While he hasn't always been the one wielding a light saber or blaster, Joel Edgerton has appeared in his share of manly man's movies.
The Australian actor first came to the attention of American audiences with small roles in the “Star Wars” prequels and the 2004 epic “King Arthur.” He has recently taken on bigger but no less action-packed turns as a member of a sociopathic family in the acclaimed Aussie crime drama “Animal Kingdom,” a pilot fighting a shape-shifting alien in the horror prequel “The Thing” and an unlikely mixed-martial arts champ battling his estranged brother (Tom Hardy) in last year's Oscar-nominated “Warrior.”
For Edgerton, 38, his latest film role — a small-town-USA factory worker who longs for fatherhood and winds up parenting a magically appearing boy in the Disney family feature “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” — felt like a welcome risk.
“It was exciting and ... kind of thrilling for me. ... As a guy, often you kind of have these handholds through your career. And a lot of it is it's easier to lean on emotions like anger. It's easier to play aggression and malevolence on-screen often than to hit softer notes,” Edgerton said during a recent phone interview from Houston.
“To me, in that sense, doing a movie like this felt like a bit of a risk to me 'cause it's not an edgy movie. It's not some sort of hip movie or some violent movie. But it says more than a lot of those movies, and to me, it was well worth the risk.”
In “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” Edgerton and Jennifer Garner co-star as Jim and Cindy Green, who have spent a fortune on fertility treatments but finally get the heartbreaking news from their doctor that they are simply unable to conceive. The couple spend the evening scrawling their wishes for a child — “honest to a fault,” “Picasso with a pencil,” “will score the winning goal one time,” for example — and then tenderly placing the scraps of paper in a wooden box that they bury in the garden.
During the night, a strange storm blows over their farmhouse, and a mud-covered 10-year-old named Timothy (CJ Adams) appears in their nursery. Since he calls them Mom and Dad, the couple take in the boy, who has a certain wise but disarmingly naive spirit, an odd habit of basking in the sunlight and a cluster of pruning-proof leaves on his legs.
With its blend of comedy and drama, Edgerton calls films like “Timothy Green,” “the happy-cry movies.”
“I like going to movies like that where you feel sad and happy at the same time, and you're all confused about it,” the Aussie said, sharing a laugh with the film's writer/director Peter Hedges (“What's Eating Gilbert Grape”) during the call.
“I learned a great lesson early on, even before I was really an actor, from that movie ‘Planes, Trains & Automobiles' that John Hughes made, that you could make a movie that's really, really, really, really funny and sometimes you can still achieve ... making the audience feel very deep emotions, as well.”
With his latest film, Hedges, 50, “tried to imagine if Frank Capra were from Iowa and looked a little like me and it was the 21st century, what kind of film would he make?”
“Characters are nasty to each other, there's no question. ... but it is true that the overall feel of the film is not overly ironic or nasty or snarky, and yeah, that's very much a choice on my part to put that in the world,” Hedges said. “Films can bring us together.”
“Timothy Green” reunited Hedges and CJ Adams, who had a small role in the filmmaker's previous comedic drama, 2007's “Dan in Real Life.” The director said the boy had a strong familial chemistry with Garner and Edgerton.
“I don't have any kids of my own. I do love kids, and I was one of them once,” added Edgerton, who next will star in Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden hunt thriller “Zero Dark Thirty” and Baz Luhrmann's star-studded adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” with a chuckle.
“I joke about that, but I'm amazed by how many people seem to have almost forgotten that they were also a kid once and find it hard to relate to children. I constantly underestimate children and their wisdom and the stuff that they can pick up. And I think that's a big part of the film, as well, the assumption that as parents we're there to guide and teach our children, and yet the film hits something really kind of true, which is that kids so often just have so much more to teach us.”