EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Black Mass star Joel Edgerton talks The Gift
Having established a reputation for himself as a formidable acting talent in his native Australia, with films such as 2010’s Animal Kingdom and TV series like The Secret Life of Us, Joel Edgerton has been making a big splash in Hollywood recently.
On top of his blistering performances in blockbusters Zero Dark Thirty, The Great Gatsby, and most recently Black Mass alongside Johnny Depp, Edgerton stepped out as a dramatic powerhouse earlier this year with his critically lauded directorial debut, which he also wrote and starred in.
The runaway hit of the summer, The Gift took fans and critics by storm with its original take on the suspense thriller genre, utterly unpredictable plot, and exceptional acting.
We caught up with Joel Edgerton to discuss The Gift ahead of its DVD and Blu-Ray release. Here’s what he had to tell us about the twisted tale.
How did this whole thing start? Where did it all come from?
Joel Edgerton: Just my sick brain! I had an idea once that it would be nice to tell a kind of macabre story or make a thriller based on the idea that so many years on from high school someone just might tap you on the shoulder and say “Do you remember me?”. And if you weren’t such a nice person way back then, that could be quite a dark experience. Then it became an exploration for me of many things that I find important, like ‘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?
The Gift has a complex relationship with the hallmarks of the thriller genre. Was this your intention?
Joel Edgerton: Yeah, because the genre itself is designed to be suspenseful and mysterious and to keep an audience guessing. 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, while keeping the audience turning corners that surprised them.
There seem to be hints of Hitchcock in the movie. Has he been an influence on you?
Joel Edgerton: I used to think every movie needed to have Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone in them. I still appreciate those kinds of movies, but I was all about action movies until I went to drama school. And then, meeting other people who had varied tastes, I started to really dive into movies from other decades. I really loved Hitchcock movies and just in general this genre of movies that had an element of mystery to them, a sinister edge, but had a social context as well, and the idea that nothing is what it seems. For some reason it really struck me. I enjoy the feeling of watching those movies, so I’ll take that as a huge compliment.
So it wasn’t a deliberate homage, but rather a subconscious reflection of what you’ve seen?
Joel Edgerton: I think it was a reflection of the diet of movies I’ve enjoyed. There are definite winks and tips of the hat to certain films and filmmakers… You know, The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby, and movies in the thriller realm that I hold in incredibly high regard. I’m a big fan of Michael Haneke, too.
I think it’s important to remember that over time certain genre, like the genre of ‘thrillers’ and ‘horror’, can start to be diluted down. They’re so simplistic and so 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.
Can you tell us a bit more about the promotional campaign for The Gift?
Joel Edgerton: The company behind making the movie were sort of fascinated by the generosity of my character in the film. This idea of getting gifts, and perhaps taking something that we all think is a good thing, and having gifts that were perhaps not so welcome. And now that generosity has extended into their marketing campaign, looking into people’s private lives, which have become so public because of social media. Some people are very freaked out by the insight that these guys have into people’s lives, asking like “how do you know this about me?”. Well you actually posted it three years ago on Twitter…
Why do you think that somebody who comes to us with gifts can scare us so much?
Joel Edgerton: I think Stephen King is the one who ruined clowns for me [with It] and then Chucky in Child’s Play. These people who take what we think is nice and inviting, and then turn it on its his head to make something sinister. I hope I didn’t ruin Christmas for anybody, but gifts are something we usually enjoy opening. Using that as something that’s a little bit more sinister was kind of fun. I’m not terrified of opening gifts, but I prefer to give than to receive for the most part.