Childhood nightmares drew Edgerton to Boy Erased
More to Garrard Conley’s story than misguided religious zeal gone awry
As a boy, Joel Edgerton’s worst nightmares involved being imprisoned and losing his parents.
It’s what drew him to making Boy Erased, based on a novel about a young man forced into gay conversion therapy by his Christian fundamentalist parents.
“The basis of all my nightmares as a child was always about being institutionalized or abducted or put in boarding school and being taken away from my parents. So I love movies about breaking out of prisons,” said the Australian actor making his second film, in which he also plays Victor, the head of the program.
But the book by Garrard Conley, based on his own experience, is more than a story about misguided religious zeal gone awry.
“There was this family story that I thought was so rich and textured and complicated and had such a reservoir of possibility for hope and redemption that I just felt everyday more and more compelled to do something about it. And so here I am,” Edgerton said.
Part of the research for Edgerton meant going “deep into Arkansas,” meeting the real-life Conleys and listening to the Baptist sermons which holds that every word in the Bible — condemnation of homosexuality in Leviticus, for example — is the literal word of God.
It’s something real-life father Hershel Conley is still struggling with.
“The father is still not all the way there. He’s still stuck between his son and his congregation,” Edgerton noted.
It was actor Russell Crowe’s resemblance to Hershel, in family photos and then in person, that led him to seek out his fellow Aussie actor.
Nicole Kidman, who plays mom Nancy (Martha in real
life) was already on board after reading the script and Crowe, eager to work with Kidman, soon followed.
Edgerton was thrilled to cast Lucas Hedges, nominated for best supporting actor for his role in the 2016 film Manchester by the Sea, as Jared because he captured the sense of
a “kid on the cusp of manhood.”
“I just felt Lucas had the right ability to have a stillness and to be present within a scene. I’m asking a big thing of an actor to be talked at … and swayed on the winds of everybody else’s agenda and to absorb those shocks with a certain
naivete,” Edgerton said.
Edgerton said he also tried to portray Victor as less of a villain than someone who is well-intentioned but misguided. “Nobody’s painted with an evil brush, God isn’t thrown under a bus,” Edgerton said.
Director Joel Edgerton visited the parents of Garrard Conley to get a feel for the textured and complicated story.