Joel Edgerton says he 'stalked' Barry Jenkins to get a job on 'The Underground Railroad'

·5-min read

New Delhi, May 20 (PTI) Australian actor-filmmaker Joel Edgerton says he was so keen to work with Barry Jenkins on his 'The Underground Railroad' series that he literally 'stalked' the 'Moonlight' director into giving him the part of Ridgeway, a determined bounty hunter.

Edgerton, best known for his roles in 'Star Wars' films, 'Zero Dark Thirty', 'The Great Gatsby', 'Loving', 'The King' and directing ventures 'The Gift' and 'Boy Erased', said he had heard from actors about how much they enjoyed working with Jenkins and when he found out there was an opening in the show, he jumped at the chance.

'I like to say that I stalked Barry Jenkins because I'd heard wonderful things about him from people behind and in front of the camera who'd worked with him and I'd heard about 'The Underground Railroad', and the subject and the character.

'I'd been bumping into Barry on this press tour... I was doing 'Boy Erased' and he was doing press for 'If Beale Street could Talk', and I just took him aside and said, 'Look, I'm really interested to work with you and I've heard that there's a character in this show that I might be appropriate for. And we ended up having this very long conversation,' Edgerton told PTI in a Zoom interview.

Jenkins, whose 'Moonlight' won the best picture Oscar in 2017, serves as the showrunner and director on the 10-episode series that was released on Amazon Prime Video on May 14.

Adapted from Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the series chronicles Cora Randall's (played by Thuso Mbedu) desperate bid for freedom in the Antebellum South.

Cora, who always resented her mother Mabel for escaping the plantation without her, manages to run away from her Georgia plantation through the rumoured Underground Railroad one day. She is pursued by Edgerton's Ridgeway.

In her search for freedom, Cora contends with the legacy of the mother that left her behind and her own struggles to realise a life she never thought was possible.

Edgerton said he and the director spoke at length about his character, fathers and sons, the white people, and their worldview to get an insight into Ridgeway who 'wasn't just a bad guy doing bad things but a complicated, damaged person doing bad things which became slightly more dangerous in some aspects.' The character of Ridgeway came with a set of contradictions, the Australian actor noted.

On one hand, he is a brutal bounty hunter and yet he shares almost a father-son relationship with a young slave, Homer (Chase W Dillon), who he tried to set free.

The novel and the series, which has won over the critics, imagine an actual railroad but in reality, the underground track was a complex, secretive network of people and safe houses that helped people enslaved in Southern plantations escape to free states in America or to Canada.

The series was shot in Georgia, a slaveholding state and some of the images stand out for nature's bounty and also the brutality and the unimaginable atrocities that African-American people were subjected to.

Edgerton, 46, said the real challenge for him was to 'service the reality', while also 'taking care of each other' as the character of Cora has to deal with a lot of violence, both physical and psychological whenever she is in Ridgeway's sphere.

On the set, there were counsellors to help the actors and the Golden Globe nominated actor said they were more like a family and looked after each other 'even though we were terrorizing each other' on screen.

'As an actor, you want to make sure that you're servicing the reality, the visceral impact of that, while also taking care of each other, because it's not like just doing a fight scene where I have to make sure that I don't hurt someone physically.

'It is also about being aware that violence isn't just about physicality, it's about ideas, and it's about psychology, and make sure that we really went to the darkest places while making sure that we looked after each other physically and emotionally and the infrastructure of the show did that as well because we were looked after,' he added.

Edgerton had already done the research in the African-American History Museum for his role in 2016's 'Loving', a film on the true story of the interracial marriage of a couple at a time when such unions were prohibited in many parts of the US.

But the actor went through a different research for 'The Underground Railroad', he said.

'It was looking for different information and different clues and then it led to other research. And one really fascinating thing that started to become clear to me is that a lot of what I didn't really understand about slavery in America was, how its foundation and what drove it was economics.' 'The Underground Railroad' also stars Aaron Pierre, William Jackson Harper, Sheila Atim, Amber Gray, Peter De Jersey, Chukwudi Iwuji, Damon Herriman, Lily Rabe, Irone Singleton, Mychal-Bella Bowman, Marcus 'MJ' Gladney Jr, Will Poulter and Peter Mullan.

Jenkins has also executive produced the show with Adele Romanski, Mark Ceryak, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Brad Pitt, Richard Heus, Jacqueline Hoyt and Whitehead. 'The Underground Railroad' is a production of Plan B, Pastel and Big Indie with Amazon Studios. PTI BK RDS RDS

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