In Boy Erased, Lucas Hedges plays Jared Eamons, a 19-year-old boy sent by his parents to Gay Conversion Therapy. The film is based on the Garrad Conley’s memoirs and chronicles his experience when his parents hoped he’d be converted.
The shocking and horrifying truth is that this discredited and destructive practice is still legal and practiced here in many parts of America. Only 14 states have made it illegal. While Joel Edgerton went behind and in front of the camera to tell the story, this is the conversation I had with Hedges. We talked about how Conley’s memoirs helped him understand some of his own feelings.
What struck you most about Garrard Conley’s words?
The clarity with which he writes about his own shame as a human being. I feel he made clear to me my own experience in writing about his. It seemed then like a great opportunity to deal with my own shit through his.
What did Joel say to you about his intentions and what he wanted from you?
I never experienced him like that type of director. He has a vision and how he worked with me and how he worked with the other actors was, “you bring yourself in, I trust you with this, I’m going to take care of this, and but you do your thing.” He’s not one of those who says, “this is what I want you to do.” He let it be like a playground for me which is great because I don’t like working in a space with limitations.
Did the recent timeline of the story surprise you and the statistics?
I honestly wouldn’t say that it’s so surprising because there’s so much going on in the world today. It’s really no different than what’s been going on in the past hundred years in America. It’s just packaged differently or it’s disguised as the world is better now because we’ve taken these steps so we’re good. It did surprise me to the extent with which this is still happening and it’s going on all over the place and it’s not often spoken about.
Are you hoping this film will be seen by those who run the gay conversion therapy groups?
The Trevor Project has partnered with Boy Erased and there’s a campaign called 50 Bills and 50 States. Boy Erased has become a launching pad for this campaign and the goal is to make it illegal in America which is very exciting.
The other aspect is to make it a conversation in the US and offer up some opposition in places where there is none being offered. There are a lot of families sending their kids to these programs without really knowing that these practices have been deemed faulty by every major association. These people don’t have the right to be offering mental health assistance of some kind. I think the more we can help spread the word and help people educate themselves about this issue, the better hope there is of chance.
You’re playing a real-life person. How did that challenge you or push you?
It gave me something to fight for. I really wanted to fight for him. When I didn’t have the inspiration to fight for myself, I had him and that was very helpful. It set the bar high for me because I said that this was literally real. It’s a real person who lived it and will assess this movie one day. I wanted him to feel honored by it.
Was there a particular moment that challenged you during filming?
The last scene we had to reshoot, because I don’t think I got it the first time. For the most part, it was the silence. The fact the character doesn’t speak very much was challenging to tell a story through listening. That’s what I was focused on.
He’s not a guy of many words but your performance conveyed his feelings. This is your first lead role as such. You are in every scene.
It felt like that. That added to the pressure we were talking about. I felt I had to do a lot of heavy lifting which I had more support than I was believing I did. We were all making a movie together and when I see it I realize the ways in which I realize Joel was taking care of me.
This year you’ve also done Ben is Back and you’re also doing Broadway. How do you pick your roles?
I don’t think I can make bad material work. I look for something that if I do it, I’m really sensitive to, that will meet me halfway. That the material will do so much of the job for me. I really look for something that moves me, that I don’t have to move. That’s my biggest criteria because I’m actually like of lazy.
I work my ass off for it. But it has to meet me halfway otherwise I’m not going to do it.
What’s been the reception to the film?
It really seems like it’s been playing well. I had someone come up to me saying they hadn’t spoken to their parents since they had been sent to therapy. He’s getting married soon and that if his parents come to the wedding, he will know what to say to them because of my character. My character says to his dad what he needs to say. He didn’t know he needed to say until he saw it said. He has a blueprint now.
Isn’t that amazing to hear?
It’s the best. A part of me feels it’s too good to be true. But it’s amazing.
What was it like working with Nicole and Russell and having that dynamic of them being your parents?
It was really loving. Nicole and I get along really well. Russell is really sweet. I felt like we all got along and we felt like a family.
Is there a genre you’d like to do next?
Comedy. I’d love to do animated too, I’d love to do a voice.
You’d be great in comedy. Do you get offered it?
I wouldn’t do any comedy, but it would be nice to do. I think about Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Along Came Polly, so something like that.
Let’s talk about Ben is Back. What did you take from his story and playing Ben?
The film accurately tries to depict what it means to live with an addiction. It’s not easily understood by someone who isn’t an addict and what it means to be an addict and how powerless you are over your disease and addiction. Hopefully, this movie can spread a sense of understanding. There is a powerlessness that exists. It exists between those who love addicts and the addict themselves. The people that love addicts and the journey that they go on. It felt like a true story.
Where are you most happy — stage or screen?
On a good day, the stage. On a bad day, film. If I’m having a rough day on stage, there’s nowhere I’d rather be less. If I’m having a bad day on film, it ends. With stage, there’s something never-ending about it. There’s a freedom that comes in theater, I’m not attached to anything. In film, I’m attached. It feels like you’re giving away the rights to something, but in theater, I don’t feel that way.