We, as a society, take Joel Edgerton for granted. When has anyone ever said, “Joel Edgerton was bad.” That never happens. he always delivers and we don’t acknowledge that enough. Which leads to another point: C’mon, stop making Joel Edgerton sign pictures of himself as Uncle Owen from Attack of the Clones. As he states ahead, he’s happy to do it, but it’s always Uncle Owen. Think how happy he’d be to see a picture of himself from, say, Warrior?
Edgerton is currently starring in Jeff Nichols’ Loving (it’s always nice to talk to someone in a movie that’s already out, because you can see it right now if you want, and you should), the real-life story of Richard and Mildred Loving (played by Edgerton and Ruth Negga) whose 1967 Supreme Court Case made interracial marriage legal in every state. (And what’s crazy about this is that 1967 wasn’t really that long ago.) Edgerton and Negga add nuance to Richard and Mildred who, more than anything, just want to be married and be left alone. And ahead, Edgerton explains why Loving is an even more important story in today’s political climate.
This is rare, we are talking about a movie already in theaters. People can see it right now.
Yeah, it’s quite rare, actually. Normally you get to talk about them a lot before they come out, so I keep forgetting it’s already at the cinema.
I saw Loving is September and remember thinking that it’s such an important story. Due to recent events, it feels even more important. Or am I overreacting?
Well, no. I mean, one of the interesting things, Jeff decided to focus on the people at the center of this court case rather than the court case itself.
Right. We don’t even see the court proceedings.
No, and that means it was a very kind of personal exploration of their lives and that situation rather than a big courtroom drama. But when you look at that case, that decision by the Supreme Court was a unanimous decision.
That doesn’t happen much anymore.
Well, no, it doesn’t really. And the chances of it happening in the near future, depending on what happens, is also under question. But, interestingly enough, when you look at Richard and Mildred’s case, you think that back in that time in 1967 there was obviously a complete unanimous willingness on the behalf of the Supreme Court to make that change. And I guess now, more than ever, it’s just a question of how much ground have we made on certain aspects or topics and things that are relevant to us in terms of our freedoms. You know, how much ground have you made and how can you hold onto that ground without losing it. And the fear is that you’ll always slip back to a place that’s less progressive, and I think that’s what feels in the atmosphere right now.
And that the Supreme Court made this decision in 1967, that wasn’t that long ago.
Yeah. But then again, I think it was like four months ago a guy walked up to an interracial couple at a bar and called out some racial abuse and then stabbed the guy.
And there’s been an uptick recently.
And I mean that’s not the ’50s or the ’60s. It’s not even the ’90s. I mean, it’s like a few months ago. Look, it was interesting going to Virginia, to Richmond, and realizing that a lot of the architecture and streets and all that just looked the same. The courthouse is still there. And in some way, that made the whole thing feel like it really wasn’t that long ago. And on sort of a social fabric level and on a ethical level and on a progression level, it’s definitely not a movie about 50 or 60 years ago: it’s a movie about all the time.
Those same problems just keep swirling around. A lot of people say right now that the movie is more relevant. It’s very particularly relevant to this year and it’s like none of those problems ever go away. It just depends on how newsworthy they are at the moment. And, right now, it’s a very particular kind of spike of stories that surround racial inequality. And particularly in this country, that stuff is very hot conversation. It’s very loud, intense stuff that’s going on.
You’re right, this is getting more attention right now. But I think it’s also because people are worried laws might be changed now.
Yeah. I think you could legislate all that you want. You could set rules in place and have laws, but you can’t really legislate personal opinion. You can’t get inside the minds of people and tell them how to think and what to do. You can show them good examples and you can tell them good stories that will hopefully lead to a shift in their own understanding of things and their own belief systems. But you can’t really legislate people’s minds. You can tell them that there are rules in place that if they act a certain way, they’ll be punished. But the sad thing about people being punished, I think, is that they’ve already committed the act and there’s already been some damage done. The trouble when the laws are sort of dissolved, or stepped back, or reversed, or what have you, is that it’s amazing how quickly you see the personal opinion of people come out of their dormant kind of scared minds and into acts of public violence or acts of abuse.
People feel empowered now.
Suddenly, it’s okay. It’s okay to think what I’m thinking and I’m going to do it and do stuff.
What’s interesting about the way Jeff Nichols presents this story is that Richard and Mildred Loving didn’t seek the limelight. They just wanted to be married and live their lives and be left alone.
Absolutely. I always feel like there’s two kinds of revolutionaries or crusaders or heroes of change. Some of them get up in the morning and they’re writing speeches and they’re imagining themselves standing at podiums and talking to crowds. Knowing that they’re in the cross-hairs or potentially that what they’re doing is putting their lives in jeopardy or their family’s lives in jeopardy. But they’re doing it willingly and aggressively for a cause, selflessly or selfishly or whatever is motivating them. And we need those people because they do make a difference. But it’s harder to identify with them, in a way. We’re glad they exist because we can’t be them if we’re inclined to be more private and quiet. Richard and Mildred were kind of the opposite, and in many ways it’s very easy to relate to their story because I think a lot of people could imagine being in their shoes or relate to them on a very domestic, quiet level. That they were just like regular people. And Mildred started to get a sense that as much as they didn’t like the limelight, that if they kept moving forward with their case, then she knew that they were going to help a lot of other people.
It was always a real selfless thing on her behalf, and I think Richard just wished that he could disappear. Well, not so much disappear, that everybody would just leave them alone. And I think there’s something beautifully human about his naïve approach to the lawyers at first: of wondering why, if they weren’t hurting anybody, why they couldn’t just be left alone.
You may not like this, but I feel as an actor we take you for granted.
[Laughs.] Why would I not like you saying that?
Some people don’t like being taken for granted.
I appreciate you saying that. But there’s something nice about disappearing in that world as well.
Even going back to Warrior, every movie we just kind of say, “and Joel Edgerton was great” and we move on.
Yeah, but that’s the joy of it to me, is just sort of disappearing in it a bit. I don’t know.
Every time I watch Attack of the Clones, I’m like, “When did Rose Byrne and Joel Edgerton get put in this movie?”
I know. I know. We were coming into the AOL building today, and there’s people there, you know, there’s always people with photographs for you to sign. And there’s this photograph of me, I must be 25 or 24 or something, in my Uncle Owen outfit. [Laughs] And I was like, “Oh, no.”
Do you ever say, ”Hey, I’ve been in other movies”?
No, I’m not disappointed about that, because that was like the greatest gift I ever got. Actually, I found out I was doing Star Wars on my birthday.
Oh, that is a nice birthday present.
My brother had bought me a video player, and I thought that was pretty rad, and then I got a phone call saying I could do Star Wars. And so that was one of the greatest birthday presents that I’ve ever had. But I was in the movie for like three minutes, and it became my big swindle to meet agents in Hollywood. Because George Lucas took 18 months to put the movie together. And all I had to say was that I was in Star Wars and they were like, “Oh, come in. Sit down. Let’s talk.” [Laughs.]
Oh, that’s a great ruse.
And then it was, “By the way, I’m not in the movie for very long.”