Joel Edgerton's Boy Erased is a powerful depiction of the horrible experience that is gay conversion programs, and it starts in powerful fashion. Before the story kicks in and we learn about the drama that tears a family apart, the audience watches old footage of what is clearly Lucas Hedges' character as a kid, playing around and living a carefree existence. Understanding the idea of "movie magic," you might think that the material being shown is just edited clips of a child actor, but as I recently learned talking with the film's director, that's actually Hedges in home videos cut together by his mom:
While I was in the edit room it struck me that I needed to begin the movie differently, which is why I had this thought about... there's such a dark cloud that hangs over Garrard [Conley]'s life once he's been sent to conversion therapy that I was like I really want the audience to meet the child before he is of a sexual age. And it struck me the way to do that was to show like actual family footage of Lucas [Hedges].
Late last month I attended the domestic press days for Boy Erased in Los Angeles, and it was while sitting down with both Joel Edgerton and Lucas Hedges in separate interviews that I learned the surprising behind-the-scenes story about the movie's opening sequence. It began when I asked the writer/director about the evolution of the project from the first draft to the final cut, and he explained that one late addition was the archive footage at the start of the film, which he got to put together thanks to Hedges' old home videos.
In Boy Erased, based on the memoir by Garrard Conley, Lucas Hedges stars as Jared Eamons, the son of a preacher (Russell Crowe) who is coming to terms with his sexual identity. The film doesn't waste any time beginning its primary narrative, starting on the day that Jared is sent to a gay conversion program, but Joel Edgerton figured during post-production that there was a better way to start the movie. He wanted to let the audience know that while what Jared's parents do to their son is ultimately terrible and misguided, their actions do come from a place of love. Edgerton explained,
The reason for that is it occurred to me that of all the footage that my parents filmed with me on old Beta cameras and whatever... They do it because they're in love with their children. They didn't stop loving Garrard, but they withdrew. His father certainly withdrew some of that love. So I thought it'd be a nice contrast.
It was one day after my interview with Joel Edgerton that I had the chance to sit down with Lucas Hedges and talk about Boy Erased, so I followed up on story. I specifically asked about the process of putting that material together, and the actor gave all the credit to his mom for finding the video and providing it to the production:
I assigned my mom to assemble all the home video footage she could find. I actually brought a great deal of home video footage to the filming of the movie that I could just watch to inspire me when I was doing [Boy Erased]. I like to like connect with my really young self when I act in a project. So anyway, my mom assembled a lot of it, sent it to the editing room and it's in the movie.
You can watch Lucas Hedges talk about the home video footage featured in Boy Erased by clicking play on video below!
Boy Erased, which co-stars Michael "Flea" Balzary, Troye Sivan, Madelyn Cline, and Emily Hinkler, is now out in limited release, but will be expanding into more theaters this Friday, November 9th. For more from my interviews with the folks behind the title, be sure to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend.