, friv­o­lous en­ter­tain­ment, but they can also be mean­ing­ful and sig­nif­i­cant, and pow­er­ful. Edger­ton’s work as a film­maker is im­por­tant not be­cause telling sto­ries like Boy Erased is easy – easy to make; easy to watch – but be­cause it is hard. His tal­ent is that it’s im­pos­si­ble to look away.

“It’s im­por­tant to get those defin­ing mo­ments for mi­nori­ties on film, to record them and to show that these things hap­pened.”

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