Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe had never worked together on a film—until now.
Joel Edgerton handpicked the actors to play on-screen husband and wife in Boy Erased, his second movie as a writer-director. And, as Edgerton tells E! News, the pairing led to "the most Australian moment" on set involving Kidman's 1983 cult classic film BMX Bandits.
"[Russell] kept talking about BMX Bandits and Nicole kept going, ‘Russell, Russell, stop it,'" Edgerton says. "Within three days he had somehow managed to get 20 BMX Bandits T-shirts printed at a local T-shirt shop with the poster with Nicole with her flaming red hair, riding a BMX. He made all these crew put them on."
The Sydney-born star continues: "And then, of course, Nicole walks in on the set of this church and she spots a BMX Bandits T-shirt. And then another one. And then another one. She rolls her eyes [and says] ‘Russell!' He thought it was great."
Despite the moment of on-set levity, Boy Erased strikes a much more serious tone.
Based on Garrard Conley's 2016 memoir of the same name, the film follows an Arkansas teenager (Lucas Hedges) who is sent to a church-run "gay conversion therapy" program by his parents (Crowe and Kidman). With powerful performances and a timely story, the film is already generating Oscar buzz.
"I would be very flattered—as anyone would—if a movie you make gets that kind of attention. If it happens, great," Edgerton says. "I really, more than anything, hope and assume…that we'd have a really good shot with Nicole and Lucas, and hopefully Russell, getting nominations."
The 44-year-old is still just stoked Kidman agreed to take on a role in Boy Erased.
"I feel like she makes great choices as far as subject matter is concerned and about character. The fact that she endorsed our movie by being in it means a lot to me," Edgerton says. "She's constantly evolving and doing interesting things. For a woman who Hollywood embraced as such a beauty and still does, she's also willing to let go of vanity and play interesting characters like this and like she did in Lion."
Kidman's part in the film called for a dramatic physical transformation to tackle real-life subject Martha Conley (renamed Nancy Eamons in the script).
"I had a conversation with Nicole one day, and I was like, before we made the movie, ‘So, are we going to go full Martha, or are we going to go partial Martha?'" Edgerton tells E! News. "Because, if you go full Martha, her hair is mad and wonderful and she wears this abundance of jewellery and she embroiders denim jackets she buys with her own lace and pearls. We went three-quarters Martha, I think."
South-African born Australian Troye Sivan also stars as one of the teens in the conversion program, and contributed two songs to the film.
"Troye put a tape down and I watched it and I was like, he's wonderful," Edgerton gushes. "And he's such a champion in the LGBTQ community. A hero, in fact. He just felt so motivated to get behind the film because his life is like the opposite of Garrard's. When he came out, he had a wonderful family that accepted him immediately and it was like nothing changed. For Garrard, it was something different, and Troye was really keen to get behind an experience that was the opposite to his. I'm happy that he did."
For Edgerton (who also wrote the screenplay and stars as head therapist Victor Sykes), the final day of shooting a group therapy scene was one of the most moving moments on set.
"The kids galvanised so much and shared a lot of stories with each other. The last day of that section of the film was actually very emotional," the L.A. based actor says. "I realised just how much they had all bonded. That was tough."
Ultimately, Edgerton believes Boy Erased offers an important message at a time when conversion therapy practices still continue in Australia and the US.
"It was set in the early 2000s, but it's very much going on today in America and Australia, where young people are, against their will or under duress by their family, sent to places where they're supposed to feel it's possible to reorient their sexuality," he said at the film's Australian premiere in Sydney on Oct. 15. "That's a very damaging thing to present to a child."
Boy Erased is in Australian cinemas November 8.