JOEL OF ALL TRADES
Actor-director-writer-producer Joel Edgerton faces his fears and delves into his dark side in The Gift, as Neala Johnson discovers
It’s been general knowledge for some years now that Joel Edgerton has more going on than just acting.
He wrote The Square for his brother Nash to direct, dreamt up The Rover with David Michod, scripted cop drama Felony and stepped in to find a new director when the (as yet unreleased) western he was making with Natalie Portman, Jane Got a Gun, was crumbling.
Now, finally, he’s directed his first feature: thriller The Gift, about an old classmate who reappears in Jason Bateman’s life, wreaking havoc on his marriage to Rebecca Hall.
Still, Edgerton admits, he might have done 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 I did because some of the films, like Black Mass (next month’s gangster biopic in which he 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 LA and made his movie.
“It’s like an amusement park ride that you remember being kind of scary but fun,” he laughs of being a director.
“It’s much more absorbing and thoughtful than being an actor is. I know the future of me as an actor, as I get older the roles will be smaller — I’ll be that guy sitting waiting to get rolled out to do a scene. I just have this feeling I’ll be engaged more and enjoy my life more if I’m calling the shots.”
The Gift was born out of its writer-director’s fascination with bullying.
“I thought: what if I were to tell a bullying story well after school is finished, about whether we change or don’t change, and 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 kind of the same movie, in that they’re all about a guy doing a bad thing and not taking responsibility y for it.”
The outcome come of that tap on the shoulderhoulder in The Gift falls s into the dangerous category. In fact, it plays a bit like a horror movie ie with its gradually risingsing tension.
Jason Bateman plays Simon, a rising star at a tech firm who’s just moved to California with his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall).
While 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 address and is soon dropping around uninvited, leaving gifts. Robyn, who has been through the wringer 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 you just move forward, you don’t look back; that time fixes everything and apology is a weakness,” says Edgerton.
“But unless you make shifts and have acknowledgments, you’ll keep living the same s--out over and over again. That part is very personal to me.”
Edgerton says he cast Englishg actor Hall because, “I needed someone you could trust the momen moment you saw her”. As for Bateman: “He needed to be very likable, then let the jerk seep in when it was necessary. Jason’s shown that (in) his comedies — we just had to tune the funny down.”
It didn’t hurt that Bateman has done the acting-to-directing thing himself.
“He was the first person that said to me, ‘I know you’re going to be great at it and I know you’re going to love it’,” Edgerton recalls. “I hadn’t really thought about how much or how little I was going to love the experience.”
Edgerton’s other safety net was big brother Nash, who also has a small role in the film.
“Nash was there in order that, when I was in front of camera, I didn’t have to run back, watch the monitor,” Edgerton explains. “I didn’t want to slow the process down.”
The difficulty of directing a film you’re also acting in was heightened on The Gift, given Edgerton’s socially awkward Gordo transformation.
“Rebecca couldn’t really look me in the eye,” he says. “I had the brown contacts, the earring and these teeth that were more perfect and whiter than my teeth ... So I would at least try and take the teeth out.”
Weird director vibe aside, the 41-year-old was a pig in mud calling the shots. Given the upward trend of his happiness chart, it’s no surprise to hear he has new ideas on the boil and is determined to direct again in the next few years. There’s just one thing playing on his mind.
“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.”
SEE THE GIFT OPENS TODAY
“What if I were to tell a bullying story well after school
is finished” JOEL EDGERTON ON THE STORYLINE