Joel Edgerton was a tad disappointed when his strong directing debut, 2015’s The Gift, was overlooked in the awards season, even if the US$5 US/Australia co-production made US$59M at the box office and received strong reviews.
His new film Loving, which re-teams him with writer-director Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special), has more than made up for that. Edgerton was nominated for an AACTA and Golden Globe for the film, which follows the real life struggle of interracial couple Mildred and Richard Loving.
He co-stars with best actress Oscar nominee, the biracial Ruth Negga, who was born in Ethiopia and raised in Ireland by her Irish mum after her Ethiopian father’s death.
Sydney-born Edgerton knows a thing or two about interracial romances having been involved in several himself, most prominently with Olympic runner and gold medalist, Cathy Freeman. He was also once engaged to Balinese fashion designer and artist, Alexis Blakein, he was linked with Brazilian model Wanessa Milhomem and more recently has been in a casual romance with French model Dayana Reeves.
His career is now thriving as the versatile actor, who can do romance as well as action, is currently starring in the high profile thriller Red Sparrow alongside Jennifer Lawrence, after filming David Ayer’s US$90 million Bright with Will Smith and Noomi Rapace.
HB: Neither you nor Ruth are American, yet Jeff Nichols cast you as this Virginia couple.
JE: Jeff found something in Ruth and I that was appropriate physically and energetically to what he needed for Richard and Mildred and he could have found that in anybody from any corner of the world. It just happened to be us, thankfully. Ruth and I had a documentary (Nancy Buirski’s 2011 HBO Emmy-Award winning The Loving Story) and lots of extra footage of Richard and Mildred to help us travel our way from Australia and Ethiopia/Ireland to get into the Americana of it all.
But Jeff is a master of that aesthetic too. I think his films have a real breeze-in-the-wheat kind of feeling about them. It felt very easy to become part of that world once we went there with his whole team, who’ve been making movie after movie together.
"Every now and then I felt judgment, a silent judgment. It was a subtle between the lines, outside of the law judgment from people."
HB: You've been as outspoken about gay marriage as interracial marriage.
JE: There are a lot of conversations to be had about gay marriage too and it brings up something that I find even harder to wrap my head around. Two people should have the freedom to do whatever they want together if they’re acting within a kind, loving realm.
HB: You had a relationship with Cathy Freeman.
HB: Was there any stigma about your being together at that time? (They met at the 2002 Logies and announced their split in January 2005.) You were both famous people, she was more famous than you at that moment.
JE: Every now and then I felt judgment, a silent judgment. It was a subtle between the lines, outside of the law judgment from people. I was talking about that with Freeman recently and we were saying how it was an interesting time – but it wasn’t too bad. We were both public figures and sometimes that can kind of obscure race. She didn't like the public figure stuff and preferred not to be thrust into the spotlight.
HB: You transformed yourself to play Richard Loving. What was your approach?
JE: With the footage we were able to watch the sounds and the movement of the couple and saw that the energy between them was very cute. We didn’t want to be weighed down with mimicry and fall short of integrating that into a real living breathing person.
HB: With your jaw you made it really physical.
JE: (chuckles) Richard had terrible teeth and the jaw thing was just Richard. He walked in a particular way and he spoke very Australian in the sense that he hardly ever moved his mouth (chuckles again). And they had this strange accent, which had some Canadian sounds to it. We worked hard on all of that.
"I’m not scared of doing big Hollywood movies. I just want to know that they have at least some nutritional value."
HB: Are you still enjoying working in Hollywood? You sometimes sound a bit cynical.
JE: Bright is a big Hollywood movie, but David Ayer is not extremely Hollywood. He spent years working on a submarine and is a completely different fish compared to the ones swimming around in Hollywood. I’m not scared of doing big Hollywood movies. I just want to know that they have at least some nutritional value. I mean one day I might just take the money and run and I’ll acknowledge that without shame. I’ll wave to you from my Maserati as I tear on by! I don't mean to piss on Hollywood because it has provided lots of great opportunities for me. It’s also a loose term that’s hard to define.
HB: What is happening with the American film directed by your brother? (Little is known about the so-called Nash Edgerton Project produced by Nash as well as Joel’s co-star Charlize Theron, and it also stars David Oyelowo. Clearly it's difficult to describe.)
JE: There’s no title for it. It was called American Express but that was silly because of the credit card and we definitely can’t call it Mastercard either! It’s about a guy who gets kidnapped in Mexico and gets a new lease on life. It’s sort of a comedy and it’s sort of a movie about nasty corporate America. David and I represent jerky corporate America. I have a nice set of false teeth in this movie too. Big pearly white perfect teeth. (chuckles again)
Watch 'Loving' trailer:
Thursday 17 September, 7:15pm on SBS World Movies
Saturday 19 September, 5:40am on SBS World Movies
Monday 21 September, 2:40pm on SBS World Movies
Genre: Romance, Drama
Director: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Michael Shannon, Marton Csokas, Nick Kroll, Bill Camp
Now streaming at SBS On Demand: