“It’s a hope­ful but har­row­ing story”

Joel Edger­ton ex­plains why gay con­ver­sion drama Boy Erased is as fright­en­ing as any hor­ror movie

Empire (UK) - - PRE.VIEW - John nu­gent

Af­ter years in front of the cam­era, act­ing in films like Lov­ing and The Great Gatsby, Joel edger­ton made a storm­ing de­but be­hind the cam­era in 2015 with The Gift,

a Hitch­cock­ian hor­ror that made its mod­est bud­get back more than ten times at the box of­fice. His sec­ond di­rec­to­rial ef­fort, the real-life drama Boy Erased, is more earnest, more vir­tu­ous, and — if the book­ies are to be be­lieved — more awards-y. But as edger­ton ex­plains, it’s just as much of a hor­ror movie as his last film.

“i think Boy Erased has more scary mo­ments than The Gift,” edger­ton as­serts. “The Gift is de­signed to make an au­di­ence jump and jit­ter. Boy Erased

is a true story that gets un­der your skin and makes you un­com­fort­able in other ways.” Here, the threat is more sin­is­ter be­cause it’s real. And it spoke to edger­ton’s own deep-seated child­hood ter­rors. “i hap­pened to have a child­hood deep fear of be­ing sep­a­rated from my par­ents, and be­ing in­sti­tu­tion­alised in any fash­ion,” he re­calls. As a child, edger­ton once burst into tears af­ter his dad joked about send­ing him to the other side of Aus­tralia.

those fears sparked edger­ton’s in­ter­est in Boy Erased: A Mem­oir

by Gar­rard Con­ley, which he read vo­ra­ciously in early 2017. Like many peo­ple, edger­ton knew only the ba­sics about the con­tro­ver­sial prac­tice of gay con­ver­sion ther­apy, the pseu­do­science of­fered by some right wing re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions that claim to change peo­ple’s sex­u­al­ity. “i lit­er­ally heard that it ex­isted,” he says. “i had the same are-you-kid­ding-me re­ac­tion that a lot of peo­ple had.”

Un­der­stand­ably, he ex­pected to find hor­ror in Con­ley’s ex­pe­ri­ences, which saw the teenage Chris­tian pre­sented with an ul­ti­ma­tum from his con­ser­va­tive par­ents: un­dergo con­ver­sion ther­apy, or be dis­owned. But edger­ton was sur­prised by the nu­ance of the story. “i think i was just look­ing for mad­ness in the pages: di­abol­i­cal peo­ple and mad ideas and back­ward think­ing and vi­cious­ness and blood on the pages. i got some of those things, but what i also got out of it was a hope­ful story, al­beit very har­row­ing. it was more com­pli­cated and less blackand-white, i thought.”

Cen­tral to the movie is a pro­found sense of em­pa­thy. edger­ton kept re­turn­ing to the pro­tag­o­nist’s par­ents (played in the film by ni­cole Kid­man and rus­sell Crowe), re­al­is­ing that though their choices around their son were clearly wrong, they came from a good place. “there’s no need to vil­ify any of these peo­ple. i couldn’t deny, when i kept ex­am­in­ing it, that the ac­tion [of send­ing their son to con­ver­sion ther­apy] was born out of love, al­beit based on the mis­in­for­ma­tion of a be­lief sys­tem.” in the real world, the only way to beat hor­ror is em­pa­thy.

Boy Erased is in cin­e­mas from 8 fe­bru­ary

Joel Edger­ton spoke to Em­pire on the phone from San Fran­cisco on 6 Novem­ber. From top:Reel­ing ’em off, di­rec­tor Edger­ton; He also plays ther­a­pist Vic­tor Sykes; Jon (Xavier Dolan) with Jared (Lu­cas Hedges) on the con­tro­ver­sial con­ver­sion pro­gramme.

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