Australian actor Joel Edgerton (unforgettable in The Square) made his first international film appearance opposite Halle Berry and Jim Belushi in the 1996 kids adventure Race the Sun. Television hit Secret Life of Us helped establish his array of big screen features, including his role as Uncle Owen Lars in Star Wars Episodes Two and Three and more recently as bad boy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. We got to sit down with this intelligent, likable guy to talk about The Gift, already a hit in the U.S, which he wrote, directed, and stars in alongside Jason Bateman. We talk his unintentional Horrible Bosses reunion and why Gordo the weirdo, a role with serious undertones, may just get Edgerton awards attention.
Shane A. Bassett: Really enjoyed The Gift. It had me on edge the whole time, just like The Square. How did The Square go in the US?
Joel Edgerton: When my brother (Nash) made it, someone once said to me, “It felt like someone was sitting on my chest for like an hour and a half.” It was critically well-accepted but just didn’t make any money on one or two screens only. The guy who bought it to release was about to unleash it and had a falling out with his partners, so the company that was supposed to be behind it fell apart the week before release. It wouldn’t have done better financially but had a better shot on more screens. It’s actually on a lot of people’s top twenty lists.
Without revealing critical plot points, your The Gift character Gordo simply appears with no fanfare then disappears with equal transparency before final credits. Will we see him return in a sequel.
Good question. Interesting point because the ending I wanted like Silence of the Lambs or Usual Suspects, where the character heads off into the world and you may see them again. Who knows; he may have other scores to settle.
How hard was it to break character when you were not in front of the camera? Or did you often stay in the Gordo character as a scare tactic to boss your crew around?
Funny (laughs). It was weird; directing comes from one place or headspace, acting to me is more an instinctual thing in general, so it’s tricky to maintain both things evenly. Nash was around when I was in front acting, which allowed me to stay in the moment of playing Gordo with enough theatrics rather than snapping in and out of it. I did have (co-star) Rebecca Hall tell me she would refuse to take direction from me with the earring in or fake teeth, so had to find a way around that–mind you, I had two leads who didn’t need that much direction.
Did you write Gordo specifically for yourself or did you ever consider another actor?
I had written the role for myself with the story starting from the idea having someone from your past tap you on the shoulder saying, “Hey we went to school together but you were not a good person.” That was my start. It wasn’t until later that I decided I could direct myself in it.
Was it a screenplay you had written recently or sitting in a drawer ready for some time?
Started writing four years ago. I was at it crafting, rewriting…it takes me a while to get a script right. More time for marination, the more textures and layers it gets. Thankfully, it had enough time to ferment.
[I mention it sounds like Masterchef, we both laugh]
All movie the story remains intense. Was your intention to keep the audience stressing or guessing?
Guessing for sure, stressing also given it’s a suspense thriller. I really wanted topics to chew on, but I told my producers I wanted a film that had one foot firmly in that genre as opposed to horror. That required me to keep people guessing all the time, including if nothing is what it seems, the characters also have the opportunity to be uncertain themselves of being heroes or villains.
Did you model your directing style on your outlook or any of the great auteurs that you have worked for in the past? Did you pick up traits?
I think you learn from everybody you meet in life, even someone like yourself, but when you get a chance like I do to work with some of the directors I have and get a front row seat to watch really fantastic people do their job, it’s a rare honor an actor gets if they want to open their eyes/ears with a mind to direct a movie. One of the best things you learn is not how people operate as a technician creatively but how they conduct themselves as human beings. I believe that is such a big part of success as well.
Gordo is the left-of-center type of role that the Golden Globe [Hollywood foreign press] people take notice of. What would your reaction be if a nomination was forthcoming?
Thanks Shane, it’s always flattering if people recognize your work–throwing a statue at me, I don’t know. Certain movies are generally overlooked for awards, some psychological thrillers like Black Swan become part of the elevated canon in the genre. I think we are a smart thriller, so I wouldn’t question it, and you’re right, the weirder the performance, bigger the disease, or weirder the mental anomalies, the quicker people are to polish the awards.
You worked with Jason before on cult hit Smokin Aces. Was he always your choice for Simon?
Yes, initially Simon was a big football jock, a brute, more of a Tom Buchanan [Joel’s role in The Great Gatsby] in the early stages of scripting. It evolved into the ideas of what can bring someone down, the words or stories about someone’s past. The subversive words of the bully aspect has intellect and wit, talking his way in and out of situations. Jason has all of that in his comedy. I’ve seen it in his drama; in fact, his audition for The Gift was actually his three-minute scene he did in Smokin Aces, because when I saw that all those years ago, I knew that guy could do anything.
How did the wonderful Susan May Pratt end up in a cameo, or are you just a 10 Things I Hate about You fan? It was outstanding to see her open that door in the scene.
You don’t miss anything, Shane [laughs]. I know it was great to have her in my film. Thing is, I don’t watch TV. I knew Busy Philipps was in a show and Alison Tolman, I knew Wendell Pierce from various things, but not how big he is on TV. Another thing I didn’t know was that I had also hired half the cast of Horrible Bosses in my movie. Practically every time a new actor would arrive, they would high-five Jason. I’d stand there and say, “You guys know each other?” and the reaction was Horrible Bosses 2. I just didn’t realise how prolific they all were of individual fame.
Potential blockbuster Black Mass is about to hit screens; what can you tell me about the role.
He’s awesome! John Connolly is a very complicated and probably most interesting character I’ve ever played. I have a place in my heart for all my roles, so it’s hard to define; in terms of an acting challenge for something to chew on, John Connolly was a hearty meal. On one hand he is a guy who sets out to do something good but ends up creating bad things. He is weaseling around in between situations. The role is very special. What’s interesting about the movie is you’re not really cheering for anyone. On a plus side it’s great that director Scott Cooper did not glorify the criminals in any way. Johnny Depp’s gangster part Whitey Bulger did some pretty unforgivable things. Just because it’s a Hollywood film, it’s important that he’s not elevated as some hero because he’s not. I loved making that movie; you will enjoy it.
Finally, have you seen Kinky Boots on Broadway as yet? [Joel appeared in film version]
No, not yet.
Neither had Nick Frost [Joel’s co-star] when I asked him.
Hasn’t he? You know, I was in New York recently with one night free, thinking I should really go see Kinky Boots, but reneged, knowing I’ll be back, because that show is never going to end I don’t think. I really want to see it.
Thanks, Joel. Good luck with future success, and see you up Newcastle way sometime.
Lovely place, nice setting and atmosphere there, a good place to make a movie one day perhaps. Thanks, Shane.
The Gift is now playing in theaters. Click here to read our review of the film.