Everyone likes getting presents, right? That all depends on who’s doing the giving. In the upcoming thriller, The Gift, out Friday, you may view boxes wrapped up in a pretty bow a little differently.
In his directorial debut, actor Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby, Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty) stars as Gordon, an old classmate of Simon (Jason Bateman), who has moved back home to California with his wife Robyn (Vicky Cristina Barcelona’s Rebecca Hall) for a new job. Gordon bumps into the couple at a housewares store and they reconnect, sort of. A housewarming bottle of wine on the doorstep from Gordon progresses to koi fish mysteriously showing up in Simon and Robyn’s pond. Never mind that they never gave him their address.
Cue the shudders. No wonder the bearer was called “Gordo the Weirdo” back in the day. But as the film progresses, we learn that no one is really as he or she seems. And old Gordo, though a bit oversolicitous, isn’t all evil, either.
We spoke to Edgerton while he was at the Miami Beach Edition Hotel last week to discuss his character’s motives; the 41-year-old Aussie should know — he wrote the script, too.
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How did you come up with the idea for “The Gift?”
I’m really interested in the social contracts we have with each other that are unspoken. Say someone friends you on Facebook — you have to do something. You could ignore it, of course. But that would be rude. So suddenly, the responsibility is on you. That may be not the kind of pressure you want. If I give you a gift, and you don’t call and say “Thank you” or email, now you’re a bad person. This film takes that to a much more extreme level.
These days, with social media it’s so easy to reconnect with people, even those you may not necessarily want to talk to ever again, right?
I think in many ways, I had the idea was to see how terrifying it would be for someone to tap you on the shoulder 20 years after high school and say, “I think we know each other.” Social media is like a digital tap on the shoulder. I got one last week from someone I’d met on holiday 20 years ago — but it was a good one. [The Gift] happens to be based on a sort of situation where one of the people hadn’t been so nice to the other person. The past coming back to haunt you has been the foundation of many great thrillers — Fatal Attraction, Cape Fear. It’s important to keep the audience on their toes and on edge.
What do you want audiences to walk away with after the credits roll?
I designed it to make you feel unsettled, shake your boat up a bit. I mean, I don’t want people to have bad dreams for the rest of their life, but there’s stuff to think about within themselves and the roles they played in school. Whether they were a good person or a bad person. The theme of bullying. This is tricky moral ground to tread on because we all have the right to change. For Jason, his character absolutely wasn’t meant to tackle the past. Rebecca’s character is the more graceful humanitarian, saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice to look into the past as a way to make a better future?”
Your American accent is spot-on. How did you manage that?
I blame it on Happy Days, The Brady Bunch and Eight is Enough. Those are all the TV shows I would run home and watch when I was a kid. We have our own shows, obviously, but we were obsessed with the ones made in America. Ask me anything about them! At the age of 12, my father brought the whole family to the U.S., off the coast of L.A. I remember being told that: “There is where they shot Gilligan’s Island. And I was like, “What?! They could have just escaped at any time?” It was my first collision of fiction and reality.