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Joel edgerton

‘Villainous and Evil’: Joel Edgerton on Making His Triumphant TV Return with ‘Dark Matter’

Have you ever wondered about the road not taken? Found yourself musing on what might have been had you made different choices? These questions lie at the core of Apple TV+’s Dark Matter, a gripping new science fiction series starring Aussie screen legend Joel Edgerton that plays with ideas of regret, jealousy, and what happens when you become your own worst enemy.

Boasting echoes of Severance, The Fugitive, and Black Mirror, for our money the nine-episode Dark Matter is one of the most compelling new shows of 2024. As a source material, Blake Crouch’s 2016 novel of the same name proved to be that rare proposition capable of luring Edgerton back to the small screen — something only occasionally seen since 2001’s The Secret Life of Us made him a star. And with Crouch taking on the role of showrunner, fans of the book can rest assured the series remains satisfyingly faithful to the New York Times bestseller while leaving room for a few surprises here and there.

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Joel Edgerton in Dark Matter | Image: Apple TV+

Sitting down with Edgerton to pick his brain about the gritty sci-fi thriller, the Master Gardener star explains why Dark Matter compelled him to make the return to TV, the mind-bending questions it forced him to consider, and what it’s like playing different versions of the same character. 

“One of my favourite experiences ever was doing television on The Secret Life of Us in Australia, but for years, I’ve been obsessed with just making movies. Now television has changed a lot, post the likes of True Detective, so I was more open to it,” Edgerton reveals. “This book really struck me as a thing that’s worthwhile, you know, to get involved with on a television show. Because I love science fiction, but this, this is a sort of a concept-driven show that isn’t really just about the science and the science fiction elements.”

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Joel Edgerton and Jennifer Connelly in Dark Matter | Image: Apple TV+

What Edgerton’s referring to is the undeniably human core of the show, which deals with a man trying to regain what he’s lost. Without giving too much away, the plot follows Edgerton’s Jason Dessen, a former quantum mechanics physicist turned physics professor who chose family over career. While he adores his wife Daniela (Jennifer Connelly) and son Charlie (Oakes Fegley), Dessen finds himself mourning the professional success he believes would have been his had he prioritised his work. One night after drinking too in celebration of a revered former colleague’s latest accolade, Dessen is viciously attacked and wakes up in a world that’s both familiar and completely transformed; his life in the new reality having taken a very different path. 

“Alice Braga , who’s amazing in the show used this great analogy of the characters sharing the same trunk of the tree,” the Animal Kingdom star explains. “The base of them, of childhood and everything that formed them up until a certain point has shaped them into the same person, but there’s a differentiation of 15 years of experience and Jason is someone who chose family and the responsibility of having had a child and a partnership, and by way of that, he kind of gave up on his true dreams. And so by circumstances of grief and going through a family trauma, all of those things, sort of felt like his life has plateaued.”

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Image: Apple TV+

Alongside his slightly withdrawn family man, Edgerton also had the opportunity to embody the reverse of that coin, slipping into a version of Jason who’s more ambitious, ruthless, but no less driven by a very recognisable humanity: “On the other hand, you have the guy who who chose not to have the family and pursued his dreams and became confident, wealthy, and successful. But neither of them, ironically, are very happy, and both of them would probably say they’d like to experience the other version that life. 

“So there’s just subtle differences in confidence and outlook and levels of contentment or happiness. But there’s a sort of disquiet that exists in in both of them for different reasons. In one half of the show, I was on a quest to get my family back, and the other half is really this psychological thriller of a man playing an imposter to a family that doesn’t belong to him. So there’s the fear of getting caught, the guilt of what he’s done, and the evolution into regret and perhaps trying to make amends for the mistake that he realises he’s made.”

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Joel Edgerton in Dark Matter | Image: Apple TV+

With this duality forming a huge part of what makes Dark Matter such a fascinating viewing experience, Edgerton was determined to ensure that no version of Jason could be viewed as the unsympathetic villain of the piece. Rather, that these are simply characters making understandable choices that may come to haunt them.

“There’s an aspect of grief that exists in the history of Jason’s family that we built together by talking about the story and and also how we find a more human version of the second Jason that isn’t so villainous and evil,” Edgerton says. “Because talking about that tree trunk idea, I don’t believe that any version of Jason is a bad person, he’s just making bad choices. So we wanted to make sure that he was able to feel guilt and remorse for his actions, so for anyone who’s read the book, there’s new information to get by watching the show as well.”

Whether you’ve read Crouch’s novel or not, Dark Matter is one of the year’s must-watch shows. The first four episodes are available on Apple TV+ right now, with the remaining five rolling out every Wednesday between now and June 26. 

Note: Keep an eye out for more from our chat with Joel Edgerton very soon.

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Joel Edgerton in Dark Matter | Image: Apple TV+