Joel Edgerton on how he made the rape scene in 'Boy Erased' a safe space (exclusive)

As an actor, Joel Edgerton is used to just getting the job done no matter how difficult a scene might be. But as a director, he has a different mentality.

That was the case on Boy Erased, the Australian filmmaker’s sophomore feature about the experience of a male teen and gay conversion therapy, based on Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name.

Lucas Hedges plays Jared Eamons whose character suffers a terrible sexual assault in a scene that is particularly hard to watch, though Edgerton says that he made sure both actors involved felt they were performing in a safe space.

“The scene between Joe Alwyn and Lucas, it’s the toughest scene we had to shoot,” the director explains to Yahoo Movies UK. “It was also one of the most necessary components in Jared’s story.”

Writer Garrard Conley with Lucas Hedges on the set of Boy Erased
Writer Garrard Conley with Lucas Hedges on the set of Boy Erased

“As an actor, when I read a script everything that is contained within those pages, I am ready to do whatever that is and I don’t need anybody to tiptoe around me, or mollycoddle me in any way, and yet I found myself as a director doing that because I was wanting to be caring, considerate too, [and be] mindful of what they had to do.

“We were shooting this as a one-shot predominantly for about nine or ten takes,” he continues. “But for all the tip-toeing I was doing these actors were just like me and said ‘listen, I’m here I know what I have to do, it’s cool,’ So they were troopers.”

Intimacy directors like Ita O’Brien have created guidelines to ensure safe practices when it comes to shooting nude or sexual scenes in the wake of #MeToo because film sets can often be a breeding ground for inappropriate behaviour. However, Edgerton says that his crew came to work with a wary attitude of the magnitude of what these actors were having to film.

“I had a crew that was so mindful with every one of what we were doing,” he says, “so many people would come to me because they wanted to be involved in the movie that we had such a good spirit on set. People would turn up to work to get a paycheque but there was something a little bit more.”

Nicole Kidman plays the mother to Hedges’ Jarred in the gay conversion therapy drama (Focus Features via AP)
Nicole Kidman plays the mother to Hedges’ Jarred in the gay conversion therapy drama (Focus Features via AP)

The director believes that this attitude is because of the public conversation of sexual harassment and assault that has expanded in the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements as well as other work that delves into the subject.

“Absolutely right,” Edgerton says. “I became very interested in a documentary called The Hunting Ground because I think one of the big perpetrators and coverers-up of sexual assault are institutions.

“It looks at the prevalence of sexual abuse, the high rate of sexual assault that goes unreported at college and when it is reported that the perpetrators are often better looked after or are more leniently treated and the victims don’t have a voice,” he continues.

“I felt for that reason we had a lot of debate about how much Lucas’ character was going to be vocal in the aftermath of his assault because it’s sad to think that an infrastructure and a society creates an atmosphere where victims of sexual assault feel like they are never going to be heard or get their day in court.

“I’m happy to say though, in real life, the boy that assaulted Garrard in college is in prison.”

Boy Erased is in cinemas this Friday.

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