A TWIST ON TURN­ING

BIG NAMES PUT THE SPOTLIGHT ON MOVIE EDGERTON ‘ WISHED HE DIDN’T HAVE TO MAKE’

Townsville Bulletin - Townsville Eye - - WATCH - WORDS: SEAN NA CRONIN

Boy Erased is a film Joel Edgerton pas­sion­ately threw his weight be­hind as writer, di­rec­tor and ac­tor. But he wishes he didn’t have to make it.

Based on Gar­rard Con­ley’s 2016 mem­oir of the same name, the film tells the story of the son of a Bap­tist preacher forced into a church-sup­ported gay con­ver­sion pro­gram.

It’s a prac­tice that still ex­ists, for both adults and mi­nors, in the US and Aus­tralia.

“Af­ter the screen­ing (in Syd­ney) I met two young men who had been through gay con­ver­sion ther­apy in Aus­tralia,” he says.

“It was a very emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence and I was very il­lu­mi­nated. I was at once happy to meet them and then sad at the fact that I had to meet them in the first place. In the same way, it’s so weird I put a year and a half into this movie and have quite openly said I wish the movie didn’t have to ex­ist.”

Edgerton plays Vic­tor Sykes, the head ther­a­pist at the Love In Ac­tion pro­gram, and he was able to meet John, the per­son the char­ac­ter is based on, in Texas.

“He has an en­tirely new life now that turns its back on con­ver­sion ther­apy,” he says. “He was very trans­par­ent and open about his pre­vi­ous points of view and the ther­apy he ad­min­is­tered to peo­ple. He ac­knowl­edged the guilt he felt about the peo­ple his prac­tices had af­fected, both the peo­ple in the pro­gram and the fam­i­lies.

“The big­gest thing is it af­fects not only the dy­namic of fam­i­lies but imag­ine try­ing to then form healthy re­la­tion­ships (as a gay per­son), but con­stantly be­ing plagued by this nig­gling past fear that you were al­ways told those re­la­tion­ships were wrong or sin­ful.”

The meet­ing with John re­in­forced Edgerton’s sen­si­tive and con­sid­ered ap­proach to the story, which points out the flaws in the prac­tice rather than vil­i­fy­ing any of the peo­ple in­volved.

“I re­alised I wasn’t try­ing to do an im­per­son­ation of him,” he says. “One thing that did land for me was how charis­matic and af­fa­ble and in­ter­est­ing he was as a per­son, and sep­a­rat­ing him from his ideas. I’ve met politi­cians I dis­agree with but I’m al­most an­noyed at how in­ter­est­ing or in­tel­li­gent they are to con­verse with. John was one of those guys; it was hard not to like him. I can see why he was a charis­matic leader of some­thing like that, and I re­alised the way to por­tray him on screen wasn’t as this edgy, dark, malev­o­lent de­mon against ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. It was the op­po­site. He was like a wel­come mat that was the way forward.

“We’re not throw­ing re­li­gion un­der the bus. We’re not de­mon­is­ing any­body. We’re talk­ing about the prac­tice of con­ver­sion ther­apy, which is the agenda of hu­man be­ings.”

Even though they’ve been friends for decades, this is the first time Ni­cole Kid­man and Rus­sell Crowe have ap­peared in a film to­gether. That wasn’t what mo­ti­vated Edgerton to cast them, but he’s happy to take ad­van­tage of the at­ten­tion their star power brings to the project.

“They were lit­er­ally the faces that were star­ing back at me when I looked at the photo al­bum of Gar­rard’s fam­ily,” he says.

“I couldn’t shake the fact that his fa­ther re­minded me of Rus­sell, and that Ni­cole re­sem­bled – in her pale, translu­cent skin and slight frame – his mother.

“There’s some­thing else go­ing on be­hind the choice. In my mind it needed to have a real high-pro­file na­ture in terms of cast­ing in or­der that we send a mes­sage out there; so that it’s not some tiny movie about a tiny sub­ject that can be for­got­ten. The higher pro­file the cast, the tougher it would be for peo­ple to ig­nore the im­pact.”

Boy Erased opens in cin­e­mas on Thurs­day.

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