Joel Edgerton, arguably one of the best things about Baz Luhrmann’s critically maligned but financially successful “Great Gatsby” redo, stars in another summer film starting this Friday, albeit one of much smaller scale. Starring fellow Aussie star Teresa Palmer (“Warm Bodies”), Edgerton’s second film of the season, Kieran Darcy-Smith’s feature debut “Wish You Were Here,” premiered on the opening night of last year’s Sundance Film Festival, where his breakout film “Animal Kingdom” also debuted back in 2010.
In “Wish You Were Here,” he stars as one of four friends who go wild on a carefree South-East Asian holiday. When only three of the four return home to Australia, dark secrets pertaining to the mysterious disappearance begin to reveal themselves, threatening to tear the three apart.
I called up Edgerton to discuss the thriller, the experience of returning to Sundance, mixing big budget fare with smaller indies, and how the troubled western “Jane Got a Gun” is going with his “Warrior” director Gavid O’Connor now at the helm following Lynne Ramsay’s abrupt departure which caused Michael Fassbender to drop out and Edgerton to switch roles from villain to hero. Entertainment One opens “Wish You Were Here” in select theaters this Friday, June 7.
“Wish You Were Here” premiered back at Sundance where “Animal Kingdom” also had its first bow. That is a film that in my mind really put you on the map in many ways. What was it like returning to Park City two years later?
It was awesome, it was incredible. Actually, you know, we got this real feeling from “Animal Kingdom” when it played there that felt like people were leaning into the film and really enjoyed it, and having seen “Wish You Were Here” leading into the festival, I knew they were different movies but they have a similar kind of edge to them and I was really excited for us to show it at that festival, which somehow had been the festival that had been most kind to all the movies I had made. So I love going there and it was great to roll it out there, especially on opening night.
Did it afford you an opportunity to look back at the past few years and reflect on what a ride it’s been for you?
Yeah, it’s been incredible. I always knew that acting, more than most professions, is one part talent, two or three parts luck, a few parts the journey and who you stumble across along the way (which is sort of luck anyway). You can never guess where it’s going to head or how long it’s going to take or if it’s going to happen at all. I’ve experienced all sorts of things but I’m very happy for everything that’s been going on and how things have unfolded and the way I’ve kind of tackled things, to the point where just now, at the age of 38, I feel like I’m better equipped to deal with the challenges. I’ve got my feet on the ground, and now I sort of feel like I can now start to find the challenges, or seek them out, that I really have always wanted.
Both “Animal Kingdom” and “Wish You Were Here” are Australian producers. Did you make a pact, when you broke out stateside, to stay active in Australia and not pull a Hugh Jackman?
Yeah, well, it’s never even really been a complete conscious effort to make sure I do projects back home because if I can’t find one that I really love, I wouldn’t do it. But also, more than anything, I really love the opportunity of being at home, and if I can be at home and work, then I can be busy and enjoy my family and enjoy my hometown, which is the best of both worlds, really.
And when you signed on for “Gatsby,” you didn’t even know that it was going to be shooting in Australia, correct?
I did have the feeling, by the time I met Baz [Luhrmann] in New York to audition for Tom [Edgerton’s character], they were in this flux period where they were looking at relocating from their initial plan of shooting in New York or Long Island to shooting back in Sydney. So ironically, I traveled all that way to New York to see Baz, from Sydney, just to go back and shoot the movie literally five minutes’ walk form where I was living.
That’s hilarious. So that film really was the best of both worlds for you, in many ways.
Yeah, that was incredible, because I shot “Wish You Were Here” the summer before. Getting picked up in the morning by a rickety car and shooting four or five scenes a day and getting one end of the spectrum, from the low budget end of the spectrum, and the following summer I was back sitting in a massive trailer at Fox Studios getting the complete opposite end of the spectrum, but literally in the same city.
All experiences are different and I have my favorite things and my gripes about each one of them, but ultimately it’s all the same sort of dance. It’s a slower dance, when you work on a bigger budget movie, but it was fun. And in a sort of social and economic framework it was really awesome just to be there in Fox Studios and see the whole place filled up, because that’s what Baz does, he fills up an entire studio, you know, takes over the whole place. Seeing everybody working and the whole place kind of filled up with people working, it was great, because sometimes Fox Studios down there can be a bit of a ghost town. And we had fun, we had a fun time.
Going from a set like the one you were on for “Wish You Were Here” to something as grand as “Gatsby,” how do stay focused as an actor?
Well it’s sort of tough, in a way. I mean the downside to making movies at a gallop like we did with “Wish You Were Here” is that we’re shooting four or five scenes in a day and it’s very exhilarating, but you worry at the end of the day that you missed some details because you were moving too quick, and you just gotta trust and be ready straightaway. The risk with a big movie like “Gatsby” is that you shoot a single team over a long period, and the risk is you don’t maintain the same rhythm and momentum, and you’ve got to use a lot more of your memory to kind of keep you in the right place. But there’s upsides to it as well because in the “Gatsby” experience you really get to work on the detail because there’s so much time to contemplate it. So there’s benefits and drawbacks to every situation, and they really are different skills, I think.
People talk about the difference between working on stage and working on film. I think you could say that there are as many differences between working on low budget films and working on big budget films. You really are doing the same thing, but at the same time you’re doing something vastly different as well.
Now we’ll briefly move on to another low budget film that I’m sure you’re being asked about a lot, “Jane Got a Gun.” How is the shoot coming along? Have you wrapped yet?
Well we got a couple weeks to go. We’re doing night shoots at the moment. In my framework, “Jane Got a Gun” is somewhere in the middle. Yeah, we’re shooting a big budget movie, I mean, there’s tons of equipment and there’s cranes and lots of people so it’s somewhere in the middle, but the shoot’s going really well. Obviously, we got off to a rocky start, but we’re winning as I say, we’ve got tiger’s blood right now. And so much of that is thanks to Gavin O’Connor going on board to be our new general at a very early stage, and that guy works so hard and so tirelessly that it’s very infectious, so he’s been a really good role model and leader. I think we’re making a really great movie here.
I can’t wait to see it. Did you play a huge part in bringing him on board given that you worked on “Warrior,” or was that just happenstance?
I mean, when we got to the point where we knew we needed someone new he was definitely someone I was pushing forward. I think in a way Gavin’s the kind of guy who normally wouldn’t have entertained that kind of a situation. But he and I had been talking about working together again ever since “Warrior,” which was enough of a curiosity for him to read the script, and then that drew him in, and then it was all written in stone from there. So yeah, I had a large part in that, but also, I think that Gavin’s body of work meant that he was a strong candidate.
Now we were tailing earlier about shifting from lower budget films to bigger budget films and dealing with the changes. How did you deal with the changes that went on with this production? I mean, you had to change roles, directors, you saw cast members come and go; how did you stay focused and grounded amidst all this?
Well, I think there was definitely a feeling in the beginning: “Is this movie, like many Hollywood movies, going to just suddenly fall over and not get back up?” And I was prepared for that, I was disappointed, because you put a lot into the preparation for something, so to see it sort of fall over and not get back up is very disappointing to me. It was impossible not to bring a hundred percent because that’s what Gavin does. And as for changing roles, that was something that was exciting anyway, because that happened a couple months before we started production: myself switching in to replace Michael’s [Fassbender] part. And then as far as all the villains were concerned, that was always built into the back end of the schedule so it was really just a matter of going “Okay, well, we’re not gonna do that person, so now it’s going to be this person” and that was all fine.
But movies are such strange beasts, and I’ve had some experiences where I’ve been incredibly lucky so far and everything was very smooth. This is definitely the rockiest experience I’ve had, but we never let ourselves completely fall over, we always got back up and kept fighting and we’re completely on track and very excited. In fact, I wouldn’t want any other incarnation of the film if I had my time over again.