Joel Edgerton is really just starting to forge his way into the directing world — his debut, The Gift, released in 2015 — but his experience in the acting world is deep. The 44-year-old Australian has been doing movies and television since the mid-90s, and has delivered some truly awesome performances in that time. At the same time, though, he is finding that the new enterprise has very much started to inform the old one, particularly with his experience working with Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman making his new movie, Boy Erased. He recently told me,
Both of them are masters, obviously, at what they do, and it’s really interesting getting inside a room with them. Because I’ve watched them in many movies, and the difference was now I had a front row seat to watch how they put their performances together over many takes; I guess having some kind of inside/outside sense of their process. And there’s a specificity to them. A number of occasions just having simple conversations about a simple line of dialogue, or a word, and its value – whether it was necessary, whether it was worth taking away. That kind of specificity is one of the marks of what I think a truly intelligent actor is.
The domestic press junket for Boy Erased was earlier this week in Los Angeles, and I had the immense pleasure of sitting down one-on-one with Joel Edgerton for an extensive discussion about his sophomore directorial effort (which he also wrote and produced). I specifically brought up his work with Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman — also Australian natives — and inquired about what he took away from the experience. The actor-cum-filmmaker was clearly impressed with his stars’ contributions, and expressed a real appreciation for the depth of their passion.
According to Joel Edgerton, both Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman examined every word in the script that he wrote for Boy Erased, based on the memoir of the same name by Garrard Conley. They grew to have a deep understanding of the roles they were playing, to the extent that they would be compelled to change the smallest of details to properly express themselves in their performance. Edgerton explained,
It says that they’re thinking about everything that specifically if they’re coming to you and going, ‘This word can be excised,’ or, ‘I feel like this is sort of off character.’ You go, ‘Well, if they’re thinking that carefully about just that line, they’re thinking about the whole piece that way.’ I just enjoyed the conversations about specificity, and Russell in particular, given the religious aspects really kind of built his own sermons through his research about the real man, and his specificity was also so clear it when it came to the use of props and costumes. It wasn’t just about his face on screen. And same with Nicole.
In Boy Erased, Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman play Marshall and Nancy Eamons, devoted parents of their college-aged son, Jared (Lucas Hedges). The story begins with Jared coming to terms with his sexuality, realizing that he is gay, but unfortunately it’s not a situation that mom and dad handle well. They are a deeply religious family, Marshall being a preacher at the local church, and they believe that it’s a lifestyle choice. In response the decision is made to send Jared to a gay conversion program, where an attempt is made to make the young man someone he isn’t, and we learn more about him through flashbacks guided by his introspection.
Both Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman give powerhouse performances in the movie, and their deep character work paid off. I asked Joel Edgerton directly if his work with the two stars is going to influence the way that he personally approaches his roles in the future, and his immediate response was, “Definitely.” He makes a point of using his directorial experiences to understand the way other performers think and work, and ultimately applies it to himself:
I learn stuff about actors every time I go to work, whether I’m working alongside them, whether I’m watching it as a director. It’s interesting just thinking about it. It’s all things. It’s not just the words. It’s how you look, but it’s beyond just how you look; it’s how you move. It’s what energy you have. There are so many different components that make different actors great.
Continuing his thought, Edgerton noted that part of what he’s come to understand is that no two actors are exactly the same. He explained that age and experience plays a certain factor, but also that the good ones can evolve their work overtime. Of course, this also means that each one needs to be treated differently by their director, and that’s another learning curve as he’s continued his time behind the camera. Said the filmmaker,
Some people are also just blessed with having an understanding instinctively of how to perform. That really gets a lot of young people by. And then, you know, there’s a certain craft aspect… Every actor is a different animal. And the interesting thing about being a director is how to work with each individual. Have the right rhetoric within write dialogue. Know when they should be left alone, know when they need cradling.
On the latter front, it certainly seems like Joel Edgerton is learning fast, as the director/writer/producer/actor is now definitely two-for-two in terms of the titles he’s brought from inception to final cut. He’s proving to be an exciting voice behind the lens and it’s an extra bonus that it likely means that his acting chops are only going to get even better.
Boy Erased, which co-stars Michael “Flea” Balzary, Troye Sivan, Madelyn Cline, and Emily Hinkler, is arriving in theaters this weekend — set for limited release this Friday, November 2nd. We expect that we’ll continue to hear more about the film as we continue through awards season, so be on the lookout for it in your area in the coming weeks, and stay tuned here on CinemaBlend for more from my interviews with the cast and filmmakers behind the movie.