Lucas Hedges greets me with the exaggerated "heeeyyyy" of an old friend — maybe the friend you made in your Catholic school's theater department, or the friend you fell in love with after your brother went to prison, or the grieving friend with the Boston accent.
Like said old friend, the second my video clicks on he begins interrogating me about a random artifact in the background of my Zoom display. Hedges is all about connections — off-screen, at least.
His latest role (in French Exit, out Feb. 12) is Malcolm, the emotionally ambivalent son of Manhattan socialite in crisis Frances (Michelle Pfeiffer). Here, he doesn't have the old-friend warmth you might associate with a Lucas Hedges character, and he knows this. He finishes my sentence as I begin to describe the bulk of his roles as "sympathetic."
I ask if that perception is something he's trying to shake and his answer is loud and clear, to the point that he apologizes for sounding aggressive: "YES." He then breaks into the ragged, joyous laughter of a 24-year-old who's rightfully enjoying a rare year-long break from filming.
Hedges transitioned from Brooklyn teenager to Oscar-nominated actor in 2017 following the release of Manchester By the Sea, which he filmed when he was 18. It was the sharp, taut start to a string of critically acclaimed performances in which he'd play someone's son, someone's brother, someone's nephew. Going forward, he's planning to take on more independent characters, seemingly for the sake of his mental health if not his résumé.
"I think [my desire to diversify] reflects back on the sort of notion of needing to be taken care of," he says earnestly. "I think that has a toll on my life because it puts me in the position in which people are constantly being gathered around me to help me, and that is quite literally what stunts a human being from growing."
He finds a parallel to this off-set, too. "I think celebrity can become like that," he adds. "You can go through life in which people pay you to take care of you."
Clad in a blue half-zip sweater, his nearly shoulder-length hair tucked behind each ear, Hedges doesn't look the part of "movie star," and he doesn't act it either.
Instead of (politely) counting down the minutes he must spend in virtual limbo with me, Hedges laments that he can't write out his answers to the short-form questions below. He tells me he'd like to type them in order to "give the idiosyncrasy of the way that I process things without having to deal with like, 'does this make sense or not.'" After responding over Zoom, he sends written answers to all of my questions anway, along with a charming note suggesting that I "give the people what they want!!!" by including his revamped responses.
It strikes me as distinctly honor-roll student behavior. I imagine directors love Hedges for this very reason: the desire and willingness to go above and beyond what is asked of him, no matter how ultimately self-serving.
In some ways it feels like we are on set. Hedges doesn't always know exactly what to give me, but he's consistently reaching for something meaningful to share, editing and reorganizing his thoughts for eventual public consumption.
“If nothing speaks to me, then I’m going to do what’s true for me.”
He describes the past four months as "life-changing," crediting a "meaningful" group of friends as well as mentors he worked with in Arizona, but when I ask for more detail he skirts the concrete.
After gathering his thoughts for about 30 seconds, Hedges launches into a monologue about what he's learned, about "clarity." I can't say I understand everything he says and how it applies to our world, but it's clear that, to him, the lesson has been profound.
"There's this illusion that I grew up with, which is that I feel good through sharing what my problems are, but it sort of perpetuates the same problems," he begins. "Clarity comes from being able to take care of somebody else, and that care of somebody else can only come from a genuine place. I can only take care of the people I feel compelled to help. And so it's sort of like listening for what I'm in love with," he says.
In French Exit, Hedges takes on a character he found difficult to understand, but he says that lack of understanding almost aided his performance, as it paralleled his personal state.
"I haven't understood myself for a lot of my life," he confides openly, buoyed by the recent clarity the past months of quarantine have offered. Playing Malcom, he says, was easy "because I had no idea what was going on inside of me." Pre-quarantine, "I was so confused," he offers by way of explanation; "to play that confusion was more natural than to play clarity."
Natural as it may have felt at the time, Hedges dislikes watching himself perform (a sentiment many in his profession have shared). "I feel uncomfortable when it's not true," he says matter-of-factly. "I'm obsessed with myself when I am being true."
There are moments of "truth" in his French Exit performance, but some of it he did "struggle watching." He won't tell me which parts qualify as un-true though — he doesn't want his experience to color the audience's.
After carefully observing Malcolm, a funeral-ready specter with his baggy suits (which Hedges felt "swagged out" wearing) and perpetually dour expression, it seems to me that Hedges embodies the character just as aptly as any other. Again, I'm struck by the image of a straight-A student chafing against his teachers' kudos, certain that his work deserved a lower grade.
"Part of my independence is knowing what's true," he says in regard to the roles he will choose from now on. "And now what needs to come next is the true thing. I'm not like a machine. I can't, like, press a button in me and then, insert any story, make it work. It has to speak to me. And if nothing speaks to me, then I'm going to do what's true for me."
For all of his deeply introspective revelations about truth and clarity, there are also manifestations of twentysomething sad boy mundanity that feel just as on-brand for someone whose youth is immortalized in the A24 catalog. He shares an anecdote about a party he attended in high school in my South Brooklyn neighborhood — "I remember thinking it was in New Jersey, it felt so far away," he recalls. Was it worth the commute? "No, it was a bad party, and I just walked around by myself the whole time."
Below, in a mix of answers Hedges gave me over and Zoom and wrote over email, the actor meditates on villainy, comfort, and his saliva-heavy first kiss.
Who is your celebrity crush?
I don't know why I don't have a crush on anyone right now. Usually I have several, but lately I'm a bachelor of sorts. I'll say perennially I've been a Phoebe Bridgers lad, though.
What's the last thing you do before you fall asleep?
Feel true. That's the last thing I do.
*Email: I sing to myself about Jesus.
I hate villains. I think they're stupid. And I think that they're dramatic and I think we need more good vibes.
I like punk musicians. I think people who are really punk and are threatening to the world in ways that are questioned, that are threatening the status quo.
Would you classify any of the characters you've ever played as villains?
I think my character in Mid90s is the villain. And I think my character in French Exit is a villain at times. In his relationship with Susan, I think he's villainous. Not purposefully, but I think in his lack of clarity, he's like a villain.
Describe a memorable dream.
Every night I choke down beautiful dreams. I have an uncle who tells me that dreams heal us. I think that's true. They wake us up to ourselves.
First album you ever owned?
I think the album with the Nelly song "Hot in Herre," that album. And I think I had an Eminem album, the one with "Mockingbird," I remember. There was a 50 Cent album too — and it was clean, we had the clean versions, but it was the one with the bullet hole. It was all rap. All I had was rap.
Do you still listen to those early albums?
No. I like Nelly's "Hot in Herre," but I don't listen to albums really, in general. I listen to songs.
Favorite cheesy pickup line?
If you use a pickup line on me, I will never speak to you again. I think the best way to go, always, without fail, is to be honest. Any situation in which I have to use a line to meet someone I try to avoid like the plague. If I know you, I know you, but I'm not trying to pick anyone up.
If you were required to spend $1,000 today, what would you buy and why?
I like going to work with teachers, so I would look up the kinds of people I would want to learn from and pay them to teach me.
If you ran for office, what would your slogan be?
It would be "It's time to win." I don't think I'd win, but that's the first thing that came to my mind.
*Email: I'm going to fucking destroy this.
Name one place you've never been but have always wanted to go.
I've always wanted to go to Sweden. I think I just always had an image in my mind of it being really beautiful there and everyone there being really beautiful. And I did go to tennis camp with a few Swedish kids growing up and they brought candy from Sweden, and it was very good candy.
*Email: Paris. I've been, but I want to go again, and every time I leave I feel as though I've never been. How's that? How about that, InStyle? Interesting, no?
What's the most uncomfortable outfit you've ever worn?
I like to be comfortable so much. I was in an HBO miniseries that didn't get picked up and I was in the '70s and I wore a lot of '70s clothes that were very hot and heavy. My dad talks about how uncomfortable clothing was in the '70s.
*Email: I only wear the most steezy, most comfy, most beautiful fits. You won't catch me dead in an uncomfortable fit and that's on god!!!
Describe your first kiss.
I had two first kisses. One of them was during spin the bottle and it was nice, but it was very short. And then the second one I had was at a sort of hot tub party freshman year of high school, and I had no idea how to kiss and our whole faces were covered in saliva. Like this all was covered in saliva [gestures at bottom half of face], like 30 minutes later. It didn't stop. Neither of us knew how to stop.
Favorite Chris: Pine, Pratt, Evans, or Hemsworth?
My least favorite Chris is Hemsworth. Just kidding. I like all of them. I cry when I think of them dying. But in reality, I'll say that the Chris I'd most want to have at Thanksgiving with my family is Evans. I think he'd have a good time and give back to the community.
Last time you cried?
I was writing something the other day and felt so relieved by it that I started crying.
Every bagel I've ever had has saved my life. Plain bagel toasted with cream cheese will be in my arsenal until the day I die. Sometimes I switch it up with some sesame, and sometimes everything, but nothing hits me like a plain bagel toasted with scallion cream cheese.
French Exit opens in select theaters Feb. 12.
Photographs by Tawni Bannister. Polaroid Photos by Lucas Hedges. Special thanks to Polaroid. Production by Kelly Chiello.
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