STORM BREWING

His lat­est movie is mak­ing waves and gen­er­at­ing talk of an Os­car, but Joel Edger­ton is keep­ing busy and keep­ing his cool.

VOGUE Australia - - News - By So­phie Ted­man­son. Styled by Petta Chua. Pho­tographed by Will David­son.

His lat­est movie is mak­ing waves and gen­er­at­ing talk of an Os­car, but Joel Edger­ton is keep­ing busy and keep­ing his cool.

Joel Edger­ton is feel­ing a lit­tle dis­com­bob­u­lated: Os­car buzz is taunt­ing him, he is stretched be­tween work com­mit­ments, and he is miss­ing Aus­tralia ter­ri­bly. But he wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, he has been work­ing to­wards this mo­ment his whole ca­reer. It’s been a busy week in what has shaped up to be an ex­tra­or­di­nary year in the life of the Aus­tralian who, af­ter decades as a jour­ney­man ac­tor, is fi­nally break­ing through, com­ing into his own. His week has gone some­thing like this: one evening was spent pa­trolling down­town LA in the back of a po­lice car with Will Smith, an­other walk­ing the red car­pet for the premiere of his new film Lov­ing, and now he is on his way to New York to ap­pear as a guest on Late Night with Seth Mey­ers. He has al­ready bro­ken our in­ter­view in two to multi-task: part one while he was pack­ing, part two con­tin­ued once he jumped in the car. Such is the life of Joel these days, jug­gling films, in­ter­na­tional travel – Cannes one week, Toronto the next – and the de­mands of his new role as a lead­ing man in Hollywood.

“Pulling the dou­ble duty is kind of do­ing my head in,” he says of si­mul­ta­ne­ously prep­ping for a new movie while pro­mot­ing his last.

Edger­ton is a man of many sur­prises. He paints, for starters, “with ink and stuff, but I wouldn’t say there’s an ex­hi­bi­tion in the works”. He is pas­sion­ate about pol­i­tics: diver­sity, gay mar­riage and Aus­tralia’s “shame­ful” racial past dom­i­nate his con­ver­sa­tion. And, in the midst of star­ring in one of the most highly ac­claimed films of the year, which has had crit­ics mur­mur­ing about awards for months, he freely ad­mits to hav­ing a “mini-melt­down and just want­ing to dis­ap­pear”. But more on that later.

Part in­tense in­tel­lec­tual, part af­fa­ble lar­rikin, and re­fresh­ingly open to con­verse with, Edger­ton is a fas­ci­nat­ing roller­coaster, es­pe­cially at a time when the Aus­tralian ac­tor is hit­ting his peak. “I’m not used to spread­ing my brain in too many dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions,” he says. “But I’d be a fool to com­plain, be­cause it re­ally is a great life and we’re hav­ing a great time … this movie is re­ally very spe­cial.”

Lov­ing is spe­cial in­deed. The 1960s civil rights drama (in cin­e­mas in March) is based on the real-life story of in­ter­ra­cial cou­ple Richard and Mil­dred Lov­ing, who were sen­tenced to prison in Vir­ginia in 1958 for get­ting mar­ried and later took their love to court in what be­came a land­mark civil rights case. Edger­ton plays Richard Lov­ing, the qui­etly spo­ken, un­ex­pected poster man for civil rights, along­side Ruth Negga as his wife.

“The Lov­ings weren’t rev­o­lu­tion­ary; they weren’t kick­ing in doors. They weren’t grab­bing mi­cro­phones and writing speeches at night: they were do­ing the op­po­site. They were shy­ing away from the cam­eras, they hardly spoke, they didn’t want to be at the front of a revo­lu­tion, but they found them­selves in the spot­light,” he says.

Di­rec­tor Jeff Nichols, who cast Edger­ton af­ter work­ing with him on 2016’s Mid­night Spe­cial, told US Vogue: “I wasn’t look­ing for star power … I was look­ing for great ac­tors.” But in turn he has cat­a­pulted Edger­ton, known for play­ing the kind of rugged sup­port­ing char­ac­ters that suit his hand­somely worn-in face, to star sta­tus. The ac­tor’s turn as the quiet and re­served Richard, com­plete with to­bacco-stained teeth, bleached hair and soft mum­ble, has put him firmly into the spot­light that he has spent decades work­ing

“I HOPE I’LL BE SIT­TING IN THE DI­REC­TOR’S CHAIR NEXT YEAR DO­ING MY NEXT THING”

to­wards. Peter De­bruge, chief film critic at the film in­dus­try bi­ble Va­ri­ety, de­scribed Edger­ton’s per­for­mance as “pow­er­ful”.

“In the half-dozen years since his break­through per­for­mance in An­i­mal King­dom,” De­bruge wrote, “Edger­ton has demon­strated noth­ing short of full ac­torly com­mit­ment to a se­ries of de­mand­ing roles. Un­til now, what he has never seemed ca­pa­ble of do­ing is fully re­lax­ing into the skin of an­other char­ac­ter, and yet, un­der Nichols’s di­rec­tion, he dis­ap­pears into the role of Richard Lov­ing.”

If, as an­tic­i­pated, Edger­ton is nom­i­nated for an Academy Award this month, he would be in line to join the il­lus­tri­ous Aussie Os­car blokes’ club with Heath Ledger (who won posthu­mously for The Dark Knight in 2009), Russell Crowe ( Gla­di­a­tor in 2001), Ge­of­frey Rush ( Shine in 1997) and Peter Finch (who won posthu­mously for Net­work in 1977).

“All that talk is ob­vi­ously very flat­ter­ing, and I’d be dis­hon­est to say it doesn’t press the ego but­ton a lit­tle bit,” Edger­ton says. “But it’s a good re­flec­tion on the film, which res­onates so strongly and screams very loudly about things that are go­ing on to­day.”

Lov­ing has ig­nited a pas­sion for civil rights and pol­i­tics in Edger­ton, who is not ex­actly known for be­ing out­spo­ken in public. “There’s no greater time for a movie like this to en­ter into the en­ter­tain­ment space, and this con­stant aware­ness of the fact that there are so many prob­lems with race and equal­ity … and on the sub­ject of mar­riage equal­ity, which is ob­vi­ously very rel­e­vant to us (Aus­tralians) right now, that mar­riage equal­ity and racial equal­ity align, those two top­ics sort of spring from the movie and are im­por­tant themes,” he says.

Edger­ton is now based in Los An­ge­les, where he owns a house in the Hollywood Hills with his di­rec­tor brother Nash. Liv­ing in Amer­ica has opened his eyes to racism, civil rights and gun vi­o­lence, he says, which are fore­front in the de­bate in the US (and, in­ter­est­ingly, in some of his re­cent movie roles). He also keeps an eye on is­sues back home, is an­gry about the gay mar­riage plebiscite, and “our own com­pli­cated and shame­ful his­tory when it comes to race re­la­tions in Aus­tralia”.

“One of the things the movie re­ally res­onated for me was the as­sump­tion that the pri­vate lives of peo­ple … and I’m talk­ing about the un­threat­en­ing, non-de­struc­tive lives of two pri­vate peo­ple, can be in­fringed upon and gov­erned and leg­is­lated against by peo­ple who re­ally should mind their own busi­ness. It’s crazy that in 2016 two hu­man be­ings who are not do­ing any­thing wrong are made to feel that they don’t have the same rights as ev­ery­body else. It’s so shame­ful, and I think that the vil­lains of our movie are the peo­ple who stood in the way of change. My chal­lenge to any­body who stands in the way of change is to not imag­ine them­selves as the vil­lain of a movie when this chapter of his­tory is spo­ken about or de­picted.”

He takes a breath for a mo­ment and calms down. I ask if tak­ing such in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter roles, walk­ing in other peo­ple’s shoes, has taught him more about the world.

“Ab­so­lutely,” he says. “I mean, Lov­ing re­ally brought home that I was a per­son who had never re­ally ex­pe­ri­enced in­jus­tice in my life in any acute fash­ion. I grew up in Du­ral [in north-western Syd­ney]. I have a very smooth life, and for 42 years I don’t think I’ve ever se­ri­ously suf­fered any sort of in­jus­tice, cer­tainly not a pro­longed pe­riod of any kind of op­pres­sion. In­jus­tice for me was not get­ting a cer­tain piece of cake … as a child you ex­pect it all the time, but as a grown-up per­son, no­body ever told me that I couldn’t do, I couldn’t be, I couldn’t live, that I couldn’t have free­doms and I couldn’t have equal rights … and I think it’s im­por­tant that peo­ple like me and the kind of reg­u­lar folk who have never ex­pe­ri­enced in­jus­tice should see a movie like Lov­ing to have an em­pa­thetic ex­pe­ri­ence with other peo­ple in order to ex­pe­ri­ence our own judge­ment. But yeah, my life is very lucky. On the work front I have the lucky chance to dive into peo­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ences. It’s def­i­nitely a con­stant learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.” But surely, I ask, you also just pick some roles be­cause they’re fun? “Ab­so­lutely,” he says, laugh­ing. “I’m not get­ting up ev­ery day think­ing I have an op­por­tu­nity to change the world, and I don’t think I’m a very po­lit­i­cal per­son, but when you get in­volved in a project that is po­lit­i­cal, it’s very hard not to be­come a spokesper­son.”

Edger­ton’s pas­sion for film­mak­ing be­gan in the back­yard at Du­ral, where he and Nash would make ninja movies as teenagers. He honed his act­ing skills at Ne­pean Drama School, be­fore first grac­ing our screens in Ersk­ineville Kings and TV’s The Se­cret Life of Us, then carv­ing a steadily up­ward ca­reer tra­jec­tory through a mixed bag of roles that has in­cluded two Star Wars movies, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby and last year’s Black Mass, along­side Johnny Depp.

The Edger­ton broth­ers are still mak­ing movies to­gether, but with much big­ger bud­gets, un­der the ban­ner of the Blue-Tongue Films col­lec­tive they formed with a group of friends more than a decade ago, which most notably pro­duced 2010’s crit­i­cally ac­claimed An­i­mal King­dom, directed by David Michôd.

Edger­ton laughs when I men­tion his first home­made movies: “It’s funny you men­tion that be­cause I was sit­ting there the other day think­ing: ‘I should make a ninja movie!’ That’d be awe­some.”

As if he isn’t busy enough these days, he is also work­ing on a new project with Michôd, and the up­com­ing su­per­nat­u­ral Netf lix po­lice thriller Bright with Will Smith.

Edger­ton is thor­ough in his re­search for roles (he learnt to lay bricks for Lov­ing), which is why he re­cently found him­self in the back of an LAPD car with Smith. “It’s funny do­ing ride-alongs, and it’s ac­tu­ally quite an adrenalised kind of sit­u­a­tion do­ing a ride-along with Will, be­cause he’s prob­a­bly one of the big­gest movie stars in the world and he’s sit­ting there with a hoodie on, hid­ing in the back seat of an LAPD car,” Edger­ton re­calls.

The ac­tor wrote, directed and starred in the psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller The Gift in 2015, and is keen to get back into the di­rec­tor’s chair again with a new film he is writing, some­thing he’s been work­ing on for sev­eral years. “I think screen­plays need time to form them­selves with a di­men­sion­al­ity that they need … it’s a slow-cook­ing ar­tic­u­la­tion.”

“I got a lot of en­joy­ment and sat­is­fac­tion and a lot of learn­ing out of mak­ing The Gift,” he adds, “so I would hope that I’ll be sit­ting in the di­rec­tor’s chair by the end of next year do­ing my next thing.”

The busier Edger­ton gets, the more he pines for Syd­ney. He plans to spend some time over Christ­mas “hang­ing out with friends, surf­ing, see­ing the fam­ily” and recharg­ing af­ter his ex­tra­or­di­nary year be­fore re­turn­ing to LA for the awards sea­son.

“I re­ally, re­ally miss home and, ac­tu­ally, a few days ago I was hav­ing a mini-melt­down in my mind just wish­ing I could just dis­ap­pear and go back home for a minute,” he says. “It’d be awe­some if it was just down the road and if I could just tell ev­ery­body I’m go­ing to take a week off, but un­for­tu­nately it’s not that easy. But there was a time when I wished for the op­por­tu­ni­ties that I have now … so I’m not com­plain­ing.”

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