When Boy Erased begins, we see Nancy Eamons (Nicole Kidman) driving her son Jared (Lucas Hedges) to a gay conversion facility. On the freeway, he extends his right arm out the window. Nancy glances over at him, frowns, and then asks him to retract it. He sighs and immediately complies.
The director of the film, Joel Edgerton, captures Nancy and Joel's dynamic in that understated moment. Nancy’s convinced that her son will get hurt if he doesn’t follow her rules. And Jared is as yet too unsure of himself to be assertive. He’s an unformed 19-year-old boy who trusts his parents, even if he has to deny his homosexuality in order to do so.
Edgerton also wrote and adapted the screenplay from Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name — although, at first glance, the Australian actor's resume makes him seem an unlikely candidate for the job. His first feature film The Gift (2015) is a creepy, psychological thriller. But in films like Loving (2016), Warrior (2011) and Animal Kingdom (2010), Edgerton can play macho characters who aren't afraid to be vulnerable.
On a recent press tour in San Francisco, he explains what drew him to the book: “When I was young, I was terrified of institutions like boarding school and prison.” Edgerton says that once, his dad once made a joke at the dinner table about exchanging Joel and his brother Nash for two kids from faraway Perth, and he burst into tears. “I was so terrified of being separated from my family,” he says.
Garrard’s situation, then, tapped right into his childhood fears. “Imagine being fearful of prison or being abducted," he says, "and then imagine that your parents were your abductors.” In the movie, as in real life, Jared’s coming out is further complicated by the fact that his father Marshall (Russell Crowe) is a minister in an Arkansas church. It’s Marshall who decides upon the course of sending him away for conversion therapy, while Nancy silently complies.