STACK chats with Joel Edgerton about his second film as director, Boy Erased, and the important message it sends.
Based on the memoir of Garrard Conley and starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, Boy Erased is the powerful account of a gay teenager’s ordeal after he is enrolled in a church-sanctioned conversion therapy program by his Baptist father, who believes it will ‘reset’ his son’s sexuality.
Conley’s story had a profound effect on Joel Edgerton, who first encountered the book in early 2017 while on location in Budapest shooting Red Sparrow.
“I became so obsessed by it that I wanted to meet him,” he tells STACK. “I told the producer who had given me the book, ‘You have to get the rights to this.’
“I met with Garrard and the other survivors of conversion therapy and just started getting involved, not thinking I was going to write and direct the film, but somehow help produce it.
“Then I found myself with some downtime in Budapest. Knowing that every morning I was waking up thinking about it, I started writing a couple of scenes to see how it felt and before long I realised I was so obsessed, I’d written a version of the first draft of the script.”
Edgerton admits to knowing “very little” about gay conversion therapy prior to reading Conley’s memoir.
“I knew it existed, but like a lot of people I’ve met and talked to, I was one of those who thought, ‘I can’t believe that. It sounds absurd and weird.’ It was a mix of shock and disbelief.”
While determined to raise awareness about the harmful effects of the procedure and give Conley’s personal story its true justice on screen, Edgerton was also aware of the need to respect the opposing point of view.
“It almost strengthens the film,” he notes. “The idea that you could reorient sexuality is truly a belief held by many people, and dismantling their belief in that subject is the thing I think needs to happen.
“I was taking my lead from Garrard’s book and wanted to treat everybody and the situation honestly, like he has, with space for empathy.”
As well as adapting and directing the story for the screen, Edgerton plays the role of conversion therapist Victor Sykes – a character based on the former head of the Love In Action therapy program, John Smid.
“I was curious about his psychology and I found myself meeting [with him] in Texas. I went to get his point of view on things, his take on the therapy, and his now stance against the therapy, which was important. As I got more and more into researching him, I realised it was so fascinating and wanted to play him on screen.”
Edgerton says that one of the biggest surprises in making Boy Erased was the realisation he had made a film that is aimed more at parents.
“It’s a guide for what not to do when it comes to this kind of subject matter, and how to handle a scenario of this nature. It was almost like Garrard’s story became some kind of road map to help other people, that we made into a movie.”
Ultimately, he hopes that the film will prompt audiences to question their own point of view on the subject.
“I hope that audiences realise that there’s a practice going on that needs to change and that they spread the word and become part of the raising of awareness.”