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Meet 'Manchester By The Sea's' Lucas Hedges

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Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges in Manchester By The Sea. Photo by Claire Folger. Courtesy of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions.

Director Kenneth Lonergan’s critically acclaimed new film Manchester By The Sea follows the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), an apartment janitor leading a simple life in Boston. Following the death of his older brother (Kyle Chandler), Lee returns to his hometown to take care of his 16-year-old nephew Patrick and is forced to deal with his past. Playing Patrick is 19-year-old Lucas Hedges, an up-and-coming actor, who can now add Lonergan to the list of esteemed directors he’s already worked with in his young career, including Wes Anderson, Terry Gilliam and Michael Cuesta. 

Hedges, who is currently a student at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, was in San Francisco last month to promote his emotionally poignant new film, and spoke with Academy Art U News about what it was like working with one of his acting heroes, the dynamic between going from acting in school to acting on a film set, and provided some key advice for our Academy of Art University students.

What was your initial impression of the script?

Selfishly, the first thing I do when I read a script is look at my part. It’s pretty apparent to me, almost right off the bat, whether or not it’s a part I want to play, because teenagers are often written very poorly. Adult writers often think that teenagers use certain words or pieces of lingo that actually no one uses or hasn’t used for 30 years. But my experience with Patrick was that ... Patrick’s the best teenage part that I’ve seen in my life. And I’ve been around for long enough to have read many parts. I knew that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity, and then I read the script again for the movie and again, it was like I had never read a movie like it. A movie where overlaps are written in, and people talk over each other, the way that people actually talk. I never read a movie that was so dark, and at the same time, so funny and so tragic. So filled with heart and love and life. 

Aside from your character Patrick being this wonderful, profound kind of role, at what point reading the script did you go, “I’m playing him”?

I don’t want to give anything away, but Patrick has an emotional depth that is hidden and once I discovered that he had a release of some sort over the course of the movie, I knew that he was just like me. My initial response to him was that we’re very different people, but when I saw that, I knew he was just a boy crying on the inside and wanted to be loved. And it’s one moment in a movie that can separate a great character from a normal character. And Patrick’s a great character, because he’s funny, he’s well-rounded, he’s active and he is dying on the inside. He’s a real-life human being on the page.

You’ve worked with some amazing directors in your career already, so what was it like working with Kenneth compared to your previous directors on this film?

Right off the bat, it’s different because I’ve never played a character who’s this meaty and who has this much screen time. So right away, I’ve never gotten the same amount of attention from any other director. But what separates Kenny from most everyone, but what he has in common with Wes Anderson, is his attention to detail. There’s really nothing, other than the fact that their movies couldn’t be more different, the amount of detail, their scripts are literally from start to finish engineered, every single moment is designed to be the exactly the way it is for a specific reason. And Kenny and Wes both have that in common. And they’re not too different as directors because of it. 

 I read that Casey Affleck is one of your acting heroes; what was it like going into making this film, knowing who you’re going to be playing opposite, and how did you guys build the uncle-nephew chemistry?

 It was incredibly intimidating. I also have to do a Boston accent in this movie, and it’s no mystery to anyone that Casey is from that area ... him, Matt Damon—they’re “the Boston guys”—so it was very scary having to play another Boston accent character with him. But, at the same time, going into the experience, as Lucas, I was very interested in getting Casey’s approval, and it’s the exact same thing that Patrick wants.

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Courtesy of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions.

So, I really didn’t have to leave myself at all to play the role, and our dynamic was almost laid out for us in that I just want Casey’s love, I want his respect, because he’s my hero. And it’s really the same thing for Patrick and Lee, so in that respect, we didn’t really have to search for anything, it was already laid out for us.

Did Casey have any words of wisdom that you were able to apply while filming?

Yes. I remember there was one day, Casey was ... I think he was having a tough day, and he was like, “This is a perfect lesson for you, Lucas. Everything that’s going on with me right now, I’m going to bring in with me to this scene. Everything that’s going on with Casey, I’m bringing in for Lee.” So there’s really no difference between what goes on with Lucas and what goes on with Patrick. Everything that happens with Lucas is also happening with Patrick. And I think a mistake that a lot of actors make is that once you say action, it’s like, “Here we go ... into the scene, into the world,” when in reality, there’s no distinction between action and cut, you’re always living as Lucas and Patrick. Every experience you have influences the work that you do in every scene and to deny that would be a disservice to yourself.

Your character Patrick has a lot going for him. He’s got hockey, he’s got his band, he’s got the girls, but he has a huge tragedy take place. At first, the audience sees what we can assume is basic acceptance of what has happened and then we quickly learn that all is not what it seems. What was your approach to these really emotionally gripping types of scenes? 

Kenny and I talked about this a lot. My mom and my dad are both very healthy and alive and well, but having spoken to Kenny, people deal with grief in very weird ways. I was talking to my best friend around the time that I got this movie, and he was telling me that when he found his grandfather died, he laughed. He literally just let out a laugh. He didn’t think it was funny, he just laughed, his body just created that response for him. And Kenny is very interested in moments like that. He’s very interested in the truth, but in ways that films don’t typically portray it. So Patrick’s response to his dad’s death is: I’m going to invite my friends over, because I want to hang out with my friends and I want to eat pizza. And he’s not really aware of this almost, like, monster ... there’s this huge well of emotion that’s just growing inside of him. And then, when he’s off-guard in the middle of the night, and he’s going to get a snack, it just all comes out and it hits him. … And it all comes crashing down. 

Fortunately, we film on different days, so on a day where I’m supposed to be playful, I can just be playful, I don’t have to worry about my inner-life. I can just have a good time, because that’s what’s going on with Patrick. But then on the day with the freezer scene, I made the decision to not talk to anyone the entire day. I talked to a friend of mine—I asked for help—I was like, how can I do this? I’m really worried about this scene, and she said, “Why don’t you try not talking to anyone all day long, so that when it does come time for you to do the scene, your relationship with your words will be completely different, because the need to communicate will be so great.” Essentially, just my senses were heightened.

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Lucas Hedges and Casey Affleck in Manchester By The Sea. Photo by Claire Folger. Courtesy of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions.

What are you hoping audiences take away from this film?

I hope it strikes a chord within, I hope it takes them into their own lives and it allows for them to have some sort of release about something they’ve been struggling with. Yeah, I hope it helps them release some sort of tension. It’s almost like, we go there, so you don’t have to, so you can ease yourself into that place where you’re afraid to go. I hope the audience gets to go to the place that they’re afraid of going and gets to discover that it’s not so scary to cry, to mourn for someone you’ve lost. 

As a young actor, what did you personally take away from the experience of working on this film?

So I’ve been studying acting for this past year at a conservatory, and the goal of an acting conservatory is to give you experiences that you’ve never had before in the space, as an actor, so that they’re yours, because you don’t have something that’s yours until you’ve lived it. And what this movie was for me was the living of a very extreme situation. Living out of a very extreme situation as an actor. And in doing that, I now take that with me. I have that forever as a human being and it changes the way that I live and breathe when I do get up in front of people. It doesn’t feel like I was necessarily given something, in terms of like, okay, now I know that I can memorize lines in this way or that. It feels like I’m a different person. Almost like my dad died, I coped with it, and I came out the other end and now I’m a new man. It’s similar to that, I lived and had a living and breathing experience, and now I’m a different person. 

Being that you’re a student, what was the dynamic like, where one day you’re working in a classroom and next, you’re on a film set with Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams?

Definitely very weird, and made my relationship with the training complicated. I believe that I try to approach every film set as a student, because I think that a scene can be in progress and be a masterpiece at the same time. The best pieces of work are in process and aren’t complete, but it’s almost like going into this, going onto a film set saying, “Alright, I’m a student right now, I don’t know the answers,” is what allows for discovery and for truth to occur. And going on and sort of saying, “I’m a film actor, and I’ve made it,” is what suffocates life. So, I still see myself as a student on a project like this. The reason why I still want to go to school is because I have so much to learn and so much to experience. 

At the Academy, we have our School of Acting and the School of Motion Pictures & Television, where our own students are taking classes, beginning to learn the business, going out on auditions and taking part in school productions. As a student yourself, what advice would you give to our student actors?

I would say love yourself. I would just say that nothing is worth it and you will never feel good about your work unless you love yourself. And if you don’t feel good about your work, then why are you doing this? So, if you want to be an actor—and this is what I’m working on right now—just find a way to love yourself, because it’s a very hard world to love yourself in and it’s a very hard industry to love yourself in. And if you love yourself, there’s genuinely nothing you can’t do. I totally believe that. 

 

Manchester By The Sea opens in the San Francisco Bay Area on Friday, November 25.