Red Sparrow has Russians and Americans but no weird dude with orange hair, says Joel Edgerton
Joel Edgerton had his work cut out starring as a CIA agent opposite Jennifer Lawrence in spy thriller Red Sparrow. He tells Laura Harding why he is not smooth enough for the spy life and what it was like to work with the Hollywood megastar
CLUMSY is not a word you would associate with a spy. Suave, debonair, subtle, sneaky, perhaps. Almost definitely not clumsy. So how did the self-confessed habitually hapless Joel Edgerton end up playing a CIA agent opposite Jennifer Lawrence in her new Russian spy film Red Sparrow?
"I kind of loved my character because I got to be the un-suave spy," he laughs.
Make no mistake, Edgerton is handsome and charming, but if he was on a stake-out there is a strong chance he might fall through a wall and give the game away.
When I tell him I am a person that accidentally headbutts things and falls over, he immediately replies: "I am too!"
He doesn't stop there. "I'm very clumsy. I forget things very easily. I have a chandelier light thing at my house, a light fitting that hangs down, and I bang my head on it three or four times a day.
"It's my own house! I have a goldfish brain." He pauses for a second. "I don't know how they know that about goldfish."
But back to his un-suave spy Nate Nash, who ends up entangled with Lawrence's ballerina Dominika Egorova, the red sparrow of the title, who has been recruited to the Russian intelligence service to use her body as a weapon.
"As much as this whole film has a real slickness to it, what drew me to Nate was he was a bit of a hapless lonely loser," Aussie actor Edgerton says.
"In the world of spycraft, trusting and being a little bit open to seeing a person's humanity rather than the mechanics of their design and their manipulation, tends to make you bad at your job."
The forty-three-year-old has starred in box-office hits including Zero Dark Thirty, Loving, Baz Luhrmann's remake of The Great Gatsby and Warrior, in which he bulked up for a role opposite Tom Hardy, the two playing estranged brothers who fight each other in a mixed martial arts tournament, with Nick Nolte nominated for an Oscar in the role of their dad.
In 2015 he received a nomination for the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing for The Gift, which he wrote, directed, co-produced, and in which he co-starred.
Handily enough, Edgerton says he's been obsessed with spies since he was a kid growing up in Sydney.
"I'm pretty certain the first spy film I saw was [James Bond film] Moonraker, with Jaws [played by 7ft 1.5in US actor the late Richard Kiel] in it.
"Then there was the transition into Roger Moore in A View To A Kill and all that stuff, and then reading John le Carre at school, books like The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.
"That was more this world," he adds, in reference to Red Sparrow. "That was more the kind of heady spycraft, with diplomatic positions and strategy. They were interested in understanding what a person wants and how to fill that gap and how to draw them in psychologically, rather than hanging off the Eiffel Tower with Grace Jones."
Clearly enthusiastic about the topic, he adds: "For some reason, I was fascinated by it. I had a spy kit when I was 10, a pair of binoculars, a little recording device.
"I had a big book that I cut the pages out of so I could stash stuff in there. I was a good spy, no-one caught me. I was too young to be lured by a sparrow. I'm thinking, let's put young spies out in the field, they can't be lured with all this lovey-lovey business."
Of course the sparrow in question is played by the inimitable Lawrence, who adopts a thick Russian accent and strips naked in one dramatic scene.
"She is pretty extraordinary, Jen," Edgerton says. "We all know that. So what can I tell you that you don't already know? I think you can gather that Jen is someone with zero filter when it comes to talking to journalists and doing stuff. What is interesting, is that also translates into her work.
"She manages to come from a very instinctual and intuitive place – she doesn't put filters on herself. That may be one of the magic ingredients to her enigma on screen – you feel like you're really seeing inside her thoughts."
Readers and viewers have been fascinated by spy stories for decades, putting the puzzle pieces together and escaping into mysterious worlds. For Edgerton, they hold a universal appeal, regardless of age or gender.
"I think we are all interested in mystery. We are all fascinated by people who do jobs that are cloak and dagger, from the safety of our own relatively mundane lives. I think we also like to play a guessing game – and spy movies are like one long drawn-out guessing game of trying to understand what is happening and who wants what from who, and who is the mole and who is this and what does she want from him?
"You get to go to the cinema and not just watch something but you also get to secretly plot your own course through it."
And given the daily news about the investigation into alleged Russian interference into the US election, there could not be a more timely moment for a tale of Russian espionage.
"It's weird," Edgerton admits. "I think they were going to make this movie before all the news in America, the collusion and the idea of meddling with the election became such a hot topic.
"It started to peak and peak and peak and continued to as we made this movie and now it's coming out. But the film isn't about that. Obviously there is no weird dude with orange hair running around in the movie," he laughs.
"It's about something else but it just so happened that the Cold War is back."
:: Red Sparrow is in cinemas from today.