[Interview] Joel Edgerton on Paranoia and Staying True To Carpenter In ‘The Thing’!

It feels like Joel Edgerton is just getting warmed up. With upcoming roles in The Odd Life Of Timothy Green and The Great Gatsby (along with his critically lauded work in Warrior) it feels like the Australian native is on the precipice of becoming a major name after over a decade in the trenches. His newest movie is a little something you may have heard of called The Thing.

Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Winstead) has traveled to the desolate region for the expedition of her lifetime. Joining a Norwegian scientific team that has stumbled across an extraterrestrial ship buried in the ice, she discovers an organism that seems to have died in the crash eons ago. But it is about to wake up. When a simple experiment frees the alien from its frozen prison, Kate must join the crew’s pilot, Carter (Edgerton), to keep it from killing them off one at a time. And in this vast, intense land, a parasite that can mimic anything it touches will pit human against human as it tries to survive and flourish.

I recently caught up with Edgerton by phone (having just seen the film myself the previous night). He’s clearly passionate about the movie and holds Carpenter’s 1982 film in very high regard.

At eighteen or so minutes we had a fairly lengthy chat about The Thing and detoured into HEAVY spoiler territory. As such, this interview has been cut down quite a bit to avoid ruining any surprises. I hope to post the unedited version at some point after the release of the film.

Check it out after the jump.

Bloody-Disgusting: What attracted you to the project initially?

Joel Edgerton: Being a fan of the Carpenter version was definitely a big lure for me and then I got to meet the producers Marc [Abraham] and Eric [Newman] who I love a lot. And then talking a lot to Matthijs, who is the director, you know and hearing his take on the whole thing. I thought it was super cool. I was the first person who was like , “why touch that material?” because it was so great. So I was pretty skeptical, but once I found out that they were going to do a prequel based on that lovely mysterious chapter left open by Carpenter raising this question about what happened to the Norwegian guys, I was sold then. I got to be in a partner piece to one of my favorite horror movies and we’re not doing a remake, we’re doing a complimentary movie.

BD: It definitely fills in a lot of the gaps. I was surprised with how specific it got, especially with the axe in the door and the set design of the room where they thaw `The Thing’ out.

JE: I think Matthijs is a real fan-boy of the original movie so there were certain days when would get out the Carpenter movie, which he always had with him, he would occasionally play certain sections of it to get the angle of the axe right and a bit of broken timber just so, so that it was perfect.

BD: Or the frozen blood going down that guy’s wrist.

JE: Yeah.

BD: Obviously it has to be aesthetically similar because it takes place a few days before the events of the original, and tonally it’s similar because it’s very much in the same world, what were the challenges like on set of making this its own movie and setting it apart?

JE: It’s interesting, you want to kind of make it complimentary but you don’t want to make it too similar. What I found an interesting question to constantly pose was, “what will a different set of people do given the same situation? And will these human beings think along the same lines given the same situation?” So on one hand you don’t want to re-do the blood scene, you know what I’m talking about?

BD: Absolutely. I was glad that you guys were able to find a creative way touch upon that scene but do something different with it.

JE: Yeah. And so to find the best of the original movie and tell it it’s own way. As an actor I didn’t have to worry as much about it, but as a filmmaker the question [on set] was certainly “How do we do this in our own way, but also in a way that’s satisfying to fans of the original?” It’s hard for me to judge but I think it’s pretty cool and I enjoyed the process of watching all of that unfold and, I know from being there in the trenches that none of that stuff was taken lightly at all. There was serious thought that went into everything on this movie.

BD: As far as your character goes, initially he’s such a calm center amongst all of this panic. Did you give him any kind of backstory to draw upon for that?

JE: Not really, no. On one hand sometimes I feel like movies give you too much information about the characters. I find that characters sort of exist in their actions a lit of the time and I find sometimes I’m watching a movie and there’s too many “when I was a child” kind of speeches and we wanted to avoid that. In a way the movie is just a bunch of people thrown into a certain heightened situation and when those things happen you see what nature a person has. And you know, for Carter who’s a little superstitious and a little suspicious and kind of a quiet observer. And he’s not an outwardly ultra-friendly sort of guy…

BD: He’s affable enough though.

JE: Yeah, and then to find himself acting heroically for the sake of this girl that he kind of respects, you know.

BD: And it’s clear that the characters of Carter and Kate have a bond and I was curious if you saw that as just them sharing the same take on how to respond to the situation or do you think there’s something else there? That things would have been different between them under different circumstances?

JE: There was a lot of discussion that wet on about the pressure of movies to include romance. We kind of respectfully wanted to avoid that because we didn’t want to go down some sort of well trodden path just because of the pressure that every other movie has done that. The movie was more about these people being thrown into a situation and how they deal with it. So it would have been kind of silly if Kate and I were to kind of run off into the broom [closet] and have a little bit of the romance while the alien was running amok. Which would have been kind of absurd. There’s definitely a bond and a connection between her and I and an understanding that’s forged out of a lot of things. And in some ways forged out of the fact that her boss is a complete motherf*cker.

BD: Yeah he is!

JE: And I think on a decent day Carter would have just broken his nose. And she’s a woman, so for me I have my personal ways into that which we felt didn’t really need to be exposited onto the screen too much. But they’re just kind of there and you take them for what they are.

BD: You have a tough job in this movie. There’s a couple of moments where the audience is deliberately asked to question if you are `The Thing’ or not. What was the challenge of playing against or along with that suspicion?

JE: What I find interesting is that, and I’m sure you probably know this too, Kurt Russell and I forget the actor’s name…

BD: Keith David?

JE: Yeah I think it was him. In the original movie they’d have these arguments as to when you’re `The Thing” do you know you’re `The Thing’? When you’re not `The Thing’ do you know you’re not `The Thing’ and you know there were definitely those same conversations going on in our movie… There was this kind of heady discussion about if the alien is actually shrewd enough to manipulate situations then you’ll find characters sort of manipulating situations that are almost in keeping with their own character as a human in order to position themselves to help along the longevity of their own alien race. Which is such a complicated thing. At times it’s a real mindf*ck, you know?

BD: It also helps that it can be multiple people at once. It’s not just one person at a time. It’s [almost] a virus.

JE: Once the alien is sort of passed on to another person then that person is undiscovered and the second person can split into two and so on. I mean that, to me, that’s the real juice of the movie. “Who is who?” I mean I love movies movies like Halloween and all that but you’ve basically got to avoid one guy in a boiler suit. In The Thing what I loved about Carpenter’s version and what I love about this story is that, at any point anyone could be in the boiler suit but they’re not wearing it, they could just look like your best friend and they could f*ck you up.

BD: That’s one of the reasons why the concept works so well, I think. The 1982 could work as an allegory for the cold war and even today with the new one it could be applicable to the war on terror. Your enemy is not wearing an enemy uniform, your enemy looks just like you. Which is one of the things that makes these films so universally frightening.

JE: Isn’t it? I mean that whole concept and modern fear of terrorism. You walk around the streets of New York City and know that it could be any one of us. Any one of us could have a political agenda and any one of us… you know I often think about that on a real personal scale in that you hear about these unfortunate random acts of violence by poor unfortunate people with schizophrenia or certain other disorders or even the crazy stalkers out there. Any human being can be infected with weird private thoughts that could lead to outward violence. And you could never know until you’re standing right beside them in a supermarket or in a subway or whatever. And I think that’s a really fascinating concept so the idea of multiple villains is awesome and interchangeable villains is awesome. Who do you ally with and who do you stay away from? Out of fear that that could backfire on you was well.

***Again, this interview has been heavily edited for spoilers. Check back again after the release of the film for the full conversation.

Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr and also starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim), The Thing hits theaters on October 14th.