Joel Edgerton calls it the “real conundrum” behind gay-conversion therapy, the controversial, pseudoscientific practice whose intent is to “alter” one’s sexuality from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual through intervention: Do the people behind it, typically associated with religious groups, truly believe it works?
For his new film, Boy Erased, the actor turned writer-director adapted Garrard Conley’s memoir about the time that the Arkansas native spent in such a facility as a 19-year-old, at the insistence of his Baptist pastor father. Those forced into the practice might believe it. “There’s a true belief that, in some bubbles … you only operate out of the information that you have, and if you’re told that it’s possible, as a child you’re willing to buy what is being sold to you,” said Edgerton (The Gift), who also plays Victor Sykes, the head therapist at the center (Love in Action, or LIA) that Garrard’s fictionalized equivalent, Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges), attends (watch the interview with Yahoo Entertainment above). “Like in Garrard’s case, the fear of being ostracized from community will be enough to motivate you to go, ‘Well, if you could turn me around…’”
Nicole Kidman, who plays Jared’s mother, Nancy, admitted that she hadn’t been aware of the practice. “So that’s also part of this film is the actual just awareness. I honestly read it and went, ‘Is this for real?’”
The film certainly questions the motives of those involved in the practice, hinting that the deeply secretive LIA operation is financially motivated. There’s also the fact that John Smid, the real-life counterpart of Edgerton’s character, Victor Sykes (the closest thing the film has to a villain for his harsh treatment of his subjects), has since come out as gay and now lives in Texas with his husband.
“I think it varies,” said Conley when asked if he thought people like Smid genuinely believe they’re changing people.
“The tough thing is, I actually do,” answered Troye Sivan, the actor-musician who plays another young man in the program. “I think that’s one of the best things about the movie, that it explores that. No one in this movie is the enemy, and no one is inherently evil and trying to hurt people just for the sake of hurting people.”
“They certainly want to believe it,” said Hedges (Manchester by the Sea). “The man who leads this program has come out as gay and now has a husband. So he maybe [believed] it in the moment. But it’s all in process. One of the goals of the movie is maybe a parent who would send their kid to conversion therapy will see it and their mind will be opened a little bit.”
Boy Erased is now playing in select cities and opens nationwide Friday.
How the real-life mother from the story lobbied for Nicole Kidman to play her:
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