Nothing like kicking a soccer ball around and then fetching it from a neighbor's yard to help players or actors bond.
Somewhere in that process, Joel Edgerton and young CJ Adams "found a real fondness for each other," the adult co-star of "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" said in a recent phone call.
Mr. Edgerton, who was promoting the made-in-Pittsburgh "Warrior" at this time last year, plays the husband of Jennifer Garner in the PG-rated fantasy opening today. They are childhood sweethearts who would love to have a son or daughter -- and they do, although not in conventional fashion.
A boy named Timothy magically appears to them one stormy night, and, in a flash, Cindy and Jim Green are transformed into Mom and Dad.
Ms. Garner is married to Ben Affleck and is the mother of three, while Mr. Edgerton says, "I'm not a qualified father, but then my character in the film is also unqualified and has fatherhood thrust upon him and deals with it in an improvisational kind of fashion."
That's not unlike any first-time parent, no matter how much reading or research he may do beforehand.
"As far as spending time with kids and seeing people be parents, I watched my parents be parents, but of course I had a child's opinion of that. Now, interestingly, tons of my very close friends, a lot of people I work with, I'm watching them have their own crash course in parenthood."
Joel, 38, is the younger (by 18 months) of two boys. His older brother, Nash Edgerton, started out as a stunt performer and added actor, editor, producer, writer and director to his resume.
Nash did some stunt work on "I Am Number Four" in Pittsburgh and directed Joel in "The Square," nominated for seven Australian Film Institute awards, comparable to the Oscars. The brothers run a company together and are best friends although Joel jokes about something their mum said.
"Nash and I were working on a movie together, and she said, 'Does Joel have to do anything dangerous in this movie? 'Cause you better do it for him.' And he's like, 'What? It's good for me to get hurt and not him?' She said, 'It's your job.' "
Joel says a lot of actors claim they do their own stunts, but that's not always true. "Look, there's a line in the sand that's drawn by the insurance company. You can take a fake bullet hit or you can punch or be punched, but if you have to fall off a building or get set on fire, that's your stunt guy or CGI."
For "Warrior," Mr. Edgerton and Tom Hardy, who played his brother and is now on screen as Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises," did most of their own mixed martial arts fighting.
Mr. Edgerton was heavily assisted, he volunteers, by his "wonderful stunt guy, Sam Hargrave, who did land on his back a few times. That's the difference between me and him. When they said, 'Who wants to land on their back?' he jumped out of his chair with a grin on his face and I ran for the restroom."
Although Mr. Edgerton said MMA fighting required an intensity and time commitment he couldn't continue, it did make him more aware of fitness and using his body.
"I've definitely retained my interest for the sport, and I watch it as often as I can. I do a little bit of fighting, just I'll never do as much as I did in that movie. I'm getting old, too, I've got back injuries."
Mr. Edgerton is just finishing Hollywood heavy lifting: touring to promote "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" and he talked to the Post-Gazette from Philadelphia.
"This is a really wonderful movie to go out and share with people. That's one of the reasons that we all do it anyways. Moviemaking, like any art form, is there to be shared and that means you're looking forward to what you've created in the back rooms or the dark shadows to bringing that out and showing it to people.
"But when you can share something so open-hearted and for everybody, it's really special. I like things that have a resonance and an emotionality to them. This movie to me, it's warm and it's funny and it's entertaining, but it also says something cool, and when you can share something like that with people, it's pretty cool and you can see people take something from it. I like that, I really like that part of the process."
Like some actors, he doesn't necessarily enjoy watching himself on screen -- it can be traumatic as you "pick yourself to pieces" -- but says, "It's almost more fun watching the faces of all the people you're sharing it with."
Mr. Edgerton's tour has brought him in contact with audiences who saw the movie at previews.
"Good movies are like mirrors, they tell a story about a family somewhere or a town near you, like this one does, but they're mirrors and they show you your own life. It's amazing what different things get reflected from this movie because everyone has a different memory of their childhood or parenting, and it's interesting how different aspects of this movie come out.
"I did have a conversation with someone who was saying to me, 'I didn't realize until I watched this movie just how much I hover over my kid, I think I'm going to have to learn to back off.' ... Jennifer and I, who play the husband and wife and parents of this magical boy, we try and reinvent our own lives through this kid."
Ms. Garner's character competes with her sister, mother to overachievers, and she's still smarting from some ridicule she suffered as a child. Mr. Edgerton's character, meanwhile, is trying to mend the fractured relationship he had with his father (played by David Morse).
"So we're both kind of using this child as a pawn in our own corrective journeys," he said, adding that the movie suggests don't put too much pressure on your child to fix the mistakes of your own childhood.
Timothy arrives in mysterious fashion and may have to depart in the same way.
"This is one of the big core stories that, I think, Joseph Campbell talks about in his sort of gathering of the mythologies of all the different cultures of the world. ... Sometimes it requires a stranger or a visitor from another place to change us and show us the way we're living and adjust us in a positive way, but we can't keep that person."
"E.T." tapped into that idea 30 years ago.
"It makes us sad when that person goes, but we're happy to have met them, and we value the wisdom they have given us. I really love in this version of that old familiar story that the visitor is a child and the wisdom he gives is about so much, but about the time we have with each other and parenting and family and he comes out of the garden."
The actor, who splits his time between Australia and Los Angeles, will be back on the stump in a few months for Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" about the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. He stars alongside Jessica Chastain and Chris Pratt in the movie set for a December release.
Like Leonardo DiCaprio, Mr. Edgerton will no longer have competing projects in the theater come Christmas. Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby," in which he plays Tom Buchanan to Mr. DiCaprio's Jay Gatsby, has been bumped from Dec. 25 to summer 2013.
Asked to read the tea leaves behind the move, he demurred. "I don't really know what it means. I just know it means there will be less North Face jackets in the cinema and people will be enjoying the summer inside the cinema and outside the cinema."
In some ways, it's more fitting that it receive a warm-weather release, he says. It's a summertime book, "sweaty, heaving, drunken, loud." It feels right to come out in the summer, except Down Under where it will be winter, of course.
"Time moves so quickly, but I feel for everybody who is so eager to see it, and it's going to be one of those movies that's worth watching for sure. It's going to be incredible as a spectacle and as a human story."moviesvideo