In his first feature film since 2008’s Australian thriller “The Square,” director Nash Edgerton goes south of the border for the dark comedy “Gringo” and takes his brother, actor/director Joel Edgerton, along for the ride.
In the film, Joel plays Richard Rusk, an immoral pharmaceutical executive who travels with his coworkers Elaine and Harold (Charlize Theron and David Oyelowo) to Mexico to do some business on a marijuana pill that could bring their company a lot of money. While there, Harold finds out his bosses are screwing him over in more ways than one, so decides to fake a kidnapping so he can cash in on the ransom.
During an interview with me last week, the Edgerton brothers talked about the unlikeable nature of the film’s characters, whether or not it pays to be a good person, and if Joel thinks audiences are going to get tired of him since he has two movies currently at theaters.
Nash, one of your screenwriters, Matthew Stone, wrote a comedy for the Coen brothers in the past (“Intolerable Cruelty”). Did you want “Gringo” to have that kind of Coen Brother-esque feel to it or would you rather it stand on its own?
Nash Edgerton: Essentially, you want to make a film that stands on its own. Obviously, I’m a fan of the Coen brothers’ films, especially “Fargo.” It’s one of my favorite films.
Joel, there’s no denying how much of a jerk your character is. What did you want to do with him as a character? What kind of conversations did you have with Nash about how to depict him?
Joel Edgerton: (Laughs) It was really interesting playing Richard because of how much of a supreme jerk he was. We talked a lot about just how far we could push it. We really wanted to lean into the unlikeable nature of the characters and their culturally naïve and stupid aspects. It feels like the kind of movie where you want to hate certain people and like other people more.
Nash, along with Joel’s character, Charlize’s character isn’t much better on a moral scale. Did you want to give these characters different shades in their personality or was it important for you for audiences to dislike them?
NE: I asked all the actors to play their characters truthfully. I feel like all the ignorant things they said were things we had heard people say at various times. It wasn’t like I wanted to make this character worse than another character. We just tried to figure out what certain characters would say in different scenarios. They are essentially ignorant, selfish people.
As a Latino film journalist, I was a bit worried that “Gringo” was going to be another movie that was featuring Latino characters as drug dealers and as the film’s main antagonists. Why do you think “Gringo” doesn’t really fall into that category?
NE: Personally, as an Australian – and seeing Australian characters in American films – I always get irked when they feel cliché. It was important to me that every character, wherever they’re from, felt authentic. For all the Mexican characters, I cast Mexican actors. When they’re speaking to each other, they’re speaking in Spanish. I asked everyone not to do the cliché version of these characters. As much as it is a comedy, it’s played very straight and real. I think the humor comes out of the situations rather than making jokes about one type of person.
So, was there ever any concern making Taco Bell jokes or Mexicans-have-too-many-kids-jokes or Mexicans-brush-their-teeth-with-tequila-jokes?
NE: Essentially you have a good-natured person at the center of all these despicable people. I wanted to show that kindness and goodness can win out over greed. There is a lot of bad and ignorant people in the movie. Again, I think there are things that people have been guilty of saying. I wanted them to play honestly and truthfully in the nature of those characters.
Joel, one of the questions that the film poses is whether or not it pays to be a good person. How do you think that relates to our world today? Did you think about that question going into this project?
JE: I think it definitely pays to be a good person. In an hour and a half [movie], justice is dealt out more neatly and triumphantly than in real life. In many ways, I think the film has an optimistic morale compass. I think there is so much weird and narrowminded opinions from Americans toward the Mexican culture in particular.
NE: I think there are plenty of examples in real life where people do good things and feel unrewarded. Then, other people do bad things and get away with it. At the end of the day, I think karma sometimes works instantly and sometimes it takes its time. But people who do bad things, have to go home and live with themselves.
Nash, the last time I interviewed Joel he said you’re too handsome to be behind the camera. Any chance you’d want to do some more acting?
NE: (Laughs) That’s very kind of him to say. Look, I enjoy acting. I’m slightly more focused on directing, but I’m not against the idea.
Joel, you have two movies opening in back-to-back weeks and another that was recently released on Netflix. Aren’t you worried audiences will feel a Joel Edgerton overload?
JE: I want them to feel the overload. I want them to feel burdened by my myriad of performances.
JE: I want them to hate me and send me off on a yearlong holiday. (Laughs) You know, it’s nice that in one I play a nice guy spy with a heart of gold (“Red Sparrow”) and in this one I’m just a douchebag.