Written and directed by Joel Edgerton, The Gift is a brilliantly designed thriller that really sneaks up on you, in the most unsettling, heart-stopping, thought-provoking way. After Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) have a chance encounter with Gordo (Edgerton), an acquaintance from Simon’s high school who he doesn’t initially recognize, a series of uninvited encounters and mysterious gifts uncover a past between the two men that shows why bygones might never truly just be bygones.
At the film’s press day, which was held up at the house that much of the film was shot in, actor/filmmaker Joel Edgerton spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how this idea came about, why he thought this would be a good directorial debut, limiting the amount of days he was acting on set, finding the right level of creepiness for the character, the quick post-production process, and his desire to direct again. He also talked about working with director Scott Cooper on Black Mass, how excited he is about Jane Got a Gun, and his next project, Loving.
Collider: Was this an idea you’d been thinking of for awhile, or was it something you wrote pretty quickly after you thought of it?
JOEL EDGERTON: It was an idea that took ahold of me pretty quick. I have a lot of ideas that I feel are half-formed, or half-way okay. When I thought of the idea of what it would feel like to be on a shopping trip, 25 years out from high school, and have that guy that you vaguely remember from high school tap you on the shoulder and say, “Hey, remember me?” To bring all those memories flooding back, as a foundation for a scary movie or a suspense movie, felt very exciting to me. I dove in very quickly and started writing, but over a period of years.
When you wrote this film, did you always write it with the intention of directing it and did you shape the writing in that way, or did you just write it without thinking about that?
EDGERTON: The construction of the film is very much a triangle thriller, or stalker thriller. Our villain, Gordon, that I play, somewhat recedes into the shadows, at times. So, when it came to writing the film, it was really about me playing that character. It wasn’t until I was deep into writing it that it also felt, for many reasons, like a good first project for me to sink my teeth into, as a director. It wasn’t going to cost too much money. It was fairly contained, in terms of locations and characters. And I loved the story. But, the directing idea came after the idea of writing the character.
Did you intentionally work out the scheduling so that you’d only be acting for seven days during the shoot?
EDGERTON: Yeah, I didn’t want to be on set every day, jumping back and forth between the roles. So, what we did structurally for the film was that, for the first two weeks, all I did was sit in the director’s chair. It was something I had never done before, on this scale of a project, so I felt like I needed to really focus on that, at the beginning. And then, after two weeks was up, I had to sit in the make-up chair, every now and then. But I had my brother, Nash, who’s a director and a great inspiration to me, on set as an outside eye, so that I wouldn’t waste time looking at the monitor, all the time. I could look at him and know whether we could move on or whether we needed another take.
How challenging is it to be creepy and menacing, but still keep the audience with you and wondering just how far you’ll go?
EDGERTON: The recipe for any character is always very interesting, as far as what doses of certain qualities you want. For this, we had a very thin margin. He needed to be all the things that he’s described as, like creepy and over-bearing and a constant visitor, but at the same time, not so much so that this couple wouldn’t necessarily open the door to him, at all. The point of view of the movie is very much Rebecca Hall’s character, Robyn. She’s the eyes and ears. She’s the center of the movie. We never really know what Gordo is up to. We never know where he is when he’s not visiting. When they’re not with him, we don’t know where he is. That allowed a certain mystery to be decided on by the audience. They can decide for themselves where this guy is working.
If Simon had been genuinely sincere in his apology, at any point in time, would that have been enough for Gordo, or would he always have carried out his plan?
EDGERTON: When you watch the movie, there’s a Plan A and a Plan B aspect of Gordo’s feelings toward Simon. For the beginning of the film, there’s actually like a short film version, where these two run into each other and Simon has a big enough heart and enough spirit to look back and acknowledge the past. But, it’s a dark tale about a guy who can’t look back. The fact that he doesn’t hold out the olive branch in any sincere way with any true form of contrition, Gordo’s hardwired for his approach to the relationship.
How long was the first cut of this film? Did it take you awhile to get it to what we see now?
EDGERTON: There are a couple of things on the cutting room floor, but not much. We had an incredibly quick post-production process. I thankfully had a really great shorthand with my process. The editor was Luke Doolan, who’s cut a couple of movies that I’ve been involved in, like The Square, which I wrote with my brother, and Animal Kingdom. We were trying to find the leanest version of the movie we could find, and we had to find it fairly quickly.
Do you already have plans to direct again, and will you keep directing scripts that you write?
EDGERTON: I’m open to doing all sorts of things. I definitely have a plan to direct again, I just don’t know exactly what that will be yet. I had such a great time doing it. I feel very privileged that I can go and do my day job and take all of that responsibility away, and then, when I’m ready, I’ll go and direct again.
How was the experience of making Black Mass with Scott Cooper?
EDGERTON: You’re asking me at the right time because I literally saw a cut of the movie this morning and I’m so excited about it. Scott Cooper is a very talented director. He’s a real actor’s director. You can see the level of actors that turned up for Black Mass. It’s incredible. The list is amazing, even down to the people doing one scene. I’m very excited for that movie.
You also have Jane Got a Gun coming out?
EDGERTON: Yeah, Jane Got a Gun is incredible. There’s an interesting history for that film, as anyone in Hollywood may know, but they managed to stay afloat. We worked very hard to do that, and I’m really excited about that one, as well. I can’t wait for the world to see it.
Do you know what you’re doing next, as an actor?
EDGERTON: Yeah, I’m going to work with Jeff Nichols again, on a movie called Loving, about a relationship that made a Civil Rights case that overturned the opinion interracial marriage in the United States. I’m very excited about doing that. I play Richard Loving, who’s the husband of Mildred Loving. He’s a white man who married his African American lover, and they were thrown in jail for doing so, in the late ‘50s. The case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court.
The Gift opens in theaters on August 7th.