Joel Edgerton, the conversion drama Boy Erased director/writer/star, talks about politics, choosing projects and more at NewFest
This year marks the 30th Annual NewFest, a film festival bringing LGBTQ+ stories to New York and beyond. With it, the new film Boy Erased debuted in New York as the Centerpiece screening. Boy Erased is based on the memoir of the same name by writer Garrard Conley, telling the story of a young man (Lucas Hedges) who is forced into gay conversion therapy by his well-meaning mother (Nicole Kidman) and pastor father (Russell Crowe). Once at the facility, he encounters a number of other unwilling patients (Troye Sivan and Xavier Dolan, among others) as well as the abusive leader of the facility, Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton)
The film was accompanied by the film’s director, writer, and co-star Joel Edgerton giving an introduction to the movie. After walking the red carpet, Edgerton spoke with The Knockturnal for a few questions about Boy Erased and the making of such a personal film. Read below for the full interview.
The Knockturnal: I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie.
Joel Edgerton: Thank you!
The Knockturnal: So you are Australian. A decent number of the other cast members are Australian and British and from non-American countries. What did it take to get into the Southern-American style, especially with such an international cast?
Joel Edgerton: Well, I did a lot of research about all aspects, I spent a lot of time researching the place and the people. The other aspect of it is that I feel like Middle America is like Middle Australia, it’s like Middle India, it’s like Middle Anywhere. And I’m not talking about the middle of the country per se, I’m talking about a psychological and mental perception of rights and freedoms. So I felt like, in many ways, rendering the place and the accents were one thing on the surface, but the energy and the perception on a psychological level… I felt very already connected to it.
The Knockturnal: That actually leads me into my next question pretty well. Right now there’s a lot of political changes that are happening in both Australia and America with regards to queer people. The referendum in Australia for gay marriage as well as right now—the past week—in America with the rumor of changes to American policy relating to trans identification. What do you think Boy Erased’s place is in this really fraught and very politically charged time for queer people.
Joel Edgerton: Well, it takes you under the roof of one household, where the rights and freedoms of one child are under question. And I hope that—the best hope for cinema… The beauty of cinema is that through one person’s experience you can speak to so many other people’s experiences. I’m very aware of what’s going on in America right now. Nothing has made me more politically educated and aware than Donald Trump becoming president. But recently visiting Australia, I really just how much in my country—not just because of on the back of lobbying—I was educated about the fact that Australia still hasn’t caught up on the grounds of marriage equality. But right now, there’s a question that teachers in schools may be fired for being openly gay, and that students may be expelled—not for burning down the fucking gym, not for punching another student—expelled simply because of their sexuality. Not only that, but there was a report released when we screened the film in Australia about the prevalence of at least ten conversion therapy units in Australia. So it’s very much a thing going on in that country as it is here.
The Knockturnal: I’m curious about your finding the book in the first place. What did it take to write the movie and direct the movie, as well as starring in the movie yourself? How did you get into a character with such an interesting story?
Joel Edgerton: The best answer to that is two words. The first one is “obsession,” and the other is “possession.” Like, I became obsessed with the feeling that I got from reading the book, and then I became possessed in a way that I’ve never been before. I’ve been an actor in many projects, I’ve directed many projects—a few short films, a play, one film [The Gift]… Never before has a project chosen me. I’ve tried to choose projects, I’ve tried to insinuate myself into other people’s projects, but the fact that Garrard [Conley]’s book picked me up and dragged me along with it… And I’m talking very quickly. I wrote the screenplay, cast the film, shot the film and we were in post-production within nine months of me having read the book. I became so daily obsessed by it, that the process felt easy because it felt like something outside of me was dragging me along with it.
Boy Erased will be released on November 2nd in select cities