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Awards

Q&A: Actor-musician Troye Sivan relishes his ‘absolutely gift of a scene’ in ‘Boy Erased’

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To write lyrics for the song “Revelation” for the gay-conversion film “Boy Erased,” Troye Sivan watched a scene “about a moment of connection, and it’s really special to me.”
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

No one can say that 23-year-old Troye Sivan is content to rest on his laurels as an internationally famous, openly gay electro-pop singer-songwriter with 8.7 million Twitter followers. While working in the Philippines, he sent in a videotaped audition for a role in Joel Edgerton’s drama, “Boy Erased,” based on the true story of Garrard Conley, whose Baptist family enrolled him in a gay conversion therapy program.

Sivan began as a preteen baritone belter of tear-inducing prayers on the Jewish temple circuit all over Australia before ratcheting up his fame by becoming a YouTube star, then, in 2009, establishing movie cred with an appearance as a young James Howlett in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” So it fits this Sivanian progression that after securing his “Boy Erased” bit part he’d figure out not only how to expand the role (with an assist from Edgerton) but slip two of his songs into the movie as well.

One of them — “Revelation,” co-written by Jónsi of Sigur Rós — just landed a Golden Globe nomination. Recently, Sivan spoke to The Envelope about his unusual path to success. “There’s been so many really sharp turns that really surprised me, but they only happened because I was consistently putting myself out there,” he said. “But the real beauty about the way my career has panned out thus far is that I’ve learned so much from every single experience.”

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What came first — the song for “Boy Erased” or the role?

I got the role in the movie first. Then once that was in the bag, I immediately was trying to get my music in the movie. I said to [Edgerton], “I want to write for the movie — and, of course, if you want to use any of my catalog so far, you can even use an old song if you want to.” He actually did — the opening song in the film is [“The Good Side”], a song from an old album.” [But at the time] he’d just written [the film] and was about to start directing it. He was deep into what he had to do.

Talk about the “Revelation” collaboration process, which you co-wrote with Jónsi, of Sigur Rós.

Jónsi emailed me the scene with footage and this piano riff with some mumbled half-melodies over it. So I went into the studio and was watching the scene while I wrote these lyrics. It’s a scene about a moment of connection, and it’s really special to me.

In what way?

I am extremely lucky in my own personal LGBT experience — it’s been an absolute breeze. And [in this scene, Jared, played by Lucas Hedges, has] a moment of connection, of tender romance, which is something I’m thankful to say I’ve felt in my life. It’s also the one small moment of relief in a movie that’s otherwise pretty tense. To write a song about how [Jared has a positive interaction with another boy] and the sky doesn’t fall down on [him] and how that moment and person is a revelation to you? I just felt like it was really sweet.

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In “Boy Erased,” you play Gary, a boy also at Jared’s gay conversion camp. How did Gary end up with a pivotal speech?

I was told there was this character Gary that had potential but wasn’t fully written yet. So we built this back story that Gary was out and living this openly gay life. Then his parents find out and put him into [conversion therapy] camp. He realizes that the way he’s going to get out of this place that he knows is crazy is by being completely compliant, letting everyone think that whatever it is they’re doing is working. Then Joel ended up writing me this absolutely gift of a scene where I communicate that to Jared. It’s almost the first voice of any sort of alternative that you hear. Originally, the scene was half as long. We shot it, then Joel edited the movie, then we went back and did re-shoots, and he’d written an additional half.

Did anyone in the cast know that you were moonlighting as a singer-songwriter on the movie?

Lucas, I think, knew. But I was too nervous to send [“Revelation”] to him. He’s got such a large role in this project, not just as an actor but in the whole creation of the thing. I hoped that I interpreted the story in the same way he would have. So I thought about sending it to him, but it was too nerve-racking to me.

At what point did it dawn on Joel Edgerton that you’re a pop icon to many?

I didn’t know how much he knew. He’s never said anything to me about it. I think the moment that I realized that he felt any type of way about it was when I saw an interview with him and he was talking about how I didn’t act different from anyone else on set. And I thought to myself, “Why the hell would I?” [laughs]


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