January 20, 2019

A Movie Star With a ‘Weird Relationship With Confidence’


SYDNEY, Australia — There was a hint of mauve peeking out from behind Joel Edgerton’s left eyelid, barely discernible beneath a newsboy cap.

“I ran into my van, hit it on the awning,” he said, pointing at his face.

But it was the camper van, not his face, that preoccupied the actor and filmmaker as we met at a coffee shop near a house he owns north of Bondi Beach.

He took out his phone and pointed to custom trappings, an annex with a tent and shower at the back, all designed for surfing holidays along the Australian shoreline.

And something more.

“This is all part of the building of the enticement to come back home more often,” he said.

Mr. Edgerton, who has made a career out of playing the kind of broad-shouldered, stoic male his homeland has exported to Hollywood since the days of Errol Flynn, might seem the last person to make a film about gay conversion therapy, had he been set in that mold.

The story gripped him immediately and refused to let go. He thought that as a straight man, he had no business turning the book into a movie. As time passed without anyone else taking up the project, his reluctance faded.

“Somebody’s got to make it, but nobody was interested in the rights for the book, which made me feel more safe to step forward,” he told audiences after a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Mr. Edgerton said he was initially drawn into Mr. Conley’s book by the institutionalization aspect, but that the impact on the family was the story he wanted to tell. It was so far from his own childhood, he said, with a lawyer father and a stay-at-home mother; he had always been certain of his place in the family and of his parents’ unwavering love.

“Trying to imagine my parents thinking there was something wrong with me, when there wasn’t. I don’t know how I could reconcile that,” he said in an interview.

“I’ve done bad things in my life — I’ve gone down the same old roads that a lot of people do, being self-destructive with bad behavior,” he said. “But I knew in those moments when my dad pulled me up that there was a reason and that reason revolved around me and my treatment of myself, and it wasn’t just him going, ‘Because of who you are, and everything you are, I reject you.’”

After graduating from film school in western Sydney, Joel Edgerton took on small acting roles and began producing short films with his brother, fellow stuntmen and filmmaker friends.

If Joel Edgerton has managed shifting between acting and directing with confidence, it comes in spite of an Australian attitude that disdains ego and arrogance, qualities he sometimes wishes he had.

“I have a weird relationship with confidence,” Mr. Edgerton admitted. “As I get closer to a shoot when I’m acting in it or directing it, I get really terrified. And if it wasn’t for my relationship with those guys, watching them go through the process of directing a movie, I maybe would never have done it.”

Nicole Kidman, who plays the mother in “Boy Erased,” said Mr. Edgerton’s demeanor on set belied the stress he contended with.



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