Joel Edgerton is in his underwear. His schedule is so packed, he has to do one of his interviews while being fitted for a tuxedo, which he will wear to the Cannes screening of his new film, Baz Luhrmann’s pricey, 3-D version of “The Great Gatsby.” “One day he’s going to see me without my pants on in a movie, if he hasn’t already,” Edgerton cracks. So while the Aussie actor — best known for his roles in “Animal Kingdom,” “Warrior,” and as one of SEAL Team Six “Zero Dark Thirty” — is in various states of undress, we get to talking about his performance as Tom Buchanan, the most hissable richie of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tome.
You just saw the movie last night. What was that experience like?
It’s hard to tell whether you like a movie when you see it for the first time, just because you’re in it. You’re judging your own performance most of the time. Or I do, anyway. Like, “Oh f—, he used that piece instead of the other piece.” Or I think I did something too big or too small. It’s all negative. It was great for a movie like “Animal Kingdom,” because once my character is killed [very early in the movie], then I could just enjoy the rest of the film. Like, “Thank God I was shot.” My brother was in “Zero Dark Thirty” as well. We both came out with the same experience, saying, “That movie was awesome until we arrived.”
Baz Luhrmann has a strong visual style. How is he with actors?
Baz makes you feel valued in the process. If he wanted to change anything on a given day, he’d go to each of our trailers for one-on-one meetings. Few other directors would do that. I’m sure it wasted a bit of time in the morning. Actors love working with him, and they told me Baz will make you look great. I’m not often thinking about my jaw line or the cut of my suit, or how my shape appears on film. But he is. He’ll make sure you come off well visually.
When you were first pitched a version of “Gatsby” with 3-D and Baz’s time warp style, what were your thoughts?
I didn’t imagine words popping out of the screen and the rapid editing style. But I’ve seen his other movies. I didn’t know why I expected anything more subdued. But so many things are being made in 3-D, and the idea of a drama in 3-D is really cool. The period is so sparkly and loud, maybe the technical aspect of the movie needed to have its own exaggerated insanity to it, which reflected the era and the vibrance. 3-D is a really perfect fit for that. And Baz is constantly drawing from the themes of tragic love, so for both this visual style and his thematic leanings, he’s kind of the perfect guy to make this story.
You play a lot of nice guys. What was it like playing a cad like Tom?
I never thought I could be Tom Buchanan. When I was younger I thought I could do anything. I thought I could play a girl. Young actors are pretty stubborn about casting. Then when I got behind the camera to make our own movies and we went through casting processes, I realized not everyone can do what we needed. And I chilled on the idea of people who wouldn’t cast me in certain roles. Baz put the fire back under me. I shouldn’t have been Tom Buchanan. I’m not that guy. But his excitement in seeing that side of me got me to do it.
How do you play a character who’s so often indefensible?
Tom is a pig. He’s very arrogant and racist and selfish and misogynist and a philanderer. He’s kind of honest about it as well. Tom was one of the first football players at Yale, and Yale football players were the first sports heroes for American kids. Everyone would have known about him. Now he’s retired, he’s got all the money in the world. I just imagined Tom was really bored, and really unhappy. And then when Gatsby comes in and tries to take his wife away, it f—ing brings the sport back into his life. He may not love Daisy, and he’d maybe rather just go around and have affairs. But if another man comes into take your possessions, he’s gonna fight. He’s not used to losing.