The Inverse Interview

Joel Edgerton’s Hero’s Journey

The star of Dark Matter on Apple TV+ (and Bright, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Gatsby) reveals how he climbed to the top of Hollywood — and what comes next.

Joel Edgerton owes his career to George Lucas, who cast an unknown Australian as Uncle Owen in the Star Wars prequels. To fans, Edgerton plays the stoic, conflicted, angry, steely-eyed father figure who is ever doomed to the gruesome fate that scarred theatergoers some 50 years ago. But as the actor tells it, he sometimes wishes his character had been more than just a rural farmer with a whiny adopted son.

“I’ve always joked that I’m the most boring character in Star Wars history,” Edgerton says.

Recent developments in the franchise have led plenty of fans (Edgerton included) to believe there might be more to Uncle Owen than just harvesting moisture in the Tatooine outback. But in the meantime, he’s found another role where he gets to play both the most ordinary and the most interesting man in a very different sci-fi multiverse.

In Dark Matter — the gripping new Apple TV+ series adapted by Blake Crouch from his 2016 novel of the same name — Edgerton stars as Jason Dessen. Or more precisely, Edgerton plays a handful of Jasons across the multiverse, each one determined to be the sole lead character in the story of their shared and divergent lives. The decidedly unhip Jason 1 is the character we sympathize with the most. His doppelgänger, Jason 2, has stolen his life by switching places with him and stealing his wife Daniela (Jennifer Connelly).

“It’s like a multiverse version of It’s a Wonderful Life.”

After reading the book, Edgerton tells Inverse he became determined to be part of the adaptation.

“I became more proactive than I usually am about things,” he says. “I'm usually a bit relaxed about projects. But this was one where I read it and I went, I could be this guy. So why not chase it down and really kind of talk to people about why I think that and what about the book spoke to me? That became a very exciting series of conversations that led to me being invited into the process of how to develop the book into a series.”

Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Connelly in Dark Matter.

Apple TV+

This is the kind of actor Joel Edgerton is. He’s not just an actor. He’s a producer, and a director, and a guy who reads cool books and then dreams of a way he can be a part of another world.

“Growing up, I was always inspired by the character, not the idea of me being an actor playing a character,” Edgerton says. “I was inspired to want to be Indiana Jones or Rocky — I wanted to become the character.”

Fittingly, as the myriad Jason in the cracked mirror of Dark Matter, Edgerton is close to a literal fulfillment of that dream. The show is both high concept, but relatable.

“There’s a lot of wonderful science fiction movies that deal with a multiple parallel universe or multiverse situation, but a lot of them have capes and laser beams and superheroes and so on,” he says. “This is almost like multiple universes for a suburban family. And therefore I think all of the audience can relate and go, ‘What would happen to me if I’d have taken another path?’”

It’s hard to imagine a more down-to-earth everyman actor tackling a high-concept, yet, paradoxically, grounded part. But in some ways, playing Jason Dessen in Dark Matter seems to be Edgerton’s destiny. As an actor, director, husband, and father, Edgerton has traveled the multiverse of life — as well as the entertainment business. And his own hero’s journey has been anything but predictable.

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Originally hailing from New South Wales in Australia, Edgerton now lives in Los Angeles. But before coming to New York City to promote Dark Matter, Edgerton has been in Spokane, Washington, where he's filming an adaptation of Denis Johnson’s award-winning novella Train Dreams.

“I'm chopping wood and sitting by campfires and taking on another story that in part deals with loss of family,” he says. “And it strikes me that maybe I'm drawn to these stories because it's my biggest fear.”

Edgerton is married to Christine Centenera, the editor-in-chief of Vogue Australia and mother to their 3-year-old twin. In crafting the primary version of Jason Dessen (“Jason 1”), Edgerton drew inspiration from his experience as a husband and dad to imbue the character with an interiority as rich as it is real.

“I have to constantly remind myself about presence of mind — be with my kids and not think about work. Or to be with work and not feel guilty about not being with the kids. And as great as my life is from the outside, everyone, I have my own issues,” he says. “So the big thing that resonates with me in the show is the story of Jason being ripped away from a life he thought kind of flatlined. His marriage and his career are good, but he thinks, just OK. You might evaluate your life as a sort of a five and a half out of 10. A seven maybe. And then to have it taken away from you only to now value it at a 10 out of 10. It’s like a multiverse version of It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“I was always writing things, I was always interested in telling stories, I was always performing, I was always dressing up.”

Apple TV+

Looking back on his own life, Edgerton is keenly aware that becoming both an actor and a director was not something that happened by chance. As a kid, Edgerton was interested in the arts, but he didn’t necessarily consider he’d ever actually make a career out of playing pretend.

“I was always writing things, I was always interested in telling stories, I was always performing, I was always dressing up,” Edgerton says. “But I was never thinking as a child, like, How do we attach dollar signs to this? Or is this my version of going to work?

Joel’s older brother, Nash Edgerton, inspired him, too. “My brother and I are quite similar in that we had interests in things that we didn't realize could be highways to drive down as a career path,” he says. “For him, it was a chance meeting that all of the crazy daredevil stuff he was doing as a teenager actually called by another name — stuntman — was a career.”

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Edgerton is one of those actors who, no matter what they do in this universe or the next, will always be remembered for having been in Star Wars, even if, in the last shot of Revenge of the Sith — as he looks down at the infant Luke Skywalker — he has exactly zero lines of dialogue. Unsurprisingly, he’s not exactly itching for a Disney+ spinoff.

“Imagine how much of a snooze fest it could possibly be if they just made a standalone series about Uncle Owen,” Edgerton says with a massive grin. “It’d be more like a nature documentary as he goes out and farms moisture.”

Don’t get his Uncle Owen-bashing twisted. Edgerton loves Star Wars and was thrilled that he got a chance to return to the character for the Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi.

“It was the first thing that I was coming back to do after this long process of the beginning of the lockdowns,” Edgerton says. “I felt happy being on set. I felt really happy being back in the presence of Ewan and that whole world.”

Joel Egerton as Uncle Owen in Obi-Wan Kenobi.


In the time before the prequels, and even in the decades between the prequels and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars fans across the world had theories. What the hell happened to make Uncle Owen so annoyed with Old Ben? And even though he was cast as Owen for Attack of the Clones, Edgerton was one of those fans, trying to come up with various explanations.

“My friends and I are Star Wars fans, and we think about the possibilities of what was true and what was false,” Edgerton says, talking about Uncle Owen’s beef with Obi-Wan. “Why was Owen so against Obi-Wan in the first movie [A New Hope]? Something went down, you know?”

Over the years, Edgerton’s biggest theory was that “Owen was hiding the fact that he participated in things that he didn't really want to share with Luke.” And when it came time to do Obi-Wan, Edgerton was utterly validated by his own fan theories. Turns out, Owen fought off an Inquisitor on the farm when Luke was just 10 years old and nearly even got himself lighsabered in an effort to keep Ben Kenobi safely anonymous. “I thought there were possibilities there to explore and I loved the opportunity to add an extra dimension of sorts to Uncle Owen.”

“Being in Star Wars gave me a lot of confidence.”

Edgerton’s performance in Obi-Wan Kenobi delivers one of the most interesting truths about this “boring” Star Wars character: he’s actually the best father figure in the entire saga. Unlike Han Solo or Anakin Skywalker, Owen Lars represents the guy who sticks around and tries to do the right thing, even if his life isn’t glamorous or full of adventure. In Kenobi, Edgerton’s take on Owen reminds us that he’s every bit of Luke’s true father, even if he’s not Luke’s biological parent.

“Everyone always saw Uncle Owen as just the uncle that won't let Luke do something — which he is — but to understand why and to see his fierce protectiveness, I think is a nice way of humanizing him even more,” Edgerton says. “That was my mission. I was like, if I'm going to come back, I want to do something that doesn't disrupt the flow of the way that the audience views that world and the characters, but I want to participate in a way that feels good. So I was really happy with the outcome.”

Joel Edgerton and Bonnie Piesse in Attack of the Clones (2002).


Edgerton can’t confirm whether or not Obi-Wan Kenobi was supposed to have had a second season that was never explored, or whether or not he’d return for any future Star Wars project. But he does make it very clear that he has fond feelings for Star Wars and for George Lucas in particular.

“Would I do more? I'd love to do more if it was really cool,” he says. “The reunion was great, but also, and I've said this before, it was a reminder for me that Star Wars gave me so much.”

Like Luke Skywalker, a younger Joel Edgerton was also living on a desert planet, dreaming of adventures. He’s obviously much more than his Star Wars association, but Edgerton makes it clear that in a moment of art imitating life, Star Wars did help him take his first steps into a much larger world.

“As little as my screen time was, being in Star Wars gave me a lot of confidence,” he says. “Before that, I was a bit like Luke; in Australia, doing my own version of grumbling about not being able to go out into the galaxy, which was LA. And Star Wars opened those portals for me and allowed me to get an agent and all that stuff and start to do the things that I've been doing in the last 20 years. So it was fun to come back and sort of complete the circle in some strange way.”

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Star Wars isn’t the only parallel world that Edgerton would return to if given the chance. Obviously he can’t return for a sequel to 2013’s The Great Gatsby — in which he brilliantly played Tom Buchanan — but if given the chance, he would transform into an orc police officer again.

In 2017, Edgerton co-starred with Will Smith in the David Ayer urban fantasy film Bright. A buddy-cop movie with a serious angle, Edgerton, in full prosthetic makeup, played an orc named Nick Jakoby, the first of his kind to become a cop. This high-concept film, which mashed up high-fantasy sensibilities with a police procedural, wasn’t exactly praised by critics, but as Edgerton points out, it was beloved by fans. When asked if there were plans for a second Bright, he confirms “there was, actually,” and suggests that, perhaps, the critical response dashed hopes for a sequel.

Edgerton and Will Smith in Bright. “I often thought the critics were a little bit too harsh on that movie.”


“I have a lot of feelings about Bright,” Edgerton says. “In general, I'm fascinated by the critical response versus audience responses of movies. Either the audience score is super low and the critics love it, or the critics hate it, but the audience is like, ‘Actually, we love this.’ Occasionally you get a double win or a double loss. My brother's TV series, Mr Inbetween, is one of the rare double wins. But Bright was one of those ones that I think was in the sort of low 30s for the critics, but it struck a chord with people. Netflix would be able to tell you that with their algorithms, but enough people were taking the time to rate the movie high, which meant that there was definitely an appetite for more. And I often thought the critics were a little bit too harsh on that movie.”

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Edgerton doesn’t think all kooky movies or TV shows should “get a hall pass for originality,” but he is deeply interested in projects that go big. A lot of actors want to be directors and writers, but Edgerton is one of the few who really does it. With David Michôd, he co-wrote the 2017 Shakespearean film The King, which starred Timothée Chalamet. His directorial debut was the Blumhouse thriller The Gift, in which he co-starred. It has a 91 on Rotten Tomatoes. In addition to his other critically acclaimed film, Boy Erased, Edgerton also directed his Star Wars comrades — Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor — in the deeply underrated 2016 western Jane Got a Gun.

In all of his projects, Edgerton is fully committed, and betting high, which is part of the reason he’s an executive producer on Dark Matter. And because of his passion for the book, he’s an executive producer on the show — a title he’s held on several other projects.

The man rarely takes on a project simply because it’s a paycheck. But, that doesn’t mean he lets the business side of things get in the way of the actual business of making a show. His co-star Jennifer Connelly notes that Edgerton is a workhorse, but the kind that “never complains.”

“I mean, he was in every scene in this show,” she says. “He was always there, enthusiastic, always focused. He’s very gracious and generous.”

By Edgerton’s account, this is the kind of set he wants to be on — and he learned the need for generosity of spirit and unlimited ambitions from the greats.

“What I've learned about filmmaking from George Lucas is not to put a ceiling on how big you could dream,” he says. “And I say that because in Australia there's this feeling like there's this invisible ceiling and it exists because you don't have a lot of money and a lot of equipment to make movies unless like George or like Baz Luhrmann you dream big. I think the only thing differentiating a lot of young filmmakers from dreaming big is just allowing themselves to imagine themselves in a bigger world, telling bigger stories.”

Edgerton expands this point to reflect on where he’s come from, and where it seems he is going. “Before meeting George Lucas, I was used to the Australian way of doing things, which is we tell a story about the neighborhood down the street. As someone jokingly once said: An American movie is about a person saving the world or the universe. And I thought that was pretty special.”

“An American movie is about a person saving the world or the universe. And I thought that was pretty special.”

And yet, with Dark Matter, Edgerton concedes that he’s essentially doing a series that exists somewhere between those extremes. Although he plays the hero of Dark Matter, Edgerton also, tellingly, plays its villain, too. Jason 2 is a ruthless, cold man who dreamed of a life in which he had a family, and love. Jason 2 would trade success for an ordinary life, but Jason 1 wouldn’t trade his ordinary life for anything. But when did they become different people?

“I think it all makes you look back on the choices you’ve made, and wonder what the alternate paths might have been,” he says. “But the other thing is, you have to think how much you really weigh up your choices when they're right in front of you in the present. It’s not just about hindsight and planning. It’s about being in the moment, and having that presence of mind to think about what you’re actually choosing to do.”

For Edgerton, those moments, perhaps, are the answer to the question Jason 1 poses: What makes us into ourselves is how much we’re actually in our own heads when we’re making choices. And so, Jason 2 is the villain, kind of. But that doesn’t mean Jason 1 couldn’t have become him. Even Uncle Owen could become Darth Vader if he’d made different choices.

“There’s always good in the bad and bad in the good.”

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