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Joel Edgerton talks about The Gift

Joel Edgerton about to pull focus on Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman in The Gift
Joel Edgerton about to pull focus on Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman in The Gift
Movie

Gift ****

thumbnail

For his directorial debut, Joel Edgerton weaves a subversive edge-of-your-seat suspenser that will knot stomachs tighter than a sack of White Castle hamburgers. Jason Bateman (assuredly cast against type as an arrogant Republican) and Rebecca Hall play a presumedly happily married couple who are hoping for a baby to make it three, with Edgerton – not content to live his life in soft focus background - emerging as a drip from the past, quietly seeking comeuppance. The ads scream Fatal Attraction, but rest assured theirs is not a typically-minted crime of passion. The Gift doesn’t stop giving, right up until an indeed disturbing climax – never saw it coming – designed to haunt and resonate for days after. Crackerjack bread crumb-dropper that he is, Edgerton’s path is such that a second viewing will be in order to a) marvel at how he did it and b) catch all of the veiled references to other movies.

Find showtimes

The best thing about this movie-lover’s job is one morning I’m in a theatre watching a picture, the next I’m speaking with its director and star. In this case, Joel Edgerton. The Gift, opening wide this Friday, is the perfect counteracting agent for this summer’s comic book-blahs, an intelligent, suspenseful, and subversive thriller. It ends in a manner both unexpected and shocking, and while no spoilers — unless you count the mention of Dr. Sapperstein — were revealed in the print version of the interview, nothing is held back online.

I urge you to see the film before reading the second half. This is one movie you don’t want a critic to spoil for you.

Scott Marks: Before every interview, I poll Facebook friends for questions. It was inevitable that Star Wars would come up, and while I personally don’t get it, if the franchise in any way contributed to the making of The Gift, I’ll reconsider. Gabriel August Neeb writes, “I think there’s a lot more for the ‘Pa Kent’ of the Star Wars universe to do. Would you play Owen Lars in another Star Wars movie if asked?”

Joel Edgerton: Absolutely. I love what’s going on right now, and the anticipation leading up to the new Star Wars. If there was any way of doing any kind of stand-alone movie...I wouldn’t even need to play the same character. I think what’s going on is exciting, and I’m definitely curious to be a part of that.

Edgerton in Wish You Were Here
With Ben Mendelsohn in Animal Kingdom

SM: In your smaller, presumably more personal projects, you tend to err on the side of unpleasantness. Prior to The Gift, my favorite of your films and performances are Animal Kingdom and the almost-as-overcast Wish You Were Here. What is it about the characters and the scripts that attracted you and what, if anything, about these films found their way into The Gift?

Nash and Joel, the brothers Edgerton

JE: It’s more a cumulative kind of collaborative atmosphere that surrounds all of that friendship group which has become [the] collaborative of Blue-Tongue Films. There’s a real healthy support network that goes on amongst us: David Michôd, who made Animal Kingdom; my brother [Nash], who made a movie called The Square; Kieran [Darcy-Smith], who made Wish You Were Here; and a handful of others, including Luke Doolan, who was my editor, and who also cut Animal Kingdom and The Square.

Every time one of us makes a movie, the rest of us get envious, and it spurs us to make our next movies better. We help criticize each other in the right way, and that helps to push the work further. I think the atmosphere that surrounds that gang is the thing that really supported me and gave me the confidence to think that I could do what I did.

SM: Are you and Nash gunning to be Australia’s answer to Martin and John Michael McDonagh?

JE (Laughing): I worked on John’s first screenwriting effort, Ned Kelly, and I did Martin’s play The Pillowman in 2008. I’ll take that as a massive compliment. I think collaboration, particularly when it’s within a family, creates this incredible dynamic that speaks to strength in numbers and two heads being better than one. When you can collide ideas and absorb each other’s skills and learn from each other, it’s a very powerful and privileged place to come from.

SM: Don’t you ever worry about having a stuntman for a brother? Obviously not — you’re giving him work!

JE (Laughing): To be very honest, Nash does a torch fire stunt in Jane Got A Gun, which will be unveiled to the world soon enough, and I’ve watched him do other fire stunts and car hits. It’s all sort of fun and games — up to a certain point, where I have to watch my brother do something that could get him badly hurt. I worry for him, but he’s very good at what he does. He’s doing all right, though he still looks too pretty for a stuntman.

SM: The Gift is quite the subversive piece of genre filmmaking. The ads are likening it to Fatal Attraction, but is that fair? Why set the bar so low? (Laughing.) If anything, what makes this movie hum is the way you constantly play against audience expectations.

JE: The responsibility of anyone making a thriller is that, whichever decade has informed that filmmaking...as much as it’s there to inspire you, you kind of have to react against it. A thriller is there to keep you guessing, designed by its very nature to be the thing that is filled with the idea that nothing is what it seems to be. Why simply go down the well-worn path of films like Fatal Attraction and Cape Fear and other movies that did it so well in their own right? They were there to inform us, but we made it to do something new.

Video:

The Gift trailer

The most terrifying place to put an audience is a place where they don’t know what’s going on, where the threat is un-sane and yet to reveal itself in its entirety. I watched a lot of these movies up to making The Gift and tried tuning into the moments in each where I felt the most engaged and the most frightened. It was always the moment before the person pops out of the cupboard. I wanted to embrace that and put the audience in that place and not let them off the hook too much.

SM: I live for prized moments in movies when a privileged bit of information causes a light bulb to suddenly pop off over your head. Somehow a connection is made. In The Gift, there’s a brief shot of Robyn (Rebecca Hall) raiding her neighbor’s medicine cabinet. Something caught my eye. With all of the fine movie doctors to choose from — Hackenbush, Clitterhouse, Strangelove, Joyce Brothers — may I ask why the physician’s name on the prescription bottle was “Dr. Sapperstein?” Is it because he has his father’s eyes?

JE (Laughing): You caught that? There’s quite a few of those little tips of the hat to various films. More than anything, they are tributes to filmmakers that I love. There a little kind of thing in the sequence with Robyn looking in the mirror that’s a nod to The Apartment. There’s something on a wine bottle that’s a clue to another filmmaker that I love. They’re little treasures for people who care to watch the movie a second time. The one you’re talking about is interesting because it’s almost out of focus. I’m glad that you saw it.

SM: It couldn’t have caught my attention more had the name been Dr. Ralph Bellamy.

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! STOP HERE IF YOU HAVE YET TO SEE THE MOVIE!

SM: At what point during the creative process did you come up with the ending?

JE: It was always the way the ending was going to be. To me, the writing process is...I usually have an idea that’s interesting that’s followed by a balanced idea that makes it exciting enough to write. The term elements in that for me were the idea of making a movie about the resolution of a boy and a victim. The idea that made it exciting and worth making was that resolution, good or bad, was going to take place 25 years after the fact. And I thought that time and a sense of consequence said something about the evolution or lack of our evolution in life and how much we are able to or not able to change. The exciting part of writing for me is that I have to know where I’m headed, and I very clearly knew where this story was heading.

SM: About halfway through the film I began wondering what happened to the mechanical monkey that opened the film. In less capable hands, one might only imagine how many sinister cutaways would there have been to the toy. The way you bring it back into play gave me the willies. Couldn’t you have simply ended it with a pan-up to a blue sky?

JE (Laughing): Monkeys are an animal I really love. A monkey once creeped me out in a forest in Bali. I bought a bag of bananas to feed this monkey and was suddenly attacked by a whole gang of them. They stole the bananas out of my hands. If I was truly gonna give stake to an animal that I’m terrified of, he’d have been wearing a Spider-Man mask.

SE: Due to the subversive nature of the material, I must admit to being put off by the couple of schlock-shocks in the film. The initial sound of banding tape being ripped open was great. What’s with the St. Bernard lunging at the camera accompanied by a Dolby blast? Was it a concession to those expecting Fatal Attraction-like shocks?

JE: When I said I was going to make the movie I told my producers that I was going to put one foot firmly in the genre world. That’s the kind of movie I wanted to make, but it was going to be elevated. It was going to have a social context and resonance to it, not just another “buckets of blood” movie. I would never go down an all-too familiar path.

Then, as we were getting into the film, I kept reminding myself of that one foot standing in genre-world and said, If I’m going to half do it, I might as well fully do it. I really liked the idea of jolting the audience, but I didn’t want to go too far, too many times. I threw those tricks in there for the horror fans. Even though it’s not a horror movie, it’s definitely got that occasional kink in the road. To be honest, I take great joy in watching the reactions from an audience. Maybe it’s a genetic thing. My brother has made one of the most jolting short films…

SM: Spider!

JE: You know it! He used to love watching 500 people en mass just break out. I used to be worried for him, now I worry about myself.

SM: No need to worry. You’re doing God’s work!

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Joel Edgerton about to pull focus on Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman in The Gift
Joel Edgerton about to pull focus on Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman in The Gift
Movie

Gift ****

thumbnail

For his directorial debut, Joel Edgerton weaves a subversive edge-of-your-seat suspenser that will knot stomachs tighter than a sack of White Castle hamburgers. Jason Bateman (assuredly cast against type as an arrogant Republican) and Rebecca Hall play a presumedly happily married couple who are hoping for a baby to make it three, with Edgerton – not content to live his life in soft focus background - emerging as a drip from the past, quietly seeking comeuppance. The ads scream Fatal Attraction, but rest assured theirs is not a typically-minted crime of passion. The Gift doesn’t stop giving, right up until an indeed disturbing climax – never saw it coming – designed to haunt and resonate for days after. Crackerjack bread crumb-dropper that he is, Edgerton’s path is such that a second viewing will be in order to a) marvel at how he did it and b) catch all of the veiled references to other movies.

Find showtimes

The best thing about this movie-lover’s job is one morning I’m in a theatre watching a picture, the next I’m speaking with its director and star. In this case, Joel Edgerton. The Gift, opening wide this Friday, is the perfect counteracting agent for this summer’s comic book-blahs, an intelligent, suspenseful, and subversive thriller. It ends in a manner both unexpected and shocking, and while no spoilers — unless you count the mention of Dr. Sapperstein — were revealed in the print version of the interview, nothing is held back online.

I urge you to see the film before reading the second half. This is one movie you don’t want a critic to spoil for you.

Scott Marks: Before every interview, I poll Facebook friends for questions. It was inevitable that Star Wars would come up, and while I personally don’t get it, if the franchise in any way contributed to the making of The Gift, I’ll reconsider. Gabriel August Neeb writes, “I think there’s a lot more for the ‘Pa Kent’ of the Star Wars universe to do. Would you play Owen Lars in another Star Wars movie if asked?”

Joel Edgerton: Absolutely. I love what’s going on right now, and the anticipation leading up to the new Star Wars. If there was any way of doing any kind of stand-alone movie...I wouldn’t even need to play the same character. I think what’s going on is exciting, and I’m definitely curious to be a part of that.

Edgerton in Wish You Were Here
With Ben Mendelsohn in Animal Kingdom

SM: In your smaller, presumably more personal projects, you tend to err on the side of unpleasantness. Prior to The Gift, my favorite of your films and performances are Animal Kingdom and the almost-as-overcast Wish You Were Here. What is it about the characters and the scripts that attracted you and what, if anything, about these films found their way into The Gift?

Nash and Joel, the brothers Edgerton

JE: It’s more a cumulative kind of collaborative atmosphere that surrounds all of that friendship group which has become [the] collaborative of Blue-Tongue Films. There’s a real healthy support network that goes on amongst us: David Michôd, who made Animal Kingdom; my brother [Nash], who made a movie called The Square; Kieran [Darcy-Smith], who made Wish You Were Here; and a handful of others, including Luke Doolan, who was my editor, and who also cut Animal Kingdom and The Square.

Every time one of us makes a movie, the rest of us get envious, and it spurs us to make our next movies better. We help criticize each other in the right way, and that helps to push the work further. I think the atmosphere that surrounds that gang is the thing that really supported me and gave me the confidence to think that I could do what I did.

SM: Are you and Nash gunning to be Australia’s answer to Martin and John Michael McDonagh?

JE (Laughing): I worked on John’s first screenwriting effort, Ned Kelly, and I did Martin’s play The Pillowman in 2008. I’ll take that as a massive compliment. I think collaboration, particularly when it’s within a family, creates this incredible dynamic that speaks to strength in numbers and two heads being better than one. When you can collide ideas and absorb each other’s skills and learn from each other, it’s a very powerful and privileged place to come from.

SM: Don’t you ever worry about having a stuntman for a brother? Obviously not — you’re giving him work!

JE (Laughing): To be very honest, Nash does a torch fire stunt in Jane Got A Gun, which will be unveiled to the world soon enough, and I’ve watched him do other fire stunts and car hits. It’s all sort of fun and games — up to a certain point, where I have to watch my brother do something that could get him badly hurt. I worry for him, but he’s very good at what he does. He’s doing all right, though he still looks too pretty for a stuntman.

SM: The Gift is quite the subversive piece of genre filmmaking. The ads are likening it to Fatal Attraction, but is that fair? Why set the bar so low? (Laughing.) If anything, what makes this movie hum is the way you constantly play against audience expectations.

JE: The responsibility of anyone making a thriller is that, whichever decade has informed that filmmaking...as much as it’s there to inspire you, you kind of have to react against it. A thriller is there to keep you guessing, designed by its very nature to be the thing that is filled with the idea that nothing is what it seems to be. Why simply go down the well-worn path of films like Fatal Attraction and Cape Fear and other movies that did it so well in their own right? They were there to inform us, but we made it to do something new.

Video:

The Gift trailer

The most terrifying place to put an audience is a place where they don’t know what’s going on, where the threat is un-sane and yet to reveal itself in its entirety. I watched a lot of these movies up to making The Gift and tried tuning into the moments in each where I felt the most engaged and the most frightened. It was always the moment before the person pops out of the cupboard. I wanted to embrace that and put the audience in that place and not let them off the hook too much.

SM: I live for prized moments in movies when a privileged bit of information causes a light bulb to suddenly pop off over your head. Somehow a connection is made. In The Gift, there’s a brief shot of Robyn (Rebecca Hall) raiding her neighbor’s medicine cabinet. Something caught my eye. With all of the fine movie doctors to choose from — Hackenbush, Clitterhouse, Strangelove, Joyce Brothers — may I ask why the physician’s name on the prescription bottle was “Dr. Sapperstein?” Is it because he has his father’s eyes?

JE (Laughing): You caught that? There’s quite a few of those little tips of the hat to various films. More than anything, they are tributes to filmmakers that I love. There a little kind of thing in the sequence with Robyn looking in the mirror that’s a nod to The Apartment. There’s something on a wine bottle that’s a clue to another filmmaker that I love. They’re little treasures for people who care to watch the movie a second time. The one you’re talking about is interesting because it’s almost out of focus. I’m glad that you saw it.

SM: It couldn’t have caught my attention more had the name been Dr. Ralph Bellamy.

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! STOP HERE IF YOU HAVE YET TO SEE THE MOVIE!

SM: At what point during the creative process did you come up with the ending?

JE: It was always the way the ending was going to be. To me, the writing process is...I usually have an idea that’s interesting that’s followed by a balanced idea that makes it exciting enough to write. The term elements in that for me were the idea of making a movie about the resolution of a boy and a victim. The idea that made it exciting and worth making was that resolution, good or bad, was going to take place 25 years after the fact. And I thought that time and a sense of consequence said something about the evolution or lack of our evolution in life and how much we are able to or not able to change. The exciting part of writing for me is that I have to know where I’m headed, and I very clearly knew where this story was heading.

SM: About halfway through the film I began wondering what happened to the mechanical monkey that opened the film. In less capable hands, one might only imagine how many sinister cutaways would there have been to the toy. The way you bring it back into play gave me the willies. Couldn’t you have simply ended it with a pan-up to a blue sky?

JE (Laughing): Monkeys are an animal I really love. A monkey once creeped me out in a forest in Bali. I bought a bag of bananas to feed this monkey and was suddenly attacked by a whole gang of them. They stole the bananas out of my hands. If I was truly gonna give stake to an animal that I’m terrified of, he’d have been wearing a Spider-Man mask.

SE: Due to the subversive nature of the material, I must admit to being put off by the couple of schlock-shocks in the film. The initial sound of banding tape being ripped open was great. What’s with the St. Bernard lunging at the camera accompanied by a Dolby blast? Was it a concession to those expecting Fatal Attraction-like shocks?

JE: When I said I was going to make the movie I told my producers that I was going to put one foot firmly in the genre world. That’s the kind of movie I wanted to make, but it was going to be elevated. It was going to have a social context and resonance to it, not just another “buckets of blood” movie. I would never go down an all-too familiar path.

Then, as we were getting into the film, I kept reminding myself of that one foot standing in genre-world and said, If I’m going to half do it, I might as well fully do it. I really liked the idea of jolting the audience, but I didn’t want to go too far, too many times. I threw those tricks in there for the horror fans. Even though it’s not a horror movie, it’s definitely got that occasional kink in the road. To be honest, I take great joy in watching the reactions from an audience. Maybe it’s a genetic thing. My brother has made one of the most jolting short films…

SM: Spider!

JE: You know it! He used to love watching 500 people en mass just break out. I used to be worried for him, now I worry about myself.

SM: No need to worry. You’re doing God’s work!

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A really talented guy.

July 14, 2017

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