When Boy Erased needed a distributor, a number of studios answered Joel Edgerton’s call. According to reports, the bidding war came down to Focus Features and Netflix, and the director, who also wrote and acted in the film, ultimately went with Focus. Boy Erased will now be released in theaters starting Friday, but a small part of Edgerton still regrets not going with a streaming platform. It’s a quandary that goes back to the conflict at the center of author Garrard Conley’s memoir, which inspired the adaptation.
“It was a dilemma because releasing it on a [streaming] platform allows anybody anywhere to watch the film immediately,” Edgerton told EW before the film’s centerpiece screening at NewFest, New York’s LGBTQ film festival. “And as we all know, sadly, a lot of people who are living the life that Garrard lived in the book, some people need to access stories like this secretly, and a streaming platform is the way to do that sometimes because your family might not know. You don’t have to show up to a cinema.”
Edgerton knows streaming will eventually become an option for Boy Erased’s home release. But he still noted, “The only regret about not doing a streaming platform is that I wish the spread that Netflix or Amazon have around the world would spread this movie as quickly as possible.”
Boy Erased stars Lucas Hedges (Lady Bird, Ben Is Back) as Garrard when the author was 19 years old. Outed as gay to his pastor father (Russell Crowe) and religious mother (Nicole Kidman), his parents forced him into a conversion therapy program, run by Victor Sykes (Edgerton), that subjected him to an abusive anti-LGBTQ dogma.
Edgerton firmly believes Boy Erased isn’t just an LGBTQ film. “‘LGBTQ stories’ is not a genre,” he said. Yet he also recognizes that Hollywood often puts such labels on films like Boy Erased, relegating them to “niche” audiences, which can put off financiers and distributors.
“There’s a model where you write a script and you go around and get financing,“ Edgerton said, “then you go to an actor and you’re like, ‘Hey, Universal, Warners, Fox Searchlight’ — whatever [studio] — ‘want to do this film?’ I was cognizant of the fact that people who are actors are very open-minded people, and if I could get as many big-hitting actors as possible behind me, then finance would be unquestionable.”
That’s the way it worked out for Boy Erased. Edgerton already had Hedges, Kidman, and Crowe on board when he approached studios. “If I had written the script and took it to them first,” he said, “I think they would’ve been like, ‘Well, you know, let’s try to find actors.’”
The filmmaker went to Focus (the specialty film division of Universal Pictures) for two reasons. Josh Mclaughlin, president of production, was the first. Edgerton remembers Mclaughlin as “the first guy who ever showed interest in a screenplay” he wrote for Hollywood. The second was Focus’ history of “supporting LGBTQ stories and turning what could otherwise be independent stories into reality, more mainstream [films].” Edgerton points specifically to Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Milk (2008).
“That, plus the fact that I knew the best thing for this movie was to have as much face time as possible with people,” Edgerton continued, “to do Q&As [through promotional rounds], to hear peoples’ stories, have them reflected rather than just release it on a platform.”