It was well over a decade ago that I was introduced to a young actor called Joel Edgerton at the Sundance Film Festival. He was unknown, had barely any credits and was at the festival supporting a friend’s film. At the time I loved hanging around Australians, and Joel was one of those guys you couldn’t help but like. That’s the one thing about the now 38-year Sydneysider that has not changed. 50 film and TV appearances later, Edgerton is more than just a working actor. Now starring opposite Jennifer Garner in the bittersweet Disney fantasy, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, one wondered whether there was a time at the beginning of his career that he was prepared to give up. “I always knew I wanted to be an actor and I don’t think there was a point where I was going to quit, because everything was kind of bubbling along for me in a nice way, the actor explains in a Beverly Hills hotel room. “If ever there was a point I was going to quit was more in my relation to my work here in the States, because I thought I was just beating the drum in an unpopulated corner. Nobody really wanted to know.” But he remained philosophical about his work here in the US, not allowing the frustrations he felt to get him down. “There’s something about knowing people aren’t interested to make you work harder, so I was never going to give up completely.” And work hard he did, forming a production company along with his brother Nash, and immersing himself in a lot of local product that garnered considerable attention, such as The Square, that he co-wrote with his brother, and the acclaimed international hit, Animal Kingdom. But he still had to navigate the American market with all its layers. “I had to figure out who to convince, really. The first part of it is, who’s the person that holds the key to the door here? And ironically in the end you realise there’s only one person you have to convince, and that’s the person who’s going to give you the job then that convinces everybody else. For me, that person here has been different people along the way.” The man who seems to have saved, in a way, his Hollywood career, was director Gavin O’Connor, who directed Edgerton in last year’s Oscar nominated Warrior. “That really contributed to my recent abundance and Gavin really fighting hard to put me in that movie. That was finally a movie where people could walk up and say: This guy has something to offer. I knew I had something to offer and I was always just dying to have the opportunity to stretch myself a little bit.”
Stretching himself meant going after a completely different type of role in Peter Hedges’ whimsical but beautifully told The Odd Life of Timothy Green. “I just liked how open hearted this movie was, in an unashamed It’s a Wonderful Life kind of way. I know that a lot of us actor guys are always looking for the next cool thing we can do, and I just thought it was strangely cool about how uncool this movie was. It’s like having a conversation and looking at someone directly in the eye. There’s a direct openness to this movie despite its magic dust quality. It says so much about family and love and hopefully lets you leave the cinema with something really great.” Edgerton and Garner play a childless couple, Jim and Cindy Green, who have tried everything to have a child. Desperate to cling on a small hope that perhaps something will happen, they come up with all the ideal qualities that would make the perfect child, write them down and place them in a box which they bury in the garden. The next day, Timothy [CJ Adams] miraculously appears, with leaves strewn to his feet, and pure love in his heart. But as Jim and Cindy discover, not only is there more to this child than meets the eye, but more to parenting than this couple could ever have imagined.
To land the role of Jim Green, Edgerton not only had to convince director Hedges, but also his on screen wife, Jennifer Garner, herself returning to movies after spending time raising her new young family. It was all about chemistry, and whether the two actors could be believable as an in love married couple. “I think chemistry is just that”, the actor explains. “It’s a chemistry you either have or you don’t and it’s either going to be there from the beginning or not. I mean you could develop a relationship, but Jennifer and I just liked each other from the moment we met. I just knew we were going to get along just fine. There are certain movies that I watch and go is that the only thing they might lack is that the guy and the girl just don’t click, or other movies like Out of Sight, it’s the complete opposite. And I hope with Timothy Green, not only is the chemistry between Jen and I is great, but also between CJ and I and CJ and Jennifer and the two of us with CJ.”
While Joel’s Hollywood career is now more than just bubbling along, the actor still not only calls Australia home, but returns often to work, as an actor, producer and an accomplished screenwriter. “I’d like to be able to spend as much time at home as possible. I want to be part of the Australian film industry, because I feel when I’ve been absent from it for a number of years and I don’t know what’s going on, I feel like I’ve missed out on something. And I like working at that scale, small budgets where story is the only thing you can really concentrate on, and where you can be really creative in ways other than throwing money at problems. And our company is very important to us, so it’s not only me going back to work on projects, it’s going back to expand the body of work of our company.” Joel has written a new script which begins shooting in Sydney later this year. He says that he has become increasingly drawn to writing as much as he is to acting, these days. “I just love it. Most days I’d be writing something,” the actor says and admits that screenwriting “really began as a way for us to employ ourselves, because nobody was giving us jobs and so we needed to make short films to show people that we could work in front of a camera, so we had to write them and make them. We didn’t want to be filmmakers at first but in making the films, we realized we just loved the process so we continued doing it.” Now writing has changed for Edgerton, he says. “it’s now something I’m compelled to do.” Joel says his writing has evolved “a lot through Hollywood. I thank every Hollywood writer who’s had a script that’s landed on my desk, because I’ve evolved as the writer I am after reading other writers’ stuff.” He wants to write scripts in which he says give him the opportunity to play different complex characters. Such is the case with this latest Australian script, the currently titled Felony, which revolves around a decorated police officer, to played by Edgerton, whose life instantly changes after he lies about a running a cyclist off the road after having a celebratory drink with his fellow officers. “I like to create characters that have both a strength and vulnerability, that have integrity yet go through some form of losing that integrity. That to me, on a character level, is something I am drawn to, characters who are seeking to set things right and going through a hard road to understand that.”
Edgerton will also be seen in the eagerly anticipated film, The Great Gatsby opening at Xmas. The young actor who grew up in Sydney’s working class western suburbs is on a roll.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green Opens Nationwide on August 14th.