“It’s a conundrum,” said Joel Edgerton, the writer and director of “Boy Erased,” which shines a light on the dark world of gay conversion therapy. “Films preach to the converted: It’s just a given that there are people that are dying to see this film who don’t need their minds changed. How do you get people who don’t want to see this film to see it?”
But of course he had a plan. “Understanding the business part of the film business was a big part of casting Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman,” Edgerton explained to Variety on Monday at the movie’s premiere in Los Angeles. “Getting really high-level actors involved was a way to reach a wider audience and to have a louder voice.”
“We’re hoping to go really wide but it’s going to depend on the ticket sales on the coasts unfortunately,” said Garrard Conley, author of the memoir on which the film is based.
In the movie, Lucas Hedges stars as Conley, who grew up in Arkansas and was sent to a gay conversion therapy program by his mom (Kidman) and his preacher father (Crowe) shortly after enrolling in college.
Will “Boy Erased” even have a theatrical run in the South and, specifically, the Bible Belt? “We don’t know yet,” Conley admitted. “It’s actually really stressful, but I hope that our LGBT crowd gets behind it. I know it can be triggering — and it’s a hard film to watch — but it’s incredibly important to spread this to as many places as possible. Joel designed it to do that. He was very strategic about getting A-list actors in these parts so that we could get people to go see it who might not otherwise. He’s a good businessman in addition to being a good director.”
The experience of making this film served as a coming-out process of sorts for the talent involved. “She’s coming out as an advocate,” Conley said of Kidman’s newly vocal support of the LGBTQ community. “We’re doing this movie to change the world and she’s talking about ‘love is love,’ which is a big step for her. That’s big. It’s hard to argue with Nicole Kidman.”
“To put your name behind a movie like this is in itself a statement,” said co-star Troye Sivan, referring to the involvement of Kidman and Hedges. “They’ve been so generous with their talents and their time and their voices and their platforms. There is value to that.”
As for Hedges, who recently defined his sexuality as “not totally straight,” he felt closer than ever to the LGBTQ community after making this movie. “I am in deep now,” he told Variety in between showing off his dance moves and chugging a bottle of water on the red carpet. “I have a community of people who are at the forefront of this movement whether it’s Garrard or some of the people at the Trevor Project that I met. I feel a personal connection to their stories and I feel invested in their lives and I really care about them.”
While others expressed concern for the future of LGBTQ rights in America (“This is a really terrifying time,” said Sivan, while Conley claimed: “The administration is trying to kill us”), Hedges remains hopeful and even optimistic. “The beauty of where the world is headed is that the harder it gets, the more people will step up,” he said. “And I think my generation and particularly the one before me is challenging the status quo in a way that is really remarkable. So I think there is an upside — and a lot of opposition coming — for the president or for the administration right now. There is a movement waiting to respond.”
“Boy Erased” is one of the more high-profile responses so far. “It’s crucial that it plays everywhere, for people who go to church and think that gay people need to be fixed, that they’re doing Satan’s work,” said co-star Flea. Joel did a good job of telling a story without being judgmental of anybody,” added the musician/actor and longtime LGBTQ ally. “I think this film could be a powerful tool of communication to help people love one another. Communication and love is the answer to everything.”
“The moment I put the book down, it was like it dragged me along,” Edgerton said of his emotional response to the memoir. “It was a project like no other — it had chosen me rather than I had chosen it. I couldn’t help it, you know? In some ways, I’m like: ‘Why have I spent a year and a half of my life doing this?’ And I would never exchange it for the world.”