Joel Edgerton Gets Serious, Biblical

The Australian star on his gritty film ‘Felony’ and playing Pharaoh.
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The Australian star on his gritty film ‘Felony’ and playing Pharaoh.
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In between appearing in The Great Gatsby and filming the upcoming Ridley Scott epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, Joel Edgerton wrote and starred in Felony. For the Australian actor, the film, which follows three police detectives grappling with the ramifications of a hit and run, offered a chance to explore deep emotions without being beholden to well-read books by Fitzgerald and, well, Noah. Edgerton, who has snuck his way onto the A-list, is grappling with his sudden movie star status. He told Maxim how he’s dealing with it (by being a workaholic) and what it means to appear in a Ridley Scott epic.

Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

It came, honestly, from reading these stories of hit and run accidents. Who are those people who do that? And then with no witnesses run off and hide? And could that be me? Could that be you? So I created a story about that character and then it became a larger story about the shock waves and ripple affect it has in the lives of the people around him. And then where does forgiveness come from? It became this ethical and moral debate, really, but dressed up like a thriller.

So you had some pretty deep thoughts about all this.

Every now and then I have a deep thought.

Why did you think you’d be the best actor to star in it?

When I was young I had a very clear point of view on things in life, on moral questions. There was a black and white viewpoint on my world. As I’ve gotten older, I see the grey areas appear. There is that character in the movie that represents where I’m headed, which is that with true experience you look back and go, ‘The world is entirely grey.’ The rules don’t always apply and there needs to be a flexibility and fluidity to things based on circumstantial information.

Now do you have a sense of what you would do in this situation?

I have a very clear idea of where I stand on it and it hasn’t changed since I made the movie or since I started writing the movie. But I wasn’t going to layer that on because I know people will leave the cinema with a very different point of view. Some will say, “This is what happens but I disagree with it” or “I hope he makes the right choice.” It’s not clear-cut for everyone. I’ve had friends who are a couple leave the cinema and go to war with each other over it.

You’re starting a discussion either way.

Yeah. And I love movies I’ve gone to where I leave the cinema and either the subject matter throws up a reflection of my own life and makes me think about something, or makes me leave without giving me all the answers and makes me assimilate that for myself. A perfect example is A Separation. They finished the movie without answering this one particular question. That’s what I’d like to create – a continuing conversation beyond the credits.

How does a movie like this fit in with your career, which is now packed with blockbusters?

In many ways, it’s probably more beneficial to me financially and more beneficial to me to keep on that train and not step off to go make these kinds of things. Something like Felony is more time-consuming. But it definitely keeps me happy, keeps me engaged and keeps my brain engaged. If I didn’t have things like this to do and I couldn’t inject myself into these projects and experiences, I’d probably get a little tired and need a break from the acting.

You like being stressed out a little bit?

I wasted too much time in my twenties. I worked but I would do theater in the evening and during the day I would surf and do irascible things. And then, for some reason, as I got closer to my thirties, I thought, “Okay Joel, you’ve wasted enough time.” Now I’m making up for all the time I wasted. I hate it as much as I’m compelled to do it. I really love what I do but it drives me crazy. And it’s inexcusable for me to complain about it, by the way. Can you please note that?

The Hollywood actor is moaning…

“A-Class Problems Edgerton” over here just whining about his life.

How many movies did you shoot this year?

What year is it? 2014? We’re not over yet. I think three and then the tail end of Exodus. We wrapped up Exodus, which involved me being underwater in a tank. I wouldn’t call it four movies, but it’s still October.

Is Exodus going to be the one that really solidifies you as a movie star?

I don’t know. I just look like a big bald baby. I like to mix it up as an actor. I like to play all sorts of different characters. If at the end of the day I can look back and see pictures of all the characters I’ve played and there’s a smorgasboard of weirdos and interesting, odd different characters, I’d be so happy. That’s part of what I strive for – the differences between one character and the next. I look back on when I did King Arthur and I was so hairy and had a beard and no one could really see it was me, and I remember some agent saying, ‘You know this movie won’t do that great for you because no one can tell it's you.’ I like that. But, at the same time, I want to get another job.

In Exodus I’m a big bald baby in a gold skirt.

Photos by 20th Century Fox