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Interview: Joel Edgerton Talks The Odd Life of Timothy Green, The Great Gatsby

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Interview: Joel Edgerton Talks The Odd Life of Timothy Green, The Great Gatsby

With his role in last fall’s surprise hit “Warrior” and casting in Baz Luhrmann’s forthcoming “The Great Gatsby,” actor Joel Edgerton’s profile has been on the upswing. In director Peter Hedges’ new film, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” Edgerton co-stars with Jennifer Garner as Jim and Cindy Green, a married small town couple who can’t wait to start a family but can only dream about what their child would be like. When young Timothy (CJ Adams) shows up on their doorstep on a dark and stormy night, however, the Greens and the rest of their neighbors come to learn that some of life’s greatest gifts can arrive via unexpected means. Edgerton recently set down with press at a Beverly Hills hotel to discuss his role, how he chooses his projects and his thoughts on working with kids and what it means for his own potential future as a father. The conversation is excerpted below:

Question: What was the attraction for you to this material? It’s a little different than what you’ve been doing.

Joel Edgerton: I mean, it is different on kind of a first look, but it’s not really, when you think more about it. I mean, I often think a lot of directors have a running thing about material that interests them, and when you think that an actor wants to get to a point where they have some form of luxury of choosing what they do, you can start to see that actors have a bit of a thing that draws them in (too). On one hand that could be a genre thing, like action movies or broad comedies, but on a thematic level, to me, it’s interesting to think that “Warrior” and “Animal Kingdom” are all about family. And this movie, more than any other movie I’ve ever read, is about what it means to be part of a family, and (centered) so much around that topic. So whether I’ve got a gun in my hand or I’m punching someone in the face, or whether I’m cuddling a child, sometimes the movies can be more similar than they first appear.

Question: Well, you have a very interesting position playing Jim in this film, because you’re developing a very strong familial relationship with CJ’s character, Timothy, then you have this sort of strained relationship going on with David, who plays your father. How did you go about finding a balance there, to bring out the really loving, tender father and also the sad child?

Joel Edgerton: Well, that’s easy, because I think we’ve all got the capacity for love, and we’ve all got damage in some way. I mean, my father, to me, is one of my top five people in the world. And I think every member of my family holds one of those positions. But my father has a particular thing for me. He’s always been amazing to me. But what I find interesting, and where I relate to Jim, is that I think the reason I’m sitting here before you is probably as a result of me, as a young boy, really desperately wanting the attention of my dad. Some people have childhoods where they go, “I was beaten by my parents.” They’ve got serious things to hang their problems on. But the beauty and the sadness of a child is that they interpret the tiniest thing as the biggest thing. So, you know, my father worked so hard to give me and my brother and my mom the life that we were gonna have, (and) I think the whole time I was like, “Where’s my dad?,” and, you know, “Does he love me?,” and, like, “What can I do to make me more exciting so that he will think I’m cool to hang around?” That was sports, and then later on it was being on stage. And that attention-grabbing is about seeking more love. And I think that that’s sort of an undercurrent that I think goes under a lot of performers, actually, and it’s true of me. So I related to that in the story because, you know, it breaks my heart when toward the end of the movie we see a particular photo that the Big Jim has been concealing, that really shows you that he does care. Fathers all around the world, I’m sure, replace words with grunts, and speeches with, you know, pats on the back. And it’s amazing how that can mean so much to us, because we’re craving it so much; my dad just winking at me from across a room says the same that my mother can say in essays about how amazing I am.

Question: “The Odd Life” is an emotional roller coaster, with high highs and low lows. How intimidating or challenging was the role for you, and was it physically exhausting?

Joel Edgerton: Well, it definitely has some softer edges. A lot of people say, “Oh, this is a very gentle movie,” and I think, “Well, in a way those things are more challenging, because what Peter’s striving to do is make a movie where the chest cavity is just opened [and] you can see the heart. The risk is that it becomes too cheesy or corny, but the benefits are that you really feel something, and you really go home with something because it makes you just bring your own life to it. I love that. As a guy, I think you’re always like, “Oh, I’ve gotta be something cool or tough.” And one thing I really admire about what Peter has done is that he hasn’t tried to be cool. He hasn’t tried to be anything that he thinks a movie-going public might want. It’s kind of unique in that sense, because it just strips the skin off the (characters) but at the same time it’s a fable. It’s real life with magic dust on it. And strangely enough, those movies with a bit of magic dust kind of say more about real life in a way — maybe because we get to go out to the cinema and go, “Oh, this is a fable.” Fables have this cheeky way of leaving messages in your pockets, you know?

Question: How did you build your relationship with CJ?

Joel Edgerton: I believe that if you have those relationships and they work offscreen, that somehow they seep into the movie. And the same was true of Jennifer and I. We got along famously, we had a great time together. And then together we had a great time with CJ, who’s easy to like. I mean, you could see that on screen, but he’s inquisitive. He’s very disarming, which also makes me think he’s just had great parenting himself. I met his parents and I think they’re wonderful. But CJ’s great. He’s obviously incredibly charming, but he (also) really looked up to me in a way that I found flattering and confusing, you know? I think it’s amazing how children can really kind of worship you in a way that makes you look at yourself and go, “Am I really that amazing? And how can I be more amazing?” There’s an incredible responsibility when you cast a child in a movie. And it’s not really my responsibility, it’s the director and producer’s responsibility. But that child is then in your life for life. You can’t just pick them up, put them in your movie and then throw them away. As we’ve all seen, in five or ten years’ time it becomes, “Watch this space,” you know — what’s gonna happen to this kid? But CJ would come to us for advice, and, and I felt very protective of him, too, considering that he was a kid in this big machine.

Question: I know that the movie’s like a fairytale, but it also is grounded in reality to a certain extent. How does that blending work?

Joel Edgerton: How does it work? Well, I think Peter wanted to make a movie that you would come back and watch over and over again, you know, in the same way that I like to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” over and over again — and also movies like “Big” and “Splash,” and all those sort of movies. They say so much about what’s going on emotionally for people, in this case within families. And the way they do it is, is they kind of put in a kind of magic envelope I guess. And I love that, because it really sets up from the beginning that you join the movie. If you can’t believe that conceit of it, then you might as well go home. It’s not Peter’s job, really, to try and over-explain the science of the magic, because it’s just magic. I mean, in “Big” he puts a coin in a thing and, you know, suddenly his wish comes true, and you go, “Cool. All right, we get it. Let’s watch this story.” And then so much happens. What I really love about this story is that [it’s what I used to call a] “happy-cry movie,” in that it’s that thing when a kind of mystical stranger rides into town, changes everybody and their thinking around a little bit, and then inevitably they have to go. And it’s the going that’s really sad. But what they’ve left behind is really special. That’s what Peter was setting out to achieve — a classic story. And maybe because of that classic-ness, hopefully, people will watch it and (want to) re-visit it.

Question: You’re getting more and more well known to American audiences beyond just being Luke Skywalker’s uncle. What do you look for now in parts? You’ve got “The Great Gatsby” coming up, which is a big, signature film. But do you look most at the scripts, the characters, or the director?

Joel Edgerton: All of that stuff. I mean, it’s a combination of everything really. I like a script, I like a good character within a good script, and then I look at the team making it. And then you even look at the amount of money they’re making it for, you know, not because you’re worried about your own slice of the pie, but if you tell me you’re gonna make this particular movie about the world ending or about asteroids hitting the Earth, and you tell me then that you’re gonna make it for, you know, a tiny budget, sometimes the budgets don’t match the ambition. So you’re kind of looking at it all like a science, in a way. Is this thing challenging, exciting? Do I feel like I’ll learn something new? Is the character something I’ve never done before? And I actually kind of have this intuitive thing, too, where sometimes if a project has all the right exciting elements and it terrifies me, then it’s a reason to do it. I think with “Gatsby,” it kind of terrified me because I was leading into it, I was like, “I don’t know if I can do it.” And the idea that I thought I couldn’t do it meant there was a good enough reason that if someone was willing to let me have a go at it, that I should do it.

Question: Does this movie make you change your opinion at all, or reinforce your view of, parenthood on a personal level?

Joel Edgerton: Yeah, because I’m not a parent, there’s so much in this film that makes me think this is cool, and that maybe I could sort of put some lessons in my back pocket. You know, one of them that I find very potent in the movie is that a child is their own human — you can’t relive your life through a child, and that you’re there to kind of get in their way enough but not get in their way too much. And this stuff about being articulate, I think, may be a lesson for me. I hope that when I’m a father, that I will be kind of vocal about my feelings rather than assume that, this and the other. As Cindy says in the movie, it’s maybe worth letting people know things before it’s too late. There’s a ton of stuff in this movie, and everybody can go to it like a good grocery store and pick what they want, you know?

Written by: Brent Simon

Joel Edgerton

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A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International and Magill's Cinema Annual, and film editor of H Magazine. He cannot abide a world without U2 and pizza.

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