Joel Edgerton is not an A-List actor ... yet. That should change this fall when he’ll be seen opposite Johnny Depp in the role of John Connolly, the FBI agent who was likely in cahoots with mobster Whitey Bulger, in the upcoming “Black Mass.” But people are going to take notice of the 41-year-old Australian actor in “The Gift.” He costars with Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall in the intense psychological thriller about a mysterious man who disrupts a couple’s life by claiming he’s an acquaintance from the husband’s past. Edgerton also wrote, directed, and co-produced the film. He’s no stranger to movie audiences. A decade ago he starred as Charlie in “Kinky Boots,” then had a double blast of playing tough guys in “Warrior” and “Animal Kingdom,” nailed the part of Tom Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby,” and last year was Ramses in “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” Edgerton recently sat back for a candid chat in the Sherman Oaks home where much of “The Gift” was filmed.

Q: Do you recall your first thoughts of getting into acting?

A: I always remember playing dress-ups, which is what I feel like I still do. I started doing theater at [high] school, and there was the moment when I first got a part, and I felt the satisfaction of that. And that evolved into a real interest in theater. One time, when I was in year 11 at school, I was sitting in the [Sydney] Opera House, watching two actors – John Howard and Elizabeth Maywald – do “The Crucible.” I remember thinking, “That’s what I want to do. I want to perform here.” And the beauty of that is five years later I was on that same stage, doing a play.

Q: You did a lot of plays, but you ended up in movies. What do you think opened up those doors for you?

A: I always felt I was inches away from kicking the door open but I never did. Playing Owen Lars in “Star Wars” [Episodes II and III] gave me the chance to come to America, and it still baffles me why they chose me to star in “Kinky Boots,” but I loved it. The word was that if it made lots of money, it would open a lot of doors. But it never did. My career felt as though it had hit a stagnant point, and I realized that for two years, no one had really picked up the phone and tried to find me to do any acting. Then [director] Gavin O’Connor wanted to meet me. He was looking for some guys without baggage, who were willing to train to do this mixed martial arts film. I loved meeting him, and he responded to me and gave me the job. That was “Warrior.” Right around that same time, I did “Animal Kingdom” for two weeks. Then I finished “Warrior,” and went straight to rehearsal playing Stanley (opposite Cate Blanchett) in a traveling stage production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” So in one year I did three of the most significant learning jobs for me.

Q: How did “The Gift” come to be made?

A: I had this idea that if you had some skeletons in your closet that were related to your high school life, what if, 25 years later, you got a tap on the shoulder, and some half-familiar person said, “Hey, do you remember me? We went to school together.” And for that to have a sinister charge to it. It got me very excited. I would always write, because I’m a bit hyper. And I carefully crafted that screenplay over about three years. I partnered up with Rebecca Yeldham, my other producer on the film, and then together we partnered up with Jason Blum. And on day one, Jason promised me that he would let me make the movie that I wanted to make. Then it happened very quickly. We were in pre-production in November, we were shooting in January and February, and now, barely six months after shooting it, we’re putting the movie out into the world.

Q: Were you writing the part for yourself?

A: Yeah, but initially I wasn’t going to direct the movie. But as I started writing this screenplay, knowing that my sites were also set on one day getting in the director’s chair, I knew it was a good first-step film for me to direct. Then I had a sort of to-and-fro battle with myself about whether I would get someone else to take over the role of Gordo. But I’d shot test scenes with myself as Gordo a year and a half ago, just to see if I could strike the right balance of weirdness without tipping the hand too much. So knowing that it was already there a little bit in my DNA, and having such a clear idea of how he should be played, it was hard to let go of.

Q: There’s no blood in the film but there are plenty of shocks. Are you in the audience watching that happen, looking for the reactions?

A: I never thought I’d be like a sadist in any way when it came to an audience. But now I’ve been to a couple of screenings where we’re out having dinner and I’m looking at my watch and going, “OK, it’s almost the 52-minute mark; I’m just gonna run into the cinema and watch this happen, just to check whether it’s working.” (laughs)
“The Gift” opens on Aug. 7.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.