Joel Edgerton has generated awards buzz ever since the 2016 Cannes Film Festival premiere of “Loving” in May. The film tells the true story of the biracial couple whose landmark civil rights case, Loving v. Virginia, saw the U.S. Supreme Court end all racial restrictions on marriage in 1967. Edgerton’s portrayal of Richard Loving in director Jeff Nichols’ film earned the actor a Golden Globes nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, the actor’s first Golden Globe nod.
One of the challenges of the role, which saw the Australian actor transform himself into Loving’s Virginia-born brickmason, was staying true to the real Richard Loving, as seen in Nancy Buirski’s 2011 documentary “The Loving Story,” which captured many of the details of Mildred and Richard Loving’s private lives.
“When you get a story that’s real, and the characters existed — and particularly if you have access to them through archival footage — the game is completely different,” Edgerton said during our Awards Spotlight conversation. “The task becomes very specific about the way they looked, the way they moved and the way they sounded.”
Because Richard Loving was a man of few words who speaks only in short sentences in the film, much of Edgerton’s performance comes through in subtle gestures and facial expressions. “If you’re going to have a camera on you for a whole scene, you’ve got to know what you’re thinking about because there needs to be activity in the silence,” Edgerton said. “Richard always looked like he was looking for an escape to me, but there’s got to be some activity or energy to it otherwise it’s just letting the air out of the balloon.”
Because no performance exists in a vacuum, we also asked Edgerton for some of his favorite films that guided his early movie life. It’s a varied list, fitting for an actor whose career moves between films large and small.
Though Edgerton has received high praise for faithful portrayal of Richard Loving, he credited Nichols for guiding his performance from start to finish.
“You’re only as good as who’s leading you,” Edgerton said. “You’re only a good actor in a good movie because somebody else put it together.”
This year’s Awards Spotlight series is produced with help from our partners at Movies On Demand, who shot and produced the video interviews, and from Hollywood Proper, who provided location services for our Los Angeles shoots.
You can find all Contender Conversations at our Awards Spotlight homepage.