Interview: Joel Edgerton on “Loving”

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Joel Edgerton stars in “Loving,” the true story of the couple whose 1967 Supreme Court case successfully challenged laws prohibiting marriage between people of different races. In an interview, the Australian actor spoke about playing the quiet man from a small town in Virginia who just wanted the Court to know, “I love my wife.”

Copyright 2016  Focus
Copyright 2016 Focus

He said, “I kept seeing the words Loving v. Virginia. I saw those words together and I thought it was a very powerful obviously, the couple felt so fated to be because of their name but it felt like humanity versus the system which is really what the movie is about. I just kept thinking about a human quality, a human desire that we all share versus the system that’s all about everything else.”

The movie’s script, by director Jeff Nichols, includes some of the moments in the powerful documentary, “The Loving Story.” Edgerton said one of his favorite lines was when Ruth Negga as Mildred Loving said, “We might lose the small battles but win the big war.” And a woman who saw an early screening told him that her favorite line was when Richard Loving asked his wife, “What can I do?” “She said every man needs to know that.” Edgerson said, “That says a lot about the relationship, the support, of not presuming to create somebody’s happiness but to see what you can do to contribute to somebody’s happiness by listening to what their needs rather than to presume what their needs are.”

I asked whether it was especially difficult to play a character who does not speak very much. He answered, “I actually thought that it might be the opposite and not because I thought I could be lazy or no homework or anything but I know all too well that film is a visual medium and the camera often gets very close. The camera doesn’t lie and therefore it’s important that we as actors don’t lie and if we are doing it we hide it very well. And so I thought this might be somewhat not easy but a simpler task than I realized it was. And I realized that it taught me a lot. When you have large speeches you kind of choose the surface layer or the subtext and do a dive into that and it kind of gives the audience a guide to what you’re supposed to be thinking as a character. When the audience doesn’t have that guide, that verbal guide then it’s up to you to be very specific about the silence, the reasons for it. That became the real task and I don’t think I’ve ever had to think so specifically about silence. The pause is as much line of dialogue is a line of dialogue is. So Jeff and I would have conversations about the frustrations or the awkwardness or the shyness or looking for an aspect of Richard in those silences and try to be as specific as possible so that they became words we just couldn’t hear or screams that we were unable to express. Just because you’re not speaking doesn’t mean you’re not communicating.”

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