With each passing year, Lucas Hedges multiplies his awards season filmography. First there was Manchester by the Sea, for which he was Oscar nominated. Then, last year, much-garlanded turns in Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This year he’s back with no fewer than three films: Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased, in which Hedges takes the lead as a teenager coerced into conversion therapy; his father Peter Hedges’ Ben is Back, in which he plays an addict struggling to reconnect with his mother; and Jonah Hill’s Mid90s, as Ian, a bullying older brother.
You’ve made so many excellent films already, do you just go with your gut when you pick a project?
Well, I just listen for the thing that’s actually really exciting, whether that comes in the form of a filmmaker I think is really special, I really just try to pick the projects that I’m excited to go to work on. I’ve done projects I’m not excited about and it’s just not worth it. Really miserable. So all of these are really just a product of me being like, “Huh, I really would love to spend time with these people on this project.” It’s kind of simple in that respect.
It sounds like you don’t select films for the potential fame and exposure, like a lot of younger actors might.
Exposure and fame are kind of a tricky thing, because I think everybody’s seeking their own version of fame. It just doesn’t necessarily come in the package that a lot of people seek. I suppose I’m trying to protect my reputation at all costs. I mean it just so happens that I’m in pursuit of a different kind of circle that fame is typically packaged in. I very much care about how people perceive me, probably much more than I would like to. But I’m not interested in the kind of projects that would typically give a mainstream notoriety. I’m trying to impress a different demographic, I suppose. I’m just admitting that I do care about those things to a fault.
How did you connect with Garrard Conley and his mom Martha for Boy Erased?
The person I sat down with from the start was Garrard, and I really wanted to see what happened when we met, because I have no interest in telling the story if he’s not interested in me telling it. I don’t want to impose myself on them and his story, because that would make the whole experience not enjoyable for me. The first time we hung out, he mentioned that he was excited about the ways in which we felt similar, but also excited about the ways we felt different from each other.
I’m not playing Abraham Lincoln. I don’t need to copy his vocal patterns; I don’t need to mimic everything about him. It’s a character that’s me within the context of his story. It’s me with all his given circumstances. And it’s his story, so in that respect it took the pressure off of me. Not entirely, because I still very much wanted him to see it and think, “Yep they got it; they got it right”.
What sort of feedback have you had on the film from people who’ve experienced conversion therapy?
By far the biggest blessing of this project has been the responses we’ve had from people who’ve been to these programs. It was very exciting for me to work on something that felt much bigger than me, and much bigger than any project that I’d ever been a part of. It gave me an opportunity to approach it from a selfless standpoint.
I’ve gotten responses from people who have said that they’re estranged from their parents, and now they feel as though if they were to see them, that this movie has given them the words that they didn’t have; that they could speak now. That they have the strength to go where the character goes, which to me is like, “Wow, holy sh*t, that’s insane.”
What about the personal effect it has had on you, and your decision to discuss your own fluid sexuality?
I mean, I want to be as open of a person as possible but I also want to be open within the realm of… I don’t think the world needs to know about my sexuality. You know, I don’t think that’s something that really matters. But given the context of this film and the kinds of questions I’m asked, it felt as though for me to give a very black-and-white answer of just, “Oh I’m straight,” didn’t seem right.
At this point in my life I never anticipated I’d be somebody who would use a project as a platform to be more open about myself to the public. I’m more of a private person, and I like to be as open as possible in the small circle that I exist in. And I don’t see that as a form of hiding either, I just don’t see it as overly demonstrative. It’s not like, just because what I do is public means I feel this responsibility to be a public figure or want to do that. But the circumstances of this project I feel demand that of me. And in a way that has been liberating for me.
You’ve had Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman both playing your mother recently. What did you take away from those experiences?
I feel as though both of them are great examples of people who work a lot but their lives aren’t rooted in their work, they’re rooted in their families. And I think that is the soil from which they work. Julia is a mother and she really is there for her kids, and the same is true of Nicole, so I feel like the kind of actor I’d like to be is somebody who is able to accept my artistry through a deep place of groundedness in my own life.
You were directed by your dad in Ben is Back. What were the highs and lows of that experience?
I didn’t want to work with my dad, just because I thought it would be really uncomfortable, and I had made my mind up about that. But he sent me the script and I was really blown away by it, and I had this feeling after I read it that there was some common thread between this and many of my favorite projects. My favorite movies contain within them contradictions, and when I think about a movie like Get Out, I think it really does a beautiful job of articulating how complex and contradictory the world is today. I felt that there was a confessional in how he wrote this movie, so I wanted to do it.
It was very challenging. I felt kind of an awkwardness and an uncomfortableness from when we were first getting started, and it just required that we get in a rhythm and work and really just dive in to the point where I stopped noticing it. And I feel as though I did, but there are some interesting parallels between the fact that my character’s going on a journey with his mother, and going to places he doesn’t want to go with her. So I think that the uncomfortable nature of being directed by my dad did nothing but inform the work in a more truthful way.
I think Shia is probably one of the most interesting figures in the world today. And I think he is one of the best actors I’ve ever seen. I don’t even know how to describe him, he’s really just so brilliant. And when I read the script it read like something that was necessary for him. It didn’t feel like it was a vanity project of any kind. It felt like something that I imagine poured out of him.
I really desperately wanted to work with him, and I wanted to work with the director Alma [Har’el], and when we met it felt like one of these moments where I was like, “Wow, I’m about to go on a journey that I’m really, really supposed to go on.”
One of the things that’s really cool about Shia is that he doesn’t ask for permission in his art. And I’m somebody who’s constantly worried about whether or not what I’m doing is being received well, so I’m constantly almost asking if this choice is the right choice. But to do this movie, I stopped asking and I just did it.