It has been a huge year for Aussie actor and director Joel Edgerton who wrote, directed and starred in the psychological thriller The Gift.
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The eerie film, which also stars Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, was Edgerton’s directorial debut. This normally good-humoured actor plays their former high-school classmate with a big axe to grind, and an intimidating and creepy demeanour.
The Gift is a fascinating film and if you love scary movies with a psychological edge then this is the one for you
Egerton is also starring in the big-budget film Black Mass with Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Kevin Bacon. Black Mass is about the unholy alliance between the FBI and Whitey Bulgar, one of the most notorious gangsters in U.S. history.
Edgerton, was born in Sydney’s suburb of Blacktown and raised in Dural N.S.W. He started out on our screens in the TV series The Secret Life of Us, starred in two Star Wars film and has also starred in The Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio, and Animal Kingdom with Jacki Weaver.
This Aussie actor and director is also making quite a name for himself internationally and we spoke with him for the release of The Gift on DVD.
“Because the genre itself is designed to be suspenseful and mysterious and to keep an audience guessing, a lot of those films where we’ve seen that our genre of suspense genre films, it felt to me like if we went down too familiar a road and didn’t keep the audience guessing, then we haven’t done our job properly. So we were looking for those things that were familiar and yet keep the audience turning corners that surprised them,” says Edgerton.
Q. What were the thoughts behind the unusual promotional campaign for The Gift?
The company behind making the movie, had I guess, were sort of fascinated by the generosity of my character in the film. This sort of idea of getting gifts that you perhaps taking something that we all think is a good thing in a gift and having gifts that perhaps were not so welcome. And now that generosity has extended into their marketing campaign.
Looking into people’s private lives, you know, that is so public because of social media and some people are very freaked out by the insight that these guys have into people’s lives. Like, “how do you know this about me?” Well you actually posted it three years ago on Twitter.
Q. Where did the idea for writing The Gift come from?
Just my sick brain. Oh no, I had an idea once that it would be nice to tell a story on a kind of macabre or make a thriller based on the idea that so far from high school. Someone just might tap you on the shoulder and say “Do you remember me?” and if you haven’t been such a nice person way back then, that it could be quite a dark experience. And then it became an exploration for me in many things that I find kind of important.
And also, a really big exploration of who are the other people that we think we know and what if we were to discover stuff about them in their past, does that infuse our view of those people and the view of the relationship we have together with them.
“Terrifying because it could happen to you. . .an instant classic that earns its place on the Hitchcock shelf!” – Mark S. Allen, CBS
Q. There are some hints of famed director Alfred Hitchcock in this movie. Has he been a big influence on you?
When I was in drama school,once I weaned myself off. . . I thought movies were just all. . . every movie needed to have Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in them. And I still appreciate those kinds of movies, but I was all about action movies until I went to drama school. And then, you know, sort of meeting other people who had varied tastes.
I started to really dive into movies in other decades. I really loved Hitchcock movies and just in general this idea of genre of movies that had an element of mystery to them, a sinister edge, but had a social context to them as well and the idea that nothing is what it seemed. For some reason it really kind of struck me that I enjoyed the feeling of watching those movies so I’ll take that as a huge compliment.
Q. Did you deliberately make The Gift ‘inspired by’ Hitchcock?
I think it was a reflection of the diet of movies I’ve enjoyed. There are definite winks and tips of the hats to certain filmmakers. . . you know, The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby and movies that I hold in the kind of thriller realm in incredible high regard.
“A terrific, smart, suspense-filled thriller! A great directorial debut for Joel Edgerton – who also wrote the strong script and delivered a quietly chilling performance in the film.” - Bill Zwecker, The Chicago Sun-Times
I’m a big fan of Michael Haneke and I think it’s important to remember that certain genres that of. . .the genre of thrillers and I guess horror movies were not really horror movies, but over time those things can start to be diluted down to…they’re so simplistic and so much about commerce driven that I think they lose their smarts, they lose their intelligence.
I think you can do both, you can have a genre experience that isn’t necessarily something to be embarrassed about but in fact celebrated because if you can entertain someone while also giving them something rich to chew on then that’s a good thing to strive for.
Q. You probably could have chosen any role in the movie. So, why did you want to be Gordo?
I had always written the film with the intention of playing Gordo and I hadn’t really thought about directing it until I was starting to write and I plotted the story out as a character I wanted to play and then afterwards I thought it would be a good starting project for me to direct.
Then when I made that decision, I almost pulled away from the idea of playing in the film as well because as a first time director I knew that there were going to be challenges to wearing both hats but I have a massive ego and couldn’t let go of the part (laughs).
I actually couldn’t let go because as I was writing, I had such a clear idea of how I wanted to see the character portrayed and so it was hard to let go. And because I’m not in as much of the movie as these guys, that I could be a director for most of the time and occasionally come in and be in front of the camera.
Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall also star in the eerie thriller
Q. Did you always know what Gordo was going to look like? Because you changed your appearance a lot.
Yeah, as I was writing it I had a pretty clear idea of I wanted him to look like. Funny enough about two years ago, I shot a bunch of tests scenes and once I had done that and had that particular look it was hard to shake it off.
Q. Why do you think that somebody who comes to us with a gift, such as in this thriller, can scare us so much?
I think Stephen King is the one who ruined clowns for me and then Chuckie in Child’s Play. These people that take what we think is nice and inviting and then turn it on it’s his head to make something sinister.
I hope I didn’t ruin Christmas for anybody but gifts are something we usually enjoy opening and using that as something that’s a little bit more sinister was kind of fun. I’m not terrified of opening gifts. I prefer to give than to receive for the most part.
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