When audiences last saw Joel Edgerton on the big screen, he was exchanging brutal MMA beat-downs with his on screen brother in “Warrior.” Now he’s a suburban dad showering a magical ten-year-old plant-boy with fatherly love and attention in Disney’s “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.”
The 38-year-old Australian has been building a reputation as a remarkably diverse performer in recent years, in productions in his native country (“Animal Kingdom”) and in Hollywood (“Warrior,” “The Thing”), and proving his versatility with turns in his latest film – writer-director Peter Hedges (“Dan In Real Life”) sweet, fable-like tale of a childless couple whose fantasy of the perfect offspring comes true – and high-profile upcoming efforts including playing Tom Buchanon in Baz Luhrmann’ adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” and Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the U.S. mission to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Edgerton takes PopcornBiz into the world of an actor on the brink of becoming a major Hollywood headliner.
This is such a different role from some of the others you’ve played recently. How did the project find its way to you, or vice versa?
It’s interesting: Peter saw ‘Warrior’ at a private screening and was convinced that I should be Jim Green, and I think he was sold on my first scene in ‘Warrior’ where my face is being painted by my daughters. Now it’s interesting that while they’re two very markedly different movies, I believe that directors have kind of a constant theme and I believe Peter would tell you that for him it’s family. He’s always writing about family. This movie’s a different kind of movie than ‘Pieces of April,’ but at the core they’re about the same thing. And I believe that actors, once they get to a place where they can ‘choose their own adventure,’ they start having a running theme as well, and ‘Warrior’ is all about family, about a family coming back together, and ‘Animal Kingdom’ is all about family, loyalty and all of that, and this is about family. So maybe I’ve got my own thing, and maybe Peter and I should just keep doing movies together.
Is that the kind of thing you’d like – 10, 20 years of collaborating with the same filmmaker?
The ideal thing, actually, would be to keep working with David Michod who made ‘Animal Kingdom,’ I want to keep working with Gavin O’Conner who made ‘Warrior’ and I would love to do another movie with Peter – and I’d be happy to just keep evolving a relationship with these same people. I’m about to make a movie in Australia with a guy called Matt Saville – I’ve wanted to work with him for the longest time and I said to him the another night, I feel like – if we don’t kill each other during the making of this movie – it could start something good. I look at the relationship [Michael] Fassbender has with Steve McQueen and there’s something really great that comes with that. The same with directors keeping the same crew, when you can have a shorthand and you can sort of work on and evolve ideas together. And then occasionally in the mix you want to work with new people, and first–time directors, who are really exciting.
Tell me about working with Jennifer Garner.
I really enjoyed hanging out with Jennifer. I just think she’s an exceptional person. I think she’s perfect for this movie. I think she’s a rare actress who manages to do kind of serious movies and has a real great dramatic quality about her, but who’s also really silly and is very funny. And she’s a great mother, and kind of perfect to have around.
How did you and Jennifer develop that very easy chemistry – you start with a very lived-in marriage right off the bat.
I lived in Ben [Affleck] and Jennifer’s roof cavity, without them knowing it for two months. [Laughs] No, we just hit it off, man. Like, from the moment we did the screen test we just enjoyed each other’s company. And I had the same good-time, easy relationship with Jennifer Morrison when I did ‘Warrior.’ I don’t know whether you just go ‘I know we’ve got to do this thing together so let’s just lean into each other a little bit more,’ but you don’t force that relationship. It’s either going to be there or it’s not. Jennifer’s just an exceptional human being, so it’s hard not to like her. The worry was would she like me, because I’m not as excellent as she is? But that happened easy, and the relationship that we both had with C.J. [Adams] also happened very easily. He responded to both of us for different reasons. He really liked me because I was another guy in his life: just a big dude who would throw him around and stuff – we’d joke around and get physical with each other. He liked Jennifer for other reasons, but we both protected him. So you form a little quasi-family, in a way.
This was a nice change of pace, a very different role with comedy and heartfelt aspects that distinguish it from your other recent work. Is versatility something you're trying to achieve?
I guess, yeah, in a way, I am. It's more that I'm trying to avoid doing the same thing all the time. That's always been the way. I've done all sorts of varied things in the theater and in film, once I started. Maybe it's by being an Australian actor, too, and starting work there. There's not enough of a film industry for every actor to just pick one thing and just stick with that. You can't be an action hero in Australia because there's not enough budget to make an action movie, and so you tend to kind of sort of manipulate yourself in all different shapes and sizes just by way of survival. But I enjoy that. I enjoy trying to mix it up. It so happens that now that I'm here getting a sense of momentum in America that I get drawn to different projects with different rhythms and tones to them. If I could keep convincing people to let me mix it up over here then that's great for me. I don't want to get stuck.
After ‘Warrior,’ have you been courted for any of the big action hero roles currently surfacing?
I'm not opposed to it. I basically want to do a big thing, if it resonates as well. To me, 'The Great Gatsby' is going to be a great film. I think that Baz [Lurhmann] is awesome. It's big-scale, a high-profile project, but it's a drama, still. It's got something for me. There's drama and it's not just a big movie. It's not just entertainment. It actually resonates in some way. I think there are action movies like that, too, but unfortunately I think I'm cautious of it because I'm cautious of stepping into a pair tights or carrying a gun if, at the end of the day, it's just entertainment and nothing else.
Were you fairly steeped in the iconography of Edward Hopper paintings and Norman Rockwell that Peter Hedges has said he used to inspire the look and feel of ‘Timothy Green? It's very a American reference, and very iconic. As an Australian, did you relate to it?
I was what you would call an art major in high school. Hopper I'm very familiar with. In fact, I did a production of 'A Streetcar Named Desire' with Liv Ullmann and her major reference, funnily enough, was Hopper. I think that Hopper is just so great that a lot of people want to light their movies and their theater productions like his paintings seem to be lit. I remember looking at it and I'm very familiar with that Middle America iconography as well – on TV, on film, in paintings and in music, because Australia is basically a little duckling. When I was growing up – in high school anyway – America was the big duck and we were a duckling. We would waddle along behind anything cult-fully American, or at least teenagers would. The biggest sports star was Michael Jordan. He wasn't a local sports star. On my head I'd have a baseball cap and generally it'd be the St. Louis Cardinals, and definitely a New York Yankees cap. It was all about following American culture. So TV was it: 'Happy Days' is burnt in my brain, 'The Brady Bunch' and 'Gilligan's Island' and stuff. It's all a part of my childhood. So I feel partially American.
And you’re doing Kathryn Bigelow's film, 'Zero Dark Thirty.’ What lured you in, aside from working with Kathryn – what was your entry point into the material?
It was really mainly that. Obviously I did think carefully about what the subject of the movie was, but I was involved and entangled with those guys before this movie came around because there was a different incarnation. It was a strange situation, actually, that I was involved and prepping to make a movie about the attempted and failed mission to get Bin Laden in 2001, post- the 9/11 tragedy. It was based on a Dalton Fury book. We were like a few months out from doing that. I was in Australia, in Sydney. I was at lunch and someone's phone vibrated and I just heard someone say, 'Oh, they've just killed Osama Bin Laden.' I was like, 'Well, that throws a bit of a spanner in the works of that movie,' because there's a whole new story to tell. That's what Mark [Boal] and Kathryn went away to do and I thought that maybe then it was a different situation for me just because we were entrenched in the other thing. That didn't mean that I was going to carry across, but it just so happened that there was something for me to do in the other one. I just like them as filmmakers. I wanted to be involved.
Did she live up to your expectations?
I think the movie will be very interesting. I mean, I don't know, there's an aesthetic that she has. When you look at 'The Hurt Locker,' there's a kind of aesthetic that she manages to bring you into the fold, rather than have you sit back and judge it. I like filmmakers that bring you in. There's a difference to me. You can stand outside of a window and look in and that's safe, but there's something about bringing an audience member into the world of the movie. If you can do that, it's pretty cool.