Interview: Nash Edgerton Talks In-Depth About ‘The Square’

By  · Published on May 19th, 2010

With The Square, freshman director Nash Edgerton has made an excellent film that follows the much-loved Murphy’s Law “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Thankfully, Edgerton knows how to acknowledge the conventions of the genre he’s playing in while also turning them on their ear.

As many have pointed out, Edgerton has gone from stuntman to director. Not the usual transition we hear about, but it’s one surely to embrace. His stunt work ranges from Star Wars to even this summer’s Knight and Day. While he’ll continue working in the stunt world, lets hope we see him back behind the camera sooner rather than later.

Editor’s Note: This interview does delve into spoiler territory, so it’s better for those who’ve seen the film.

How was the screening last night?

It was good. People seemed to be really into it and they asked intelligent questions.

Well, I’m going to ruin that trend of intelligence right now.

Awesome, cool.

Kidding aside, I’d like to start off by asking about the decision of putting Spider in front of the film? That’s a short I saw even before the film and loved.

It just felt like it would let people know the type of sense of humor I have. It sets you up for the movie. The movie plays itself so straight that I think sometimes people need to know it’s okay to laugh during it. I guess for those reasons. That’s what they used to do too. They’d show shorts before movies.

It’s definitely that uncomfortable laughter.

Yeah, definitely.

For the script, what was your collaboration with Joel [Edgerton] like? In terms of tying all the threads together since it does follow a few separate story lines. I know it was a long process.

It was long. I was definitely through the whole development guiding it to what it needed to be. He’d write scenes and if I didn’t like them or didn’t know how to shoot them we’d change something. A lot of times when I’m reading a script I can imagine how I’d shoot something, but if I can’t I figure out how to then there’s something wrong with the scene. That’s kind of how I worked with him.

One of the things that’s great about the script is there there’s no typical set-up. I mean, where was the scene where Raymond meets Carla in a bar?

Well, I did shoot a scene how they met. I kind of argued with Joel earlier on about this. I didn’t think we needed it. I’d shoot it, but I didn’t think it was needed. I thought it’d be better if we came in during the middle of the affair. If you start in the middle of it then it runs your imagination on how they may have met. That’s usually better than anything I could come up with. It also didn’t really matter how they met. The dogs kind of let you know.

It’s a nice parallel.

Yeah, they were probably walking their dogs and then they’d continue to meet using the dogs.

With that parallel I actually heard some people wanted you to cut that out. Why is that? It’s a nice touch in the film.

To me, the dog love story was so integral to the film. It mirrors their relationship, shows how they met and it’s also their undoing. The dogs keep giving clues to this connection. It really foreshadows it. It’s really the basic version of their affair. Each dog is just focused on the other dog.

The film itself many has been labeled as a noir, but do you consider it that? Those are usually heightened realities.

I guess it’s noir in the fact that it sets up an expectation that things are going to go bad and delivers on that front. I think you can take the conventions of that which I tried to base in a reality and to play it really straight. I felt if I did that there’d be so much more tension and it be more relatable. You could see yourself making similar decisions as Ray.

That’s why I don’t consider it straight noir. If you look at a film like Body Heat it’s not exactly realistic whereas this is very grounded in realism.

I set out as keeping it grounded in realism as much as possible. I like those films…

I’m not bashing Body Heat or those films, but I’m just saying this is more of a reality.

Yeah, that’s good.

Even Carla though isn’t the typical femme fatale, she’s not duping Raymond.

Exactly, she’s not meant to be a femme fatale. I think everyone’s prior knowledge with film, and depending on how well-versed they are in films, they just assume she’s a femme fatale. That kind of works in my favor since people think about whether or not she’s going to turn on him. I don’t think people are really like that. I wanted the characters to be more complex than that. Her husband is not typical wife-beating bad guy. He hits her in the film, but that’s probably the first time he’s ever hit her. He probably feels really bad about it.

While it’s not right what he does, it’s clearly understandable considering what she’s doing to him.

Exactly, it’s just that they don’t really communicate. They’ve fallen out of love. That’s why there’s no connection and that’s why Ray and Carla find a connection.

It’s ironic though at the end you could easily argue Carla’s husband is more sympathetic than Ray. You should still feel sympathy for Ray at the end, but should you still like him?

It’s not like you have to love him, but you have to like watching him. It’s not like he’s a bad person. He’s just out of his depth. He’s drowning, making bad decisions and he’s probably just the worst chess player in the world.

Well I’d say that’s an example of how you and Joel nailed gray areas. The biggest scene for me that plays into that was seeing Billy freak out. It really humanized him.

Cool. My brother is a very talented actor and he took a character that could easily be a cookie-cutter bad guy and actually made him likable. It was very important for us that you actually see the human side to him. Billy is probably the most moralistic character in the film. He sticks to a moral code. He’s just upset about killing someone, he’s upset about the money, but he’s still dangerous. He’s dangerous because of that emotionality.

What do you think the story is between him and his girlfriend? She acts very uncomfortable at times.

I don’t know, what do you think it is?

I look at in a way like that dog parallel that he’s sort of that one rough dog that you still love and stick with.

Yeah, I sort of made it ambiguous on purpose. Some people think it’s his sister, some people think it’s his girlfriend and someone thought she was his daughter. The idea was that he has this young girl with him and, to me, that makes him more dangerous. He’s taking her along to these dealings and she obviously knows him so she knows that he can go be outrageous. She’s scared to say anything. That kind of hinges on the fact she’s too afraid to say what’s really going on.

There’s that one scene though where she apologizes and she obviously feels bad. You can see that she loves him.

Yeah, he’s obviously very caring and nurturing of her. That’s why he’s a likable character.

Well, his main motive is still money at the end.

That’s a part of his moral. He said he’d do something and was told he was going to get paid for it. All he wants is the money. He did the job and he just wants to get paid for it. He’s a very simple guy. He’s not asking for anything out of the ordinary. One, he was told he was going to burn a house down and then he ends up killing someone. He thinks he was really hired to kill someone and the guy doesn’t pay him.

I also love that burn scar Billy has. It’s one of those small touches that adds a lot to a character. It lets you feel in his background a bit. Where did that idea come from?

I can’t remember if it was in the script or if it was my idea. I just felt like it gave Billy some history. Whether that was from him playing with fire or it happened when he was kid it just gave him a history with fire in a very physical.

I found it interesting that you asked me what I thought about the girl Billy was with. Obviously that and plenty of other aspects in the film are meant to be ambiguous. So, is it tough talking about the film while trying to make sure you don’t ruin that ambiguity by saying what your main intentions were?

I’m just always curious what people actually think their relationship is. I try to make things a bit open so they are left for discussion and so that you can have your own thoughts on things instead of clear explanations.

It’s not shoving details down your throat.

Yeah, that’s spoon feeding. I like treating the audience with some respect and treating them intelligently by allowing them to make up their own mind. With the relationships to how Ray and Carla met.

For Ray, would you say it’s fair to say he’s living in his own world of male wish fulfillment?

Oh, for sure. He’s lost and maybe he thinks it’s his last chance to do something interesting with his life. Maybe he’s stuck in a rut that he can’t get out. He totally steps out of his normal well and by doing that he’s really drowning. That’s what makes him kind of likable. He’s fucking up and he doesn’t know how to fix it. He’s not the most competent guy.

With all these horrible events he goes through how do you keep it all grounded in realism? It could easily come off as ridiculous.

That was something Joel and I would constantly talk about. It’d be us asking ourselves, “What would really happen?” Everything just had to be feasible from every decision to any force of nature that came in their way. I wanted it to feel real and not over-the-top. I didn’t want anything to feel convenient. I tried to put all the clues in leading up so everything that came you were clued into knowing it was going to happen. It’s like a domino effect. You gotta have all the pieces there to make sure it all falls down right.

Now, obviously with Carla and her husband they’ve just fallen out of love. Would you say that’s the same case with Ray and his wife?

I don’t know. I think they’ve had a kid and then the kid moved away. I think they’ve just fallen out of love with one another. They’re bored in their relationship. I didn’t want her to be a nag he just had to get away from. Where her life is just all about dinner parties and he’s kind of a workaholic. I didn’t want it to be that.

I do like though how, as you said, he’s obviously lost at the beginning of the film. When you get to the end he probably couldn’t be more lost.

He doesn’t know what he’s doing at the end.

You really put people into his mindset to feel just how lost he is. Even visually. With Spider you had that POV shot of that girl getting hit and here there’s a lot of scenes shot in that sense where you feel like you’re him.

I’ve just always have thought of how you would actually end up seeing something. I want you to feel like you’re one of those characters. I feel like that is what makes the film so inviting, engaging and intense. You’re experiencing and learning things as the characters learn them. With Spider especially you’d usually see a quick cutaway to that person’s reaction. I think with that I realized pretty quickly if I cut away it would’ve also taken away from the audience’s reaction. If I stayed on it then the audience got to feel like what the character was feeling. That’s sort of the theory behind it.

And just like the film the bigger moments never come off as pure shock value.

Exactly, you just gotta see what’s necessary. With Spider seeing that girl get hit by the car you’re really feeling the same way.

Talking a bit more about the tone, as you said you’re fine with laughter, how do you keep it seeded in that kind of that subtle dark sense of humor? Instead of say something overly broad.

Like I said, I think it’s best to go against being broad. To me, life is both tragic and funny all the time. The film definitely divides people. Some people find things incredibly uncomfortable and unfunny while others find certain things in the film horrific and disturbing.

Well, it’s obviously such a feel-good movie.

Yeah, for sure (laughs).

Going back to that dog parallel, I love the moment where you see one of them die because it’s another one of those clues that you were just talking about. It’s where you can piece together something big is going to happen and one of them is going to get it.

For sure, it’s the foreshadowing. It lets you know that. It had to come at a point where when you thought things couldn’t get any worse. They can.

It’s like that for most of the film.

Yeah, that’s the expectation that’s set up it. It’s like making a romantic comedy where you set up the expectation they’re going to get it together and you kind of have to deliver on that. It’s all about making it an engaging and entertaining journey to that point.

What I think what you and Joel, again I’m going to say what you guys got so right, but being self-aware that you’re treading familiar ground. It’s not obnoxious.

Yeah, anytime you’re showy it takes people out of the film. You gotta make a true and believable story. You set up rules when you’re making a film and then you have to stick to those rules. As soon as you break your own rules within a film then it takes people out of it.

I know you and Joel are currently writing something right now, can you talk a bit about that?

It’s still a work in progress and it hasn’t got a title yet. It’s more of a road movie while The Square is contained in one town. We’re halfway through it. I know what it is, but it’s kind of hard to pitch it. It’s probably a little more cheekier, like my shorts.

And what’s going on at Blue-Tongue Films?

David [Michod] just made a film called Animal Kingdom.

I’ve heard that’s great.

It’s so awesome. It’s about to come out in Australia in June and then later sometime in the year here. We also got Spencer [Susser]’s Hesher.

I know Hesher is supposed to be good and I loved his short film I Love Sarah Jane.

Yeah, Hesher is awesome. I stunt-coordinated that and that’s coming out later this year. The script was so good and [Joseph Gordon] Levitt is amazing in it. I’m going to make another short. Luke [Doolan], who made Miracle Fish, is about to make another short too.

How involved are you in those projects? Like with Animal Kingdom and Hesher.

Pretty involved. We all work on each other’s films. David and Spencer shot a lot of the “making of” for this. Spencer took a lot of stills on it. Luke edited it with me. Joel wrote it. Animal Kingdom Luke edited and Joel was in. Animal Kingdom and Hesher both showed up at the same time so I worked on that with Spencer while Joel and Luke helped on Animal Kingdom. After those were shot Luke and I helped David edit Animal Kingdom. I mean, we’re all very involved in each other’s films.

What was the editing process like on The Square? The film is pretty tight.

Yeah, Luke and I spent about 20 weeks editing and testing. It’s a complicated story to put together and we wanted it to feel tight. I really wanted it to feel like a whirlpool that Ray drowns in faster and faster. Everyone kind of helps push each other. I like all of those guys and everyone’s films are all kind of different, but also sort of fit in a universe.

So is this one of those things where you’re all creating one world? The Blue-Tongue universe?

No, I think it just kind of happened that way. I think with the sensibility and tone we like to play in it just happened.

It would be cool though to see Raymond walking around in Hesher or something. Some directors do stuff like that that.

I feel like all of our characters could easily work in each other’s films. Not much of an adjustment. I don’t know. You never know, but I mean we’ve done that in our shorts.

Now, I’m from a site called Film School Rejects… I don’t know if you know it?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I saw the bad review we got on the site there.

I didn’t write that. I was actually arguing, not arguing, but trying to convince my editor how great it is which was actually right after I told you how excellent I thought it was.

Yeah, it’s interesting that those who really get it, really love it.

Going back to the question I was leading into: do you have a notable film school reject moment?

I actually didn’t know there was film school when I started out. I mean, the first short film Kieran and I made was knocked back by so many film festivals. The very first festival we played at… It wasn’t really a festival, but we made this short called Loaded. We didn’t really know we were making a short film, but more of a thing on us doing stunts to get stunt jobs. Then people told us we should enter it into a film festival and we’d never heard of that before. We were green lit. So we saw this ad for a place called the Performance Space in Sydney. We entered our short there, but when we got there people were singing and doing interpretive dancing. Then our film played and the performance space was really just known for performance art. I didn’t know what performance art was at that time, but anyway the film played and people were booing and hissing. They really hated it. I was crushed. Luckily, we had entered somewhere else. After that, I didn’t think I wanted to make something ever again. Kieran had already entered it somewhere else which was a real film festival. We got to meet other filmmakers and the film got a really great reaction. We kind of went from there.

Your short films are kind of the ones that make you jealous that you never thought about those ideas before. They’re so simple, but great.

Yeah, most of my short films are pretty simple ideas. Lucky was based on a dream. Spider was a combination of three things: the saying about your mother, me using a rubber spider torturing my mother as a kid and the other was when Joel was driving and a fucking scary spider started crawling on him. We had to pull over the car and he got out in traffic. I just love the idea that people will risk their lives to get away from a spider.

The Square is now in theaters.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.