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Joel Edgerton’s physical preparation was extraordinary, says The Stranger director

Joel Edgerton stars in The Stranger (Ian West/PA)
Joel Edgerton stars in The Stranger (Ian West/PA)

Filmmaker Thomas M Wright said Australian actor Joel Edgerton “lost a lot of weight” and was in a state of “hyper alertness” for his leading role in The Stranger.

The crime drama features Star Wars actor Edgerton as an undercover policeman who attempts to earn the trust of, and get a confession from, a murder suspect, played by Mission Impossible star Sean Harris.

Wright, who based the film on Kate Kyriacou’s book The Sting about the real-life murder of 13-year-old Daniel Morcombe, said he decided to leave the violence off-screen.

He told the PA news agency: “I had such a strong reaction to the material … I was really afraid to deal with it and my partner actually said to me, ‘I don’t want you to do this film because I know where it’ll take you and I know where you’ll go.’

“You could just make an unwatchable version of this film but as I sat with it and as I spent time with the material, I began to see a film there that wasn’t defined by violence at all.

“Even though violence is obviously the reason for the film, it’s not its subject. Its subject is how do you make meaning in the wake of violence. When violence threatens to render things meaningless, how do you make sense and continue.”

Wright, whose film will have its UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival on Saturday, said it is “defined by empathy” and even features his own son.

The King UK Premiere – BFI London Film Festival 2019
Joel Edgerton stars in crime drama The Stranger (Ian West/PA)

He told PA: “I was interested in (empathy) being the connective fibre of the film and that’s why I built it around the absence of the victim.

“That’s why there’s no representation of any victim. No representation of family, no representation of any violence whatsoever because I’m asking the audience ‘Who’s that person that you care about most? What’s that thing that makes life worth living for you’. Because for me, it’s my son and that’s how he ended up in the film.

“Him and Joel worked together for a year. They built the whole idea of a family just between the two of them and they were the only scenes in the film that were almost entirely improvisational, because I wanted them to just be like a father and son.”

Wright described Edgerton, who also serves as a producer on the film, and Harris’s commitment to their roles.

Arqiva British Academy Television Awards – Press Room – London
Sean Harris plays a murder suspect in The Stranger (Ian West/PA)

“Joel prepared for two years to play this part and he really threw everything at this and he threw his entire weight of support behind me,” he said.

“Joel’s physical preparation for this was extraordinary. Sean and Joel’s commitment, I’ve almost never seen anything like it, this was a very difficult film to shoot.

“It was a very tense shoot, it was very tough. There was a lot of tension between all of us because we were sustaining a film that had almost no release.

“The film is all tension and it’s all a kind of hidden, buried tension that’s anchored in these characters that are built on these really primary dualities, neither of them is who they appear to be and it’s a relationship entirely based on lies.

“Sustaining the tension of that psychology, and the weight and gravity of the reason for the film put a real scratch in our records.”

Red Sparrow Photocall – London
Australian actor Joel Edgerton (Ian West/PA)

The director, 39, explained that British actor Harris’s father died in the lead up to the film and he had to fly to Australia to shoot in the middle of the pandemic.

He said: “He (Harris) was put in quarantine and locked in a room for two weeks and then he came out and had to turn himself in to Henry Teague.

“Sean’s commitment is obviously very well known and I think in this instance, he went further and deeper and the transformation was just complete.

“His partner actually said afterwards that she could see nothing of him in this part, she didn’t recognise him at all and I think that’s a testament to where they went.

“For Joel, he found out partway through the process of making the film that he was going to be a father. He was playing the father to my son, it became so personal to all of us.”

Wright added that both actors underwent physical transformations to prepare for the role.

He said: “Joel’s preparation was a lot of strength and a lot of loss of weight.

“Actually, both Sean and Joel lost a lot of weight and I know Sean had a lot of muscle wastage and muscle degradation because he let his body kind of go to sleep in a very strange, transformative way whereas Joel was almost in a state of hyper alertness.”

The Stranger comes to Netflix in the UK on October 19.