Joel Edgerton‘s latest project is Boy Erased, which he directed and starred in alongside Nicole KidmanRussell Crowe and Lucas Hedges. Its story is based on the real-life experiences Garrard Conley endured during his time at a gay conversion therapy program. Edgerton recently sat down with uInterview to discuss conversion therapy as well as some of the more personal aspects behind bringing Conley’s experience to life.

Edgerton was given a copy of the book by the film’s producer, Kerry Roberts. “I read the book very quickly, to be honest, because I had a real fascination with institutions and prisons and stories around that kind of stuff,” Edgerton explained.

“And I’d heard only a little bit of stuff about conversion therapy, so I went into it with this sort of weird fascination, this morbid curiosity. And what I came out of it with was of this story about this family you get to know and the pain and confusion and love that is in that family, and it felt to me like a really hopeful version of a conversion therapy to tell and turn into a movie. Because, ultimately, the re-examination of the choices and the strength that the central character gathers has such a hopeful message that could be a real identifier and guide for other people who are going through similar experiences.”

Edgerton believes the story is as relevant as ever since conversion therapy is still legal in many states.  “Sadly, the shocking thing that people will know is that Boy Erased is a conversion therapy story and you think it might be set in the 50s or 60s. It was actually not that long ago that Garrard went there,” adding that his experience happened in 2004 and 2005.

The all star cast help Edgerton achieve his vision for the film. “So, you know, Russell and Nicole and Lucas all got to meet the people they were playing. And it was important for me to play Cupid in that way, to make sure that Lucas and Garrard spent time together, Nicole and the real mother, and Russell and the real father got to have contact. And it really enriched the film in a lot of ways.” Continuing, Edgerton admitted he was also thankful the gravitas and compassion of Crowe and Kidman elevated the movie, giving it a “bigger platform” while adding that Hedges is “no slouch” either.

Although Edgerton was Boy Erased‘s director, he also portrayed the chief gay conversion therapist, Victor Sykes. When asked how he approached playing his character, Edgerton explained that it was “an important thing” for him to “not turn anybody into a villain, even the people running the therapy.” Continuing, he said, “The parents that sent him to the place, I really do believe that everybody was trying to help, they thought they were trying to help and the decisions were borne out of love, which sounds complicated and it is.” As with his three co-stars, Edgerton met the man who inspired his character, adding how he appeared “very charismatic” and he was “very open-hearted and open-minded to sharing information.” He no longer believes gay conversion therapy works and he speaks out against it.

We closed off the interview by asking Edgerton how people can get involved in the movement to end conversion therapy. Although time was limited, the director brought attention to his pin, which hailed from The Trevor Project.

“Currently, there are 14 states that have banned conversion therapy, which means there are 36 states that still allow conversion therapy on minors, so there’s an incentive to try and turn that around at least on a political level. It is shocking to think that that’s 2018 and that’s still going on in such a prolific way and it’s happening in Australia, it’s not just the United States.” In addition to Boy Erased, they also founded a website called StopErasing.com. “If people are curious about learning more about [conversion therapy], it’s the place to go.”