News Trending Viral Worldwide

Joel Edgerton On Rocking The Boat In ‘Master Gardener’ And Why He Was Delighted To Come Back To Star Wars

Joel Edgerton really has become one of the most fearless actors working today. Not just that he goes for it in every performance, but also in that he takes on roles that a lot of actors might balk at. (Which is why it was almost jarring to see him back as Uncle Owen in Obi-Wan Kenobi, a character without a deranged past who just wants to protect Luke.) Paul Schrader’s Master Gardener is a perfect example of this, and. frankly the perfect kind of director for an actor like Edgerton.

In Master Gardener, Edgerton plays Narvel Roth, a man who is obsessed with gardening, to the point that when he finds perfect soil he will smother himself in it just to get a better smell. He works on a Louisiana estate run by Norma (Sigourney Weaver), who expects Narvel to make sure the garden is tended, to train others to take care of the garden, and to have sex with her. Narvel is put in charge of training Norma’s niece, who has a Black father, Maya (Quintessa Swindell), who is battling a heroin addiction. And, despite the age difference, Narvel and Maya develop a relationship. But, Narvel is hiding a secret about his past: that he used to be in a white supremacist militia and acted as their assassin. And the only reason he’s not currently in prison is because he testified against his former gang. As he tells Maya, he was taught at a young age to hate people not like him and he was really good at it. The way Paul Schrader frames this character, it’s not what you usually see in a story like this. It’s not a story about redemption. It’s unclear if Narvel even wants redemption.

Playing a character as heavy as Narvel Roth, it makes sense why Edgerton enjoyed playing Owen Lars again so much for Obi-Wan Kenobi. Seriously, he seemed absolutely delighted talking about his experience going back to Star Wars. And he maintains, without being cast as Owen way back in 2002’s Attack of the Clones, he doesn’t think the two of us would be talking on this day.

So, does Paul Schrader call you? Do you call him? How does this happen?

I have no idea, to be honest. I’d love to find out! But I remember getting a phone call from someone saying that Paul wanted to talk about it. And I was like, “Are you sure, man? You really want to talk to me?”

Well, why wouldn’t he want to talk to you? He’s like a gutsy director and writer and you’re a gutsy actor. You do these parts a lot of people wouldn’t do.

I think it sort of made sense once I started talking to Paul because he was looking for someone that you would believe had a white nationalist, violent background. I think he perhaps saw me as sort of a masculine figure but also had a sympathetic enough aspect that we would start to wrestle with our questions of whether we feel like this person’s evolved into the softer second aspect of his life. Which is hiding away as a horticulturist and for, excuse the pun, turning over a new leaf. I did think, okay, yeah, I am a suitable person for this.

The last time I talked to you was for The Underground Railroad, and we talked about this then, too, but a lot of actors wouldn’t have taken that role. With this one, a lot of actors wouldn’t want to have to wear the tattoos that Narvel has. You seem rather fearless as an actor.

Yeah, it was interesting because I really thought a lot about Underground Railroad when I was doing this because you start to really question or research the idea of racism and white nationalism, or white supremacy, or whatever you want to label it, and look at the different aspects of it. In Underground Railroad, part of the questioning was about the economics of the slave trade, the trade aspect where Ridgeway fit into that. There’s a really key moment in the Master Gardener where Paul has my character say to Maya, young Maya, who she gets entangled in a relationship with, where he expresses that he grew up with people who had certain ideas.

Right, that he was taught to be racist at a very young age. Basically, if parents are teaching a kid to be this way, they will think that.

It’s true. I’m very much a believer in that we are blank canvases and other people paint their ideas on us and we question them or not. Even if we don’t question them, and then later we come to a point of questioning, I think that’s valid. So, I was really interested in the character being complex in that regard. So, I don’t see it as a kind of thing I’m reluctant to do at all. In fact, it gives me something to really think about and to challenge myself with. I will say that even I’m challenged, as an actor, challenged by the evolution of Narvel’s character and whether or not he deserves…

Oh, I’m sure a lot of people are thinking, “Does this guy deserve retribution at all?”

And Paul Schrader loves to rock the boat, or shake the tree, or chastise, or provoke.

Yes, he has a tendency to do that.

I remember asking him in our initial conversations, “How do you see the relationship with Maya and Narvel? Is it there to be enticing and exciting for the audience?” He said, “Absolutely not.” He wanted the audience to be as challenged and confronted by both my relationship with Sigourney’s character and with Quintessa’s character. That made me more excited. I kind of knew that that would be his answer, anyway.

Had you ever met Paul Schrader before?

No. Never.

What movies of his made you want to work with him?

Well, the big one for me, and cause it really relates to this is First Reformed.

Oh, that movie’s incredible.

Every now and then I’ll see something written about a movie or a trailer for a film that’s coming up on the horizon. I don’t know about you, but it’s very rare that I’m like, “Wow, can’t wait for that movie to come out. Can’t wait.” I was living just around the corner from where I am now on Lafayette Street (in NYC), and the Angelica Cinema is right around the corner. So, First Reformed was about to come out and I would’ve been one of the first people to go to one of the first sessions when it opened. I was so impressed by that movie. No offense to other directors, but maybe there’s an assumption that directors get to a certain age, or actors get to a certain age, and they stop being as challenging or as kind of thought-provoking. Not that a lot of directors never even start their careers provoking…

Because isn’t that Tarantino’s argument why he wants to stop after his next movie? He doesn’t want to lose his fastball? I don’t think Schrader has.

No. I remember reading an article about Bob Dylan when he talked about he felt like some of his greater creative ideas came when he was younger. But it’s not necessarily true. I definitely don’t think it’s true with Schrader. Dylan was recognizing potentially that something we all maybe feel is that you do your best stuff when you are younger. Maybe it’s also because I think that when you are young, you’re in touch with the real world. When you get successful, you start to move up into the hills of Hollywood, or you hide away behind the gates of your house. Wealth puts you in a different place away from regular human beings. Right?

Like comedians who aren’t as funny anymore after they become millionaires.

Also, the struggle, the life, the school of hard knocks creates great creativity out of people, too. Once you’ve got the Porsches, and the money, and things to boot, staff on payroll? Maybe there’s not the hustle anymore. I don’t know what it is, but Schrader certainly hasn’t lost it. And this is interesting, it was an event that happened to him about four or five movies ago where he got the cut taken away from him by a studio and he was like, “I’m never going to let that happen again.” He started making movies out of budget. Nobody could wrestle the edit off him, that he could say whatever he wanted to say. I think ever since that moment, he’s been happy again.

I really enjoyed you coming back as Uncle Owen in Obi-Wan Kenobi. You didn’t have to play a deranged guy. But that seems challenging, too, because the audience still needs to like you, even though you hate the main character and we like him.

Well, I really wanted to use that opportunity, because I think everybody frowns on Uncle Owen for being this sort of guy that’s just like, “No, no, no, no, no. You can’t do this and you can’t do that.” But I’m a parent, now. How do you hold it against anybody who wants to protect a child? Now, if you are the child, you feel like you’re being constrained. But as a parent you would never, ever live down the regret of not being a protector. I think that’s worth saying “no” for. Being frowned upon.

He makes a lot of sense. In real life if a priest kept coming over to your house saying your 10-year-old kid needed to go to war, “Absolutely not. What are you talking about?”

Yeah. It’s just like the movie. We need him to go to war because the movie’s going to be fun, it’s not fun if you stay on this moisture farm. We’re not sticking around for the credits. But also, part of the fun of going back to Star Wars was, also, I felt like when I did Star Wars when I was 25 or whatever, I had no idea what I was doing. I was nervous. I was scared that I’d get fired. I felt like I was just lucky to get the job because they happened to be shooting in Australia. Now, after all these years, I thought, who am I to frown upon this? Sort of going back to do a couple of episodes in this series when it’s a reunion.

It’s a reunion with a company that essentially kind of let me open a bunch of doors that led to the fact that I’m even having this conversation with you now. It’s like the stepping stones of an actor are that way leads onto way, and there’s a randomness to it along with a bit of hard work and intelligence and whatever. But the pure chance aspect of it, and the luck that you have along the way, and the people that help you onto the next step, that very significantly is Lucasfilm for me. So, I was like, of course I’m going to go back. Of course I had the best time and I remember thinking that, even though it wasn’t necessarily the greatest challenge for me, there are other things that you get to do as an actor, which are like, you don’t always have to bend your brain in a press. That was a wonderful experience and I’m really happy that I did it.

It’s funny you say you were lucky that you got that role in Attack of the Clones, but I feel now they’re lucky. Lucasfilm is lucky because now, “Oh, we hired Joel Edgerton way back then.” So, everyone got lucky.

Well, I think they created me and in a way I was happy that I’ve gone on to continue working and that I could then come back and feel more confident as an actor to fit back into that puzzle.

‘Master Gardener’ opens in theaters on Friday, May 19th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.