Rebecca Hall, Jason Bateman and Joel Edgerton in a scene from The Gift.
Rebecca Hall, Jason Bateman and Joel Edgerton in a scene from The Gift. Photo Matt Kennedy

Joel Edgerton's directional debut a surprise Gift

JOEL Edgerton doesn't take on the film roles expected of him. So it's no surprise that his directorial debut isn't your typical thriller.

The AFI Award-winner wrote, directed and stars in The Gift, a psychological thriller that follows a young couple whose lives are thrown into chaos when an acquaintance from the husband's past brings a horrifying secret to light.

"The thing I said to the people who wrote the cheques was that I would make a movie that had one foot firmly in the genre world," Edgerton tells Weekend.

"It's a familiar psychological thriller, but at the same time the movie was designed to have something more important to chew on than a typical stalker thriller.

"What would it be like 20 years after high school to get the analogue version of a Facebook friend request, and what if you hadn't been a good person? That created a world of opportunity for me. I was interested in the space between resolution of a good kind and resolution of a bad kind."

Edgerton plays Gordo, the mysterious man who recognises and approaches one of his old classmates Simon (Jason Bateman), who has just moved back to California with his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall).

But a chance meeting turns into dinner and then Gordo starts leaving increasingly generous gifts on the couple's doorstep. Bateman was Edgerton's first choice for the role.

"When Baz Luhrmann cast me in The Great Gatsby it was such an exciting thing to be asked to do," he says.

"I knew I wasn't the obvious choice for anybody, so part of my approach to casting is infected in my interest in what I hope and expect from people casting me as an actor.

"Watching comic actors take a dramatic turn is more often than not a great thing for an audience.

"I feel like I'm lucky that I'm the one who got to hand that over to an audience with Jason."

Edgerton wears brown contacts in the film to accentuate the mysterious intentions of the character.

"Brown eyes give me this real cold edge… they're sort of unsuitable for my face and that becomes unsettling," he says.

"With Gordo there's a sympathetic aspect to him but there's a cloak over his intention.

"The funny thing is they're the same colour as my brother's eyes, but they give him a real warmth and accessibility."

Edgerton's brother Nash, with whom he runs the production company Blue Tongue Films, joined him on set to help him juggle his dual roles of actor and director.

"After two weeks of directing I had to suddenly step in front of the camera to play my part… that was the trickiest combination.

"You can't be behind the monitor and in front of the camera at the same time, so I had my brother come in to be my outside eyes."

The Gift is a commercial and critical success already for Edgerton. It earned double its budget on its opening weekend in the US - a promising sign for the blossoming filmmaker.

"There's something very dark, insidious and oppressive about The Gift," he says.

"I like to mix things up and explore variations. One of the things I'd really like to deliver (as a director) the next time around is something really life-affirming and uplifting."

The Gift is in cinemas now.

The Gift

Stars: Joel Edgerton, Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Allison Tolman, Tim Griffin.

Rating: M

Director: Joel Edgerton

Reviewer's last word: In this directorial debut, Joel Edgerton has created a sophisticated, challenging and creepy thriller.

Star profile: Rebecca Hall

Quirky fact: Is the daughter of stage director Peter Hall and opera singer Maria Ewing.

Best known for: The Town, Parade's End, Transcendence, Iron Man 3.

If you like this movie you'll like these: The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Warrior, The Box.

Quote: "One aspect of my mum's personality that has influenced me is her love of Hollywood and the golden era of black-and-white films."

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