Joel Edgerton on ‘Red Sparrow’, ‘Gringo’, and ‘Bright 2’
Joel Edgerton is busy. Not only is he promoting director Francis Lawrence’s fantastic spy thriller, Red Sparrow, where he stars opposite Jennifer Lawrence, he’s also out promoting his brother Nash Edgerton’s dark comedy, Gringo, where he stars opposite Charlize Theron and David Oyelowo. Oh, did I forget to mention that while he’s promoting these two new films, he’s hard at work in New York City editing his first feature since The Gift, Boy Erased, which will be in theaters this September. If you haven’t yet heard of Boy Erased, it’s about the son of a Baptist preacher who’s forced to participate in a church-supported gay conversion program. Boy Erased has a killer cast made up of Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and Xavier Dolan.
A few days ago, while Edgerton was on his way to his Boy Erased editing room, I got on the phone with him to talk about all his various projects. While we started out talking about why he wanted to be part of Red Sparrow and what it was like filming some of the brutal interrogation scenes, we then jumped into what excited him about Gringo and why it was so unusual that David Oyelowo played his character as a Nigerian immigrant. Further into the conversation he talked about the critical and audience reaction to David Ayer’s Bright, what he’d like to see in Bright 2, and how he’s hopeful Boy Erased will premiere at Telluride or Toronto.
Check out what he had to say below.
Finally, while you have a lot of choices for what you can do with your time and money, I strongly recommend checking out both Red Sparrow and Gringo. Both are very well done and worth seeing in a movie theater.
Collider: I’m going to start with- the funny thing is I’m sitting at the Gringo press junket in L.A. where a member of your family is doing press.
EDGERTON: No way!
Yeah, I literally just did Gringo. I’m also doing Tomb Raider out here.
EDGERTON: Wow! Nash is doing a press tour there today. I’m coming to join him in Miami and so on. I’m doing double duty.
So, the big question is, and this comes from Nash, how come you’re not in LA today promoting Gringo?
EDGERTON: (laughs) Ask someone at Fox about that. I’m kind of splitting my duties, I’m joining him for the Miami and LA premiere and a bunch of other stuff. I’m also stuck on the other movie. It’s terrible timing that two movies come out too close together. Obviously, if I had to put my allegiance somewhere, and I wouldn’t get in trouble, I would be doing the legwork for Gringo.
I’m sure he is obviously teasing. Jumping into Red Sparrow, I thought it was fantastic.
EDGERTON: Oh, awesome.
I really enjoyed this movie. Talk a little bit about collaborating with Francis Lawrence and maybe what it was about the script that said I want to do this movie.
EDGERTON: Well, It was an unusual one for me because, you know, my interest in sort of, jumping on a movie and hiding behind movie stars. It’s one of my favorite escapades. To just, you know, work with great people and play support to really great actors. This was sort of one of those, in the sense that, you know, I love Jen, I love watching her work. So, it sort of my interest to work with her. I didn’t want to let that opportunity pass. The other massive part of it, and yes, Francis is a great person and I love meeting with him, and I think he’s an excellent human being. The big second draw card was that it was one of those scripts and movies that plugged into a childhood fantasy of mine. You know, the clear memory at the age of 10-12 of having a spy kit, you know, like binoculars, and radio transmitting listening device. There’s something about espionage that was a childhood curiosity of mine, and so along comes this script, and it felt like I was plugging back in to a 10 year old version of me.
One of the things I really liked about the movie is that it’s not a technology based movie, it’s about people. Can you sort of talk about, that it’s not one of those movies where it’s just people at computers, pretending to get through firewalls in two seconds.
EDGERTON: Well, what I love about Jason’s book, Red Sparrow, it’s sort of- you know, I’m a spy, relationship man, and they’re generally male driven stories. At some point in those male driven stories, in the James Bond world, usually encounters upwards of two women per movie and they have sort of flings. Usually, there’s a female, seductress type character who saddles up to the spy in a car or locks eyes from across the room and you know, so begins a relationship, and that’s the plan, but she’s torn or she gets a feeling. This is the same movie, but it’s told maybe around that girl, rather from the male perspective. I thought that was kind of cool. You’re right, it isn’t a gadget movie. It isn’t basically just one long string of cars flipping and gun fights. It’s a bit more cat and mouse and more of a psychological and emotional chess game. Essentially, what makes it relevant, you don’t have the cold war nostalgic vibe about it. What makes it really relevant is not so much the Russian/American politics in the news anymore so much as, a story about a girl who is sort of degraded and sexually manipulated and pushed into this degrading shame by the men in her life, and who is underestimated and uses strategy and intelligence to get back at the men. That’s what feels relevant right now.
Completely. One of the other things about the film is that it’s pretty brutal at times, where you almost need to turn away from the screen from some stuff. Which, for me, I really enjoyed that. Can you sort of talk about that aspect? That it’s not some PG movie.
EDGERTON: Well, yeah, the book is graphic and brutal on a violent and sexual level, and sometimes both, which is definitely hard to watch. In order for that journey of Jennifer’s character to really feel like the audience was behind her need to get out and to get revenge and so on, it felt natural to Francis and to Jen to be unflinching in their treatment of that stuff. To not sort of, shy away from the graphic nature of the sex and the violence. In order, though, that it could be to bolster the nature of the characters revenge, rather than for it to be any kind of titillation or vanity sort of treatment for an audience. You know, I don’t think Francis and Jen would ever have gone down the road of going, “Oh, let’s make a Basic Instinct or slicker version of Red Sparrow.”
It doesn’t play like that at all. It’s not sexualized in that sort of way. It’s just brutal.
EDGERTON: For me, it’s funny sometimes the scenes that you think are going to be the hardest to shoot end up being strangely silly or fun to do. The obligatory, you know I’m talking about the kitchen thing with Jen and I, is just a party. I expected that to be so tricky. When you get into the business of being tied to a chair or dealing with physical constraints or anything that becomes physical, like a physical fight, it ends up feeling to me like there’s no real acting required because it takes little effort, that it strangely becomes easier than you expect.
That’s a really well done scene. Definitely because I am sitting here and I am also covering your brother’s movie, I definitely want to ask you about Gringo and, you know, you have some great scenes with Charlize, it’s really funny, that’s another one that’s my kind of movie. Talk a little about what excited you about being in Gringo besides it being your brother’s film.
EDGERTON: There was something about reading the characters and the beauty of the tone of the film that Nash has created is that already on the page there were archetypal characters. There was something that almost felt necessary to lean into, at least partially lean into, the obvious qualities of the characters. The big one that came to mind when I looked at a character like Richard was that he is just selfish and a jerk, and lacked worldly education. I was so interested in playing that character for a couple of reasons. Yes, I was going to get to work with Nash again, but that character in particular because it said so much about the corporate ugliness of any country really, but American corporate greed. I got to be, sort of a weird, bigoted, double act with Charlize, which was so much fun. (laughs) Two friendly, narcissistic, greedy, bigoted characters, that you just are waiting to fall down. I just thought there was something cool about that; just like really lending in to this self centered, dumb, jerk.
You and Charlize really do have some fun scenes. One of the things that I actually really appreciated about the film was that Nash let David play his character as this Nigerian character which in most Hollywood movies, you are not going to get the main character being from Nigeria. It’s just unusual. It’s cool and well done, and David is awesome in the role.
Completely. I was going to say that David told me that his dad does not know that he based the character on his dad and will see the movie for the first time at the premiere next week.
EDGERTON: (laughs) That’s fantastic. It certainly in the movie- and I have to say that I think it’s just wonderful for people to see, you know, different sides of actors. You know, l felt like Bright, was a bit like that for me. You kind of get to be a little bit funny, and I don’t normally walk down that road, but watching Charlize be just so mean, watching David be so beautifully naive and funny. It’s so nice watching different dimensions of actors sort of come to life on the screen.
Totally. It’s funny you bring up Bright. I wanted to bring that up with you. Did you ever find out, because I heard it did crazy numbers the weekend it premiered, did Netflix ever share with you- or with David or Will how many people actually watched it? Or do you sort of just hear it through the grapevine?
EDGERTON: All I know is what was reported, which was something like—whatever number was reported—something like 11 million that first weekend. Whatever it was, it amounted to a $100 million-plus opening weekend. But, I have to be honest, that’s considering that people don’t have to get in their car, go buy a ticket, go buy the popcorn. There’s a certain age where you can roll over and press play on the remote control. But, according to them, the numbers were there. And I think that would be supported by the wild discrepancy between the audience score and the Rotten Tomatoes aggregate score, it’s almost the inverse of Star Wars [The Last Jedi]. You’ve got critics at 93 or 92%, and the audience gave it a 50-something, and you get to Bright, which is sort of slammed by critics, but it has a 90% audience score. I think there was a little bit of extra critical hate towards it because it’s changing the landscape of the movie business, but I think Bright is maybe a movie that needs to be reviewed by public opinion rather than viewed through the highbrow prism of film criticism.
I think that the world of Bright is really, really, interesting, and it can go deeper. I’m really excited that Netflix is moving forward with a sequel. So, I have to ask you, what do you know about the sequel? Has David said anything to you? What do you know and what do you want to see in it?
EDGERTON: The world is very interesting, and I think there’s a certain depth and detail to that world that’s really wonderful. I think on the one hand it’s interesting that some of the criticisms of the film is that some of the analogies about race didn’t go deep enough, and other people said it was obvious and didn’t need to go too far with it because it was there on the surface. I think there’s a lot of fun to be had, there’s more to discover with the characters. I don’t know exactly where they’re going to take it. I got the sense from David that he might take it to a new setting, which I think would be cool to see. I personally was most curious of what was happening outside of Los Angeles, and obviously the world at large is populated by similar characters and how does that affect other cities? I think it’d be awesome to have a look at that. It’s interesting where do Daryl and Nick go now that they’ve had that experience. Is Jacoby now suddenly more accepted because he went through that experience, or is he going to go back to work on Monday and have people mistreat him?
I always think the best of anything and it’s the filmmakers or Netflix or any us learn from the response to the movie—and I’m talking about the negative responses to the movie and what people out there on the street loved about the movie—I think if you take all that information it puts you in a nice spot to make a second and maybe a third movie perhaps. It’s always worth listening to the fans and the good and bad responses to it. I don’t know much, and I can tell you why I signed on for a sequel. I had a good time with the people; I had a tough time in the prosthetics for sure, but I loved playing the character. Between ‘action’ and ‘cut’, it was one of the most exciting characters I ever got to play just because of the complete freedom. I love improvising, it was my version of like playing Chunk in Goonies or Shrek or something—the big, kicked-to-the-curb, ugly, misunderstood, monster character.
Sure, and also being anonymous because you get to do whatever you want. It’s not you, it’s the character.
EDGERTON: Yeah, that was also part of it, for sure. I always talked about my reddisence to step into the bigger movie world here and there and it seemed like the right thing to do. It was character based, or it didn’t have a humanity to it. The strange thing was it was like playing a character that wasn’t human was one of the most human characters I’ve ever gotten to play. You’re right, it was anonymous. I get to be in a big movie without really seeing my face and yet, at the same time, it’s amazing how I’ve been out on the street and people are like, “Dude, I love Bright so much!” They do attach me to the project. It’s like I get to be in a band but wear a Mexican wrestling mask or something. (laughs) I get to go home at the end of the day without too much of the baggage of it all. Also, I learned so much from being inside a mask. I had these memories- you’re going to suddenly imagine me in a pair of black tights- but being in drama school doing mask workshops and stuff, and just having so much fun because of the freedom of taking away, when you get your vanity taken away, you feel like you’re hiding behind a mask. It gives you so much freedom, and I think that says a lot about why I choose other roles, as well. A lot of characters where it’s as far removed from me as possible, makes it feel like a mask. It gives me an expansive freedom to do what I want on screen, in a different way.
Completely. I know you’ve got to go and so I will not pressure you for more stuff. I will say I am really looking forward to seeing Boy Erased and I hope the edit is going well.
EDGERTON: Yeah, I am actually talking to you while I am on my way back to the edit room right now. We’re just about to pull up and I am going to put in a few more hours before I clock out for the day. All these press meetings are taking me from the edit room. It’s sort of frustrating, but it also gives me a couple of days to step away from the movie. It’s going really well, and I am excited to share it with the world.
I’m looking forward to seeing it at Telluride or Toronto, that’s my prediction
EDGERTON: Yeah, that’s what I hope. I think the timing of that is going to be perfect. Good talking to you!