The new film Boy Erased tells the story of Jared Eamons, the son of a Baptist pastor, who goes under conversion therapy after being outed at age 19.
The head therapist is played by Joel Edgerton, known for his Golden Globe performance in Loving and for directing The Gift. He directs and wrote the screenplay for Boy Erased inspired by Garrard Conley's memoir titled Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family.
Edgerton and Conley sat down at their hotel to discuss the movie that opens in theaters Nov. 9.
Windy City Times: How was bringing your memoir to life on film, Garrard?
Garrard Conley: It was a dream come true to educate the rest of the world on this issue. This is an expansion of my message thanks to Joel. It is a tool for advocacy that is also art. In the end people can walk away thinking how can they end this. That is the best gift for me personally.
WCT: Were there big differences from the book to the screen?
GC: Not a whole lot. There is no internal monologue that exists in the memoir, but Joel focused wisely on the family quite a bit.
We wanted to show how bigotry in conversion therapy erases everyone who touches it, not only the person who goes through it, but the parents that make the unwise decision to send their kid there.
WCT: Isn't the father a car salesman in the book?
GC: Yes and he is in the movie, but it is brief. He has the ability to sell cars and souls.
Joel Edgerton: We go there twice. The tough thing was how long could he stay in that environment.
WCT: Why did you take on so much in one film, Joel?
JE: I did the same thing in The Gift. The producing side of it is just gathering the team, bringing Nicole, Russell and Lucas onboard. Writing came about because I became obsessed with the book after reading it. I wanted to be involved. No one else was trying to make the movie and I wanted to direct it.
I became interested in the character of Victor Sykes. Even though we don't go behind the curtain in his psychology, it is such a conflict. Other facilities had a similar theme with most of the staff identifying as ex-gay. There is a whole story about my character to make. I had to focus on Garrard's story.
WCT: What made you want to make this movie in the first place?
JE: I still find that hard to articulate. It is like making a second album. I was terrified. I loved making my first film. I didn't want to do it again until I felt very passionate about something. I didn't want to do the same thing again.
I wanted to work with actors in a dramatic way and put something positive into the world. When I read the book it just put its talons in me. I have never had a project that picked me before this one.
WCT: Did the bible beating happen to you, Garrard?
GC: That was one liberty Joel took. I had mentioned that happening to a friend of mine.
JE: I took that liberty because I wanted to tell the story of the worst part of conversion therapy that touches on suicide.
GC: It is actually using the bible as a weapon against people.
WCT: I am familiar. My mom is a lot like Nicole Kidman in the film. Correcting her son for hanging his arm out of the car window rang true.
JE: There were big reasons where I felt unqualified to make this movie, but there were things I could relate to. I grew up in a small town where homophobia was its own conversion of sorts. My mom and dad have a similar dynamic. My dad is no preacher, but he is the loudest voice in the family. My mother hovers over me and loves me almost too much.
GC: She and my mom got along insanely. They are almost the same person.
JE: I had a Catholic upbringing where I had a deep feeling about God toward my actions. Still to this day I live with guilt. I am fearful of my father's opinion. If he told me to do something at 19 I would have done it.
I don't think the majority of people have the agency to leave their town and rebel at a young age. This movie is for people like that.
GC: It felt like kismet when I met Lucas Hedges. He told me about a crush he had at basketball camp on a guy. He told his mom and she was so supportive. He identified with that part. Everything fell into line almost perfectly.
WCT: Why do you think movies like Boy Erased and The Miseducation of Cameron Post are important now?
GC: I was a consultant on that. I think it's so important that both of these films exist in the same year. It feels like a real moment for conversion therapy to become mainstream.
From what I have heard about Boy Erased from survivors that it is extremely accurate depiction of what many of us have gone through.
It is basically having your soul murdered and not a good experience. For that reason alone it is a document that happened to us and our community needs this. It is a roadmap for people that have been around LGBTQ youth and messed up. What do they do next? Through Nicole Kidman they see they messed up, but can change things.
JE: Love is the strongest weapon in her instance. She may seem frail, but there is such a strength in her because she picked up the weapon of love and wielded it.
There is also a chance that this will lift up the rock that places are hiding under. It has gone underground and this will point at them.
GC: Because of this movie, an actor from the film David Craig has done a podcast that looks at the whole history of conversion therapy. It is called UnErased and comes out Nov. 2. It feels like there is a branching out effect to this whole thing.
WCT: Joel, after starring in Kinky Boots as Charlie, why do you think that story still resonates with audiences?
JE: That is because it is a perfect odd couple story about acceptance. A peacock walks into a blue-collar factory and purely by the empathetic experience of contact and understanding they create something wonderful. It is a simple, colorful contrasting tale. I am proud that it continues on.