Exclusive: Joel Edgerton Talks THE THING, THE GREAT GATSBY, and Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama Bin Laden Project

     September 25, 2011

The upcoming thriller The Thing, opening in theaters on October 14th, is a prelude to the 1982 John Carpenter classic of the same name. Following a team at an isolated outpost in Antarctica, the discovery of an alien creature that is unearthed by a crew of international scientists causes paranoia to spread, as they begin to question which of them have been infected with something inhuman that has the ability to turn itself into an exact replica of any living being. Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), helicopter pilot Carter (Joel Edgerton) and the Norwegian scientific team find themselves fighting this terrifying parasite to keep it from killing them off one at a time.  Here’s the trailer.

Fresh off the acclaim for his performance in Warrior, actor Joel Edgerton spoke to Collider in this exclusive phone interview about this very different role for him, what a fan he is of the Carpenter film, how nice it was to have a combination of practical and CG effects, how cool it was to get to use a flamethrower, and why being a massive fan of the original made  Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. the perfect guy for the job of director. He also talked about taking on the role of Tom Buchanan, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, for Baz Luhrmann’s vision of The Great Gatsby, and what attracted him to the Osama Bin Laden project that director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal are currently working on. Check out what he had to say after the jump.

the-thing-teaser-posterBecause Joel Edgerton is clearly a passionate actor with a lot to say about his craft and his love for movies, I’ve broken down the interview with a list of the 10 coolest highlights. A full transcript of the interview follows.

  • John Carpenter’s version of The Thing and Ridley Scott’s Alien were two of his favorite movies when he was in his early teens, and he’s watched both films a number of times since.
  • He sees it as a privilege to have someone say, “Hey, come and be involved in this world, of this film that you loved so much as a child,” and likens it to his experience of playing Owen Lars in the Star Wars films.
  • He’s skeptical about Hollywood’s fascination with sequels and franchises, but he felt that the prequel aspect of The Thing was a genius idea.
  • He loves tennis and finds it difficult to be terrified of a tennis ball on a stick, so he was grateful for the combination of practical effects and CG to react off of.
  • He never could have imagined getting to add the ability to use a flamethrower to his resume, and admits to feeling like Kurt Russell when he strapped it on to fight the alien.
  • He sees his character as a reluctant hero who is a passenger in this story, thrown into a very intense, life-and-death situation.
  • He is honored to be a part of The Great Gatsby and says it has that feeling of stepping into a project where you get to bring literature to life, in a slightly different way. Although it’s not Gatsby in space, or Gatsby re-invented, he says it will have its own edge and world that’s envisaged through the eyes of director Baz Luhrmann.
  • He says that Baz really thought through the decision to make The Great Gatsby in 3D, and he’s both excited about it and nervous that so many people will have to look at his face in 3D.
  • He hopes that the Kathryn Bigelow/Mark Boal film about Osama Bin Laden will be his next project, and that it will shoot early next year.
  • While the original incarnation of the movie was about the failed attempt to kill Bin Landen in 1991, he says it is now being reworked and researched to tell the story of his death.

joel-edgerton-imageQuestion: As this is a very different type of film from what people are used to seeing you in, how did this come about for you?

JOEL EDGERTON: Yeah, well, I think so too. I thought that, when the whole idea of it came up for me. On one hand, I was wondering if this was Joel the 14-year-old kid. The bottom line was that the Carpenter version of The Thing and Ridley Scott’s Alien were two of my favorite movies when I was early in my teens, and I’ve watched them both a number of times since. I remember seeing them both again when I was finishing high school, and I’ve watched The Thing a couple of times since. They’re just great movies with great tension that are from an era of horror movies that have gone by us. I feel like, a lot of times, horror movies are thin on character and heavy on gore. It wasn’t that hard a thing for me to sign onto. Being a fan of the Carpenter version was definitely part of the lure for me.

Because this is a prelude to a film that many people do really love, did you have any hesitation about signing on for it?

EDGERTON: Yeah, I’m pretty skeptical about Hollywood and its fascination with the sequel and the franchise. It’s a zone we seem to be in, at the moment. It’s definitely a slightly nerve-wracking thing to get involved with. I don’t think I would have done it, if it was a remake because I personally believe that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But, the whole reason these guys had for doing a prequel was pretty genius, when you look at the Carpenter movie. It’s like it was served up on a plate by Carpenter, back in ‘82, with this whole mystery of what happened at the Norwegian camp. What (director) Matthijs [van Heijningen Jr.] and Universal did was open up a lovely chapter that you wish had been told.

the-thing-prequel-movie-image-joel-edgertonThis character is mysterious, in the sense that you don’t really know too much about where he came from and how he got to this point. Did you do anything to develop your own backstory for him, and was that mystery part of the appeal in playing him?

EDGERTON: I think that was part of the nod to that era of filmmaking. Sometimes you don’t need copious amounts of exposition or backstory about a character. Sometimes they just are, and they are the sum total of their actions. All that stuff, for me, becomes a matter of private contemplation and private thought. What an audience decides about where certain characters come from is really up to them.

How was it for you, as an actor, to be able to have a combination of practical and CG effects? How does that help you, as far as your reactions go?

EDGERTON: I find that stuff all really tricky. I don’t know how I would do, if I was on a movie that was entirely green screen and entirely CGI effects. It requires a really, really incredible imagination, which I’m not sure that I’m really equipped for. We had a nice combination of practical and visual effects. Quite often on set, we would have certain practical elements of the alien to play with. It would have been a lot harder for me, if we didn’t have that. There were a couple of days that were being scared of a tennis ball on a stick acting moments, and I found that all pretty funny. I would say to Matthijs, “I love playing tennis. How am I going to be frightened of a tennis ball?” But, that’s the world of filmmaking that we live in. It’s just another one of those skills that an actor needs.

the-thing-prequel-movie-image-02Could you ever have imagined that you would add being able to use a flamethrower to your resume?

EDGERTON: No, that was the coolest thing of all. The first day of strapping on that flamethrower was brilliant. It was great. I equate this experience to my involvement in Star Wars. It was such a privilege to have someone go, “Hey, come and be involved in this world, of this film that you loved so much as a child.” Getting involved with Star Wars was that kind of experience. I can’t believe that I was involved with those movies. And, The Thing is like that because I was so fascinated with it and with Kurt Russell and that world, when I was so young. And then, they’re like, “Hey, why don’t you strap on a flamethrower and run around and fight this alien?” I felt like I was Kurt Russell.

In much the same way, what’s it like to take on a story as iconic as The Great Gatsby? How do you prepare for a role like that?

EDGERTON: Well, that’s a slightly different frame to work from. I did A Streetcar Named Desire on stage, a couple years ago. That is such a loved American play, and Gatsby is such a loved American book. You’re working from literature and you’re trying to avoid any visual representation that’s come before. Whereas with The Thing, we were trying to create a similar aesthetic and achieve that same look and feeling. Whenever you’re trying to do your own take on a classic piece of literature, it’s almost like you’re trying to swim up your own stream, or drive down your own path. Gatsby is all in the words. For starters, it’s an incredible honor to be a part of that film with that cast and with (writer/director) Baz Luhrmann, and it’s such a privilege to play that character. It’s got a real electricity to it. It has that feeling of stepping into a project where you get to bring literature to life, in a slightly different way. It’s a different kind of electricity than when you get to enter a world of film that’s already been established.

the-great-gatsby-book-coverIs it still the classic story that people know and love, or will it also have some changes that surprise people?

EDGERTON: Wow, that’s interesting. Personally, I think when you’re dealing with a book like Gatsby, it’s so iconic and it’s great because of what it is, so I don’t think you need to re-invent it. You just find the inspiration within each page and bring it to life, as best you can. It’s not Gatsby in space, or Gatsby re-invented. It will have its own edge and world that’s envisaged through Baz’s eyes. The other interesting thing about bringing a play or a book to life is that it’s been read by people before and every single person has pictured each of those characters in their own way, and each of those houses, the streets that they drive down, and the cars that they’re driving down those streets in. They’ve all been imagined a million slightly different ways, by a million different people. This is one group getting together to bring their vision to life, with one person at the helm. But, I certainly think it will be far from a disappointing vision.

The Thing is a film that you might expect to be in 3D, but it isn’t. And then, The Great Gatsby isn’t something you’d automatically think of being in 3D, but it’s being shot in 3D. What are your thoughts about filming it in 3D and what do you think that will add to the experience for audiences?

EDGERTON: It’s a very interesting point you make. I just think that any choice you make on a film has got to be well thought through, and I know that Baz is someone that doesn’t make choices flippantly. His reasoning and his thoughts and feelings behind bringing the world of Gatsby into 3D is very interesting and I think it’s very well thought through. I think it’s going to be fascinating. He’s got a definite clear vision. When you get behind a guy like Baz, he’s someone that you’re happy to march along with. I’m excited, but I’m nervous for all the people out there who are going to have to look at my face in 3D.

say_nothing_image_joel_edgerton_01With such a vast array of different characters that you’re playing now, what are you looking for, when deciding what you want to do? Is there something that draws you into a specific projects?

EDGERTON: Not really. It really is about script and about the team behind the project. Sometimes I just wonder if I’m being led by variety. If one film leads me down one path, sometimes I just want to turn around and head the opposite way for the next project. I hope that’s not the case, but sometimes I suspect that. I’m just looking for new experiences all the time and I’m looking for ways to challenge myself. I’m not scared of doing movies that are just about entertainment. I’m not scared of doing movies that are really challenging and cover difficult terrain. I just want good experiences and I want to challenge myself and I want to just keep learning, as an actor.

Is the Kathryn Bigelow film about Osama Bin Laden what you’ll be doing after The Great Gatsby?

EDGERTON: I hope so, yeah. The plan is to do that early next year.

What was it about that project that appealed to you?

kathryn_bigelow_01EDGERTON: What interested me about that was that I really wanted to get involved with Kathryn [Bigelow] and (writer) Mark [Boal]. It’s a tricky situation. I got involved in the movie before Osama Bin Laden was killed. The original incarnation of the movie, as you may remember from the trades, was based on the 1991 attempt to kill Bin Laden, where he slipped through the net. So, it was really about the failed attempt to kill Bin Laden in ‘91. We were three or four months out from shooting, and I was in Sydney at lunch and someone’s Blackberry vibrated on the table, and then the simple words came out of their mouth, “They’ve just killed Bin Laden.” That was such epic news, and I knew, at that moment, that something was going to shift with that project. It’s been a slow and detailed process for Mark, gathering information and doing his due diligence to make sure that, if they’re going to tell that story, they tell it right. History, as we all know, needs a little bit of time to settle. They could have launched into some half-cocked version of that story and then found out, post shooting it, that certain elements or facts were wrong, so it’s a tricky situation. I’m just really excited about the prospect of working with Kathryn and Mark. We’ll see what happens.

You’re the male lead in The Thing, but do you see your character as a hero, or just as a guy who’s doing what he has to do to stay alive?

EDGERTON: Sometimes I think what defines a hero is a certain act of selflessness. I think he’s a bit of a reluctant hero. On one hand, he’s a passenger in that story. He’s carting these people down to do their business, and he just gets tangled up in the mess. It’s weird. In a way, I think the real hero and protagonist is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character. She’s very cool and she’s got a strong, smart quality about her, in the film, as a character and as a person. I think it’s nice not try to remake or redo any kind of Kurt Russell character with my character. To turn it a little bit on its head and have this smart scientist as the lead is great.

With the addition of the female lead, was it important to you that the film not have the typical awkward pause for a romantic scene while these people are fighting for their lives?

EDGERTON: Yeah, absolutely. There was a lot of discussion that went on around that. There can be this pressure where you should have this romantic situation going on, but this is a situation that these people end up in and they need to band together to sort it out. There’s no reason why they should stop and have a kiss in the corner. But, there’s a really nice comradery between us that’s slowly forged through this situation.

Matthijs van Heijningen JrHow was it to work with Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., as a director? What was it about his vision for the film that made him the right guy to take this on?

EDGERTON: Matthijs is a massive fan of the original movie. I actually don’t know the facts of how it happened, but I suspect and seem to recall that it was his idea to do the prequel. It was his idea to do the film in the way that it is. He was just so passionate about the original movie. He’s just such a great visual director. I’d seen a lot of his commercial work. He’s an incredibly smart guy. He maintained his energy and his complete focus through a very sustained, long shoot. It often seems that the risk with a lot of commercial directors who have never directed a feature before is that the longest they’ve ever been on set is three or four days, or sometimes a week, and all of a sudden, they’ve got to maintain that energy for an entire 12 or 14 week shoot. Matthijs was fantastic through that period. He was a real gentleman. He was great with actors. I felt he had a really nice balance and understanding of what needed to go on behind the scenes, with all the special effects, and keeping his focus on the human stories that were going on. I think he was the one that really brought this idea to them, so I think he was absolutely the right person.

For more on The Thing, here’s all our coverage which includes our set visit and on set interviews.

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