The Talented Mr Edgerton: A Chat With Australia’s Most Compelling Actor
— Updated on 28 May 2024

The Talented Mr Edgerton: A Chat With Australia’s Most Compelling Actor

— Updated on 28 May 2024
Garry Lu
Garry Lu

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in Volume I of B.H. Magazine. Purchase your copy here.

Gazing out a window overlooking Sydney Harbour, Joel Edgerton unwittingly strikes a dramatic pose. 

The homegrown thespian is talking shop with the production crew as I’m ushered into the suite — something about the technical minutiae of camera lenses beyond a layman’s understanding, and enthusiasm.  

I am, however, extremely enthusiastic about meeting the man himself. 

Immortalised within the pantheon of guy-cry-flicks, Warrior follows the underdog story of an MMA-fighting family man named Brendan Conlon, who is brought to life by Edgerton. As a combat sports fan, and someone who ranks Warrior as one of my Top 5 all-time films, I’m compelled to bring it up immediately.  

“D’you wanna fight?” Edgerton jokes with a straight face, before cracking a grin and quoting the emotional finale: “‘Tap, Tommy, tap!’”  

I am floating on a pelagic stretch of my own fanboydom.  

Throughout his career, Edgerton has grappled with the theme of masculinity — and the spectrum on which it sits — in many of his roles; from the struggling shoe factory owner and queer ally Charlie Price in Kinky Boots, and the oddly noble robbery mastermind Baz Brown in legendary Aussie crime flick Animal Kingdom, to the brutish chauvinist Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. 

“No one really defined masculinity for me growing up,” Edgerton muses while scratching his chin. Instead, as a young male, he came to the conclusion that masculinity meant being a “rough, tough man” — and all the synonyms that “swirl around that idea.”  

“Now I’ve changed my opinion about it,” he elaborates. “If it relates to the male of the species, then it can be anything from the most tender and soft thing to the hardest-edged thing.”  

“Masculinity is not defined as one colour or one dimension… It’s multi-dimensional. I would trust that we’re not just one thing.”  

Edgerton continues: “Some of my favourite men in my life are men that, on one hand, may seem capable and tough, but at the same time are willing to open up about things that are emotional and that hurt or affect them.”  

One can only assume Edgerton’s self-awareness was fostered by his humble upbringing in the suburban pocket of Blacktown in Sydney’s west. The son of a Dutch immigrant mother, and solicitor and property developer father, Edgerton honed his trade at the University of Western Sydney’s Nepean Drama School before landing his breakout role as William McGill in the beloved Aussie television series The Secret Life of Us. From that point forward, the local boy’s career exploded. 

But unlike stereotypical A-listers, Edgerton has never craved the spotlight, never so much as advertised himself outside of the dutiful press junket. The craft of cinema has, by all accounts, remained first and foremost. Everything else has simply been a tool he can leverage to pursue the arts and make an honest day’s living. 

Edgerton reprised his role as Owen Lars for Disney+’s Obi-Wan Kenobi series.

Even after being cast in the iconic Star Wars franchise so early in his career, Edgerton leant away from the linear blueprint to blockbuster-informed stardom, and instead, raised his hand for opportunities that were genuinely fascinating from an acting perspective. All while finding time to flex his writing, producing, and directing muscles through his “Australian film collective” slash production company Blue-Tongue Films

Launched with his brother and stuntman-turned-director Nash, along with an impressive roster of other domestic, multi-hyphenate talents, Blue-Tongue Films has consistently served as a viable pipeline between local efforts and an international audience. 

There’s the aforementioned Animal Kingdom, David Michôd’s The King — which Edgerton adapted from the Shakespearean texts, in addition to co-starring opposite Timothée ChalametBoy Erased, The Stranger, and celebrated FX crime dramedy Mr Inbetween (a domestic answer to The Sopranos) to name a few. 

“I just believe in hard work,” Edgerton explains. “I don’t know if I’ve ever peaked. I feel like I’m just circling the summit going, ‘Oh, can I get there? Can I get there?’ I just love working.” 

Having worn several industry hats, and after having recently collaborated with fellow actors-turned-directors Ron Howard (Thirteen Lives) and George Clooney (The Boys in the Boat), I was curious about the difference between a career director versus one of these hybrid creatives.  

“Whether you’re actively choosing to learn from them [directors] or not, I think there’s a natural process of absorption, watching a different director conduct themselves on set,” says Edgerton. “It’s sort of like you become an accumulation of various sorts of tricks and behaviours of other directors.” 

Edgerton on the set of his 2018 feature-length adaptation Boy Erased.

“How do they make the set operate in terms of the choice of heads of department? What lens do they put on the camera? How do they rehearse the scene? It feels like a really full-on creative apprenticeship,” he continues. 

“After I directed my first film, I was curious about what kind of actor I would become, what would change about my approach to things. And all I was really curious about was what lens would be in a camera!”  

It feels as though Edgerton was introduced to the world as a fresh-faced hopeful only yesterday. But this year, he finds himself crossing the half-century milestone. When I bring this up, he feigns comical shock and horror, as if a cartoon apparition from an episode of Scooby-Doo had sprung before us.  

If he could go back in time, what advice would he impart to his younger self with the benefit of hindsight and a mature perspective?  

“I’ve often thought about this,” he says. “On one hand, I’d go back and be like, ‘It’s gonna be OK, you’re gonna be alright.’ You know? ‘Don’t worry about it.’ But at the same time, I would hate — I would hate — to have that visit then because I think my whole life was just about hard work. I might relax and then it would all fall apart. 

“I’ve never really looked at my life from the outside, and I think if I did, I’d judge it all too much. I still think there’s stuff that I want to do and achieve; I certainly don’t think I’ve learned everything I need to learn. I think that’d be a bit of a death if you’re like, ‘I’ve got this covered. I know everything,’ you know?”  

Work ethic alone cannot be credited for Edgerton’s success. Good acting is often conflated with an elasticity of the face, vocal cords, and of course, ample makeup plus wardrobe. Great acting, on the other hand, requires a chameleonic mindset and a certain level of empathy to be able to convey the intricacies of the human experience.  

“You feel like you’ve been like a passenger in a new world all the time. Everything leaves a bit of a residue.”  

“Being an actor expands your empathy for all sorts of people and walks of life and levels of society… It’s like you’re visiting for three months, it’s a wonderful job,” he explains.

As precarious as it may seem to constantly welcome so many new facets to one’s psyche and lifestyle, the overwhelmingly grounded nature of Joel Edgerton’s presence tells me he hasn’t ever forgotten who he is or where he came from.  

For more elevated content like this feature on Joel Edgerton, our conversation with the one and only “Mach 2 Man” Fred Finn, and our conversation with Dorsia Travel’s Thomas Cahalan, be sure to subscribe to B.H. Magazine below.

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Garry Lu
After stretching his legs with companies such as The Motley Fool and the odd marketing agency, Garry joined Boss Hunting in 2019 as a fully-fledged Content Specialist. In 2021, he was promoted to News Editor. Garry proudly retains a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, black bruises from Muay Thai, as well as a black belt in all things pop culture. Drop him a line at [email protected]


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