'Square' director, Nash Edgerton, likes keeping audiences on edge

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After being set on fire as a stuntman, what's the worst that could happen to Nash Edgerton? Singed by harsh words from critics? Kicked around by audiences?

As it turns out, his movie "The Square" was nominated for seven Australian Film Institute awards, comparable to the Oscars. It was an auspicious feature-film directing debut for Mr. Edgerton, whose movie opens today at the Harris Theater, 809 Liberty Ave., Downtown, and who will take questions there after Saturday's 8 p.m. show.

Based on previous Q-&-A sessions, Edgerton anticipates some inquiries about a dog love story that pops up in "The Square" along with the marriages of leading characters Ray and Carla, who plot to run away together.

Ray's, for instance, is more routine than corrosively toxic, and that is by design.

"We didn't want to make it easy for him to leave his wife. I feel like relationships are more complicated than that. We didn't want to make it like, hey, she's a real nagging wife. There's nothing wrong with her, they've just sort of fallen out of love with each other. I think relationships are more gray than that."

As for Carla's husband, Mr. Edgerton suggests, "He's not like a typical wife beater or villain or anything, he just doesn't know how to communicate with his wife. He's probably in love with her, but by making them like that ... it feels more realistic."

While comedy directors can know they're connecting with audience members by their laughter, Mr. Edgerton can gauge reaction by jolts and gasps at the chain reaction set off by the adulterous pair.

"I wanted to see how tense I could make the film, and I wanted to give that sense of dread that things are going to go bad and try and hold that feeling, and I think the gasp moments are a product of that," Mr. Edgerton said in a recent phone interview.

"You feel like it's all feasible, I think that's what adds to the tension of it."

It was his idea to match "The Square" with "Spider," a nine-minute short he made and acts in. That's how he previewed the pair for distributor Apparition, which agreed to the packaging.

"The film's played very straight, which I think adds to the tension, although people need to know it's OK to laugh. Joel and I have a very dark sense of humor, and I think 'Spider' lets people know that it's OK to laugh and gives you a sense of what kind of film you're in for."

Joel Edgerton, Nash's younger brother, is co-writer, executive producer and part of the cast in "The Square." Joel was in Pittsburgh last summer acting in "Warrior," alongside Nick Nolte and Tom Hardy, while Nash now is doing stunt work here for the movie "I Am Number Four."

Unlike the Bridges brothers, the Edgertons don't come from a show business background.

"My dad is a lawyer by trade, and he now does property development, and when growing up, Mum was a stay-at-home mom, and she's done various kinds of jobs since then. Neither of us had any family connection to the film industry at all when we started out. ...

"We were both kind of doing drama type of stuff at school but never thinking of it as an actual career. I also feel like our parents are closet creatives in a way. Mum was always doing arts and crafts type stuff, and my dad's definitely a closet entertainer. He's just never put it into practice."

Nash Edgerton started out as a stunt performer and added actor, editor, producer, writer and director to his resume. His parents understandably were nervous when he announced plans to be a stuntman, which has left him with bumps, bruises and cuts to match the mended bones he broke as a kid doing stupid things.

"The first time I ever let my Mum come and watch me do stunts, I got taken away in an ambulance. I didn't really let her come and watch again after that. I'd been doing it for 10 years or something at that stage and thought it would be good for Mum to see what I do."

Probably not the best idea, he now says.

She can watch something he's done after the fact, safe in the knowledge that he's sitting there just fine. "I couldn't tell her beforehand, 'Hey, I'm being set on fire today' because her imagination will just go to a dark place."

As for the relationship between the brothers, he says, "We get on very well. We kind of got our fighting out of the way when we were kids.

"Joel and I, as much as we are different people, we were both aiming for the same end result, and we collaborate really well with each other and respect each other's opinion," whether it's advocating for something in the movie to stay or go.

"If the communication is open and you listen to each other, then, you kind of find the right way to go quite naturally. It's not like we had to get Mum to come and mediate or anything like that."

Asked about the best advice he ever received when it came to directing, Mr. Edgerton says, "To make things that you want to see. Don't try and guess what the audience wants. Trust that if you make something for yourself, there are other people out there who will enjoy it as well."

The propitious debut of "The Square" ups the ante for Mr. Edgerton's next project, but that's always been the case. "Every time I've made a short [film], I feel that pressure. I think that makes you try a little bit harder and step up."

Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her Mad About the Movies blog at post-gazette.com/movies.


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