Joel Edgerton wanted 'Boy Erased' to be irrelevant. It's far from it

As director Joel Edgerton sees it, "Boy Erased" is a story about fear, but he didn't always see it that way.

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Sandra Gonzalez
(CNN) — As director Joel Edgerton sees it, "Boy Erased" is a story about fear, but he didn't always see it that way.

In the film, based on the memoir by Garrard Conley, a young man (Lucas Hedges) is sent to gay conversion therapy by his religious parents after revealing to them that he is gay.

"One of the most startling aspects of the book was -- and, I guess, in my naive approach leading into the book -- I figured decisions to send a child to conversion therapy [are] born out of the hatefulness and that these institutions, the infrastructure is erected on this sense of hatefulness," Edgerton told CNN by phone recently. "In actual fact, I realized it was born out of fear and that what was pushing a lot of people to make these choices was motivated by love, the love for their child and an interest to help a child to not lose their relationship with God, to not be ostracized by community, and that was a very complicated conundrum."

Edgerton said he found honest, relatable truth in the pages of Conley's book and used that as his guide, especially when it came to the depiction of the young man's parents.

Russell Crowe plays Marshall Eamons, a small-town Baptist pastor, and Nicole Kidman plays Nancy Eamons, a woman torn between her faith and her motherly instinct regarding her son's well-being.

"Garrard and myself never intended to paint religion with an evil brush," Edgerton said. "Really, it's about the choices and the information behind the choices of parents caring for their children."

Through every step, Edgerton sought to do right by Conley's story and the LGBTQ community -- including his choice of cast and populating the ranks in various off-screen departments.

"Behind the camera and in front of the camera, representation became an important thing because it was good for the film, it was good for the community receiving the film and it was really helpful and educational to me," he said. "There's nothing better than being able to put true champions of the LGBTQ community [on screen] who also happened to be excellent actors in their roles first and foremost, like Troye [Sivan] and Xavier Dolan and Cherry Jones."

The film will release on theaters on November 1, just days after the 20th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard. Two days before out chat with Edgerton, Shepard was laid to rest during an emotional ceremony at the National Cathedral.

Edgerton said the timing of the film's release in relation to Shepard was a coincidence. He's aware, however, that the film is seeped in messages he wishes were less timely.

"As much as you want a movie to be relevant, we all hoped that the movie was irrelevant. But we're happy that it's relevant at a time when maybe we could use the movie -- like Garrard's book -- as a tool for advocacy and awareness and change," he said.

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