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Joel Edgerton: I was tormented by school bullies

I suffered cruelty and people were cruel to me.

Australian actor Joel Edgerton has revealed how he was the victim of vicious school bullying – and how he eventually became a bully himself.

In a revealing interview in Los Angeles this week, Edgerton – who makes his directorial debut this week with a suspense thriller called The Gift opening across 3000 screens – said he was so badly bullied at school “it ended up with other kids being removed from the school”.

“But having been bullied, I became a bully,” he said. “I was never a leader in the group but I would join the group tormenting other people. So I suffered cruelty and people were cruel to me.”

Edgerton, who has carved out an extraordinary career in Hollywood, with roles in Star Wars; The Great Gatsby; Animal Kingdom and Zero Dark Thirty, grew up in Sydney’s Blacktown and attended The Hills Grammar School. He didn’t name the school where he was tormented.

Years later, one of his tormentors approached him in a café in Sydney’s Newtown, and apologised.

“He said it was the best thing that could have happened to him because he had been a miserable kid too,” he said. “And I guess that’s true of a lot of bullies.

“And I guess that’s where I got this idea: you’ve left school and 20 years has gone by, and somebody taps you on the shoulder and said, remember me?”

Edgerton was speaking at a special screening of The Gift. Besides being director, he stars in the film, and he wrote the screenplay. The Gift tells the story of a successful, married man with a beautiful wife, who comes into contact with a socially awkward guy from his old school.

The film is scream-out-loud terrifying, with shades of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and Michael Douglas in A Perfect Murder.

Edgerton told the audience that he was intrigued by the idea of what happens not only to bullies, but to the kids they torment.

He once heard a story about a middle-aged man who opened his door at his home to find another man standing there, saying: “Are you John-whatever-his-name was?”

“The guy at the door said yes, and the other guy shot him in the face,” he said.

Edgerton said the two men had known each other in school. The man who answered the door had given the other one a wedgie, and everybody had laughed at him. His life had spiralled out of control, and “he blamed everything that had gone wrong” on that one incident.

“I guess he woke up one day thinking, this will solve my problems,” Edgerton said. “I’ll shoot him.”

The Gift is set in California, where Joel spends great deal of time. It’s produced by Sydney-born Rebecca Yeldham, whose credits also include The Kite Runner.


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