Manchester By The Sea is simply stunning. From capturing the light and atmosphere of a small fishing town through the cinematography of Jody Lee Lipes, to capturing the frozen crunch of ice-skate blades in a hockey rink through the sound mix of Jacob Ribicoff, there are many aspects that make Manchester by the Sea a visceral emotional journey about grief and integrity.
Casey Affleck plays Lee, the errant wanderer of a tight-knit family forced to return to the town he left behind after learning his brother has died. Lee has been assigned to care for his suddenly fatherless nephew, as his legal guardian. Affleck and Michelle Williams are earning raves as two broken halves of a damaged couple, while Lucas Hedges rises to their lofty level as Patrick, Lee’s orphaned nephew, who must struggle to adjust to the tragic vacancies in his life.
Hedges had a small role in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel but this year brings him to the forefront of the Oscar race. Hedges and I caught up recently to talk about Manchester By The Sea. We touched upon his experience with Anderson, and how it compared to working with Kenneth Lonergan. “Kenny’s films are of the real world,” Hedges says. “With Wes, those films reflect the real world, but they don’t fall into the category of realism.”
Awards Daily: How did you find Patrick?
Lucas Hedges: In some respects, Patrick was fundamentally the same as me, and in some other respects, he was different from me. The thing that I just had to start out with was that Patrick just wants to be loved. He doesn’t have a mom and he doesn’t have a dad. His uncle is essentially a robot, and a ghost of himself. So, he has to fill his life with tons and tons of activity in order to preoccupy himself to prevent himself from going into despair.
I can totally relate to the idea of wanting to be loved, and I can use my imagination to feel what it would be like to lose a parent.
What was tough for me, was finding his toughness because I’m not a tough person and I don’t have that facade. I don’t know how to intimidate people or be somebody who can really stand up for himself if I were to get into an altercation. Kenny was really helpful with me and said, “I want you to create in your mind, memories in which you’ve been in fights and come out victorious.” So that it would be real to me and it wouldn’t be something that I was playing, it would be a part of my history. That’s what I did, and the result was a different posture almost. It was like a different way of walking into the room.
AD: What in particular attracted you to the script?
LH: I have no interest in doing something if the part isn’t good. If the movie can be great, and the part doesn’t interest me, or I don’t feel like I’m serving something, then there’s no point for me to do the movie because I can’t do a good job in something that I don’t care about.
This part was the best part I’d ever read for a teenager. I feel like a great character is made, and one moment can make a great character. Patrick has several moments that make him change from being a normal character into being a well-rounded human being, and somebody who we experience his facade, and then we experience it come crashing down. I don’t get to play many parts where I go to both worlds.
AD: I spoke to Ruth De Jong earlier.
LH: Oh really?
AD: I did. We were talking about authenticity, how she created that look we see. The same goes for your relationship with Casey, that relationship looks very authentic.
LH: That was something I was worried about because we couldn’t look more different. I don’t look like I’m an Affleck [laughs]. The beauty of a great script is, all you have to connect with is what your character wants and trust the words. It’s true in Shakespeare where you just have to put your face in the rhythm and in the words and it will support you. The same goes for Kenny, the more we got out of the way, the better it was and the more we trusted it.
I didn’t get that much time to rehearse because there’s an aspect that served us as they are estranged as people. Patrick knows him, but he doesn’t really know him
AD: You’ve also worked with Wes Anderson who has a unique style, how does that compare to this?
LH: I was really young when I worked with Wes. My experience with him was that he was very specific and has a very specific vision for what he wants. He also knows exactly what he wants.
Kenny’s films are of the real world, and with Wes, those films reflect the real world, but they don’t fall into the category of realism. If you’re going to make a realistic movie, you have to realize that we don’t know all the answers. The nature of how we react to things and what happens every day is unpredictable, and that was something Kenny stressed. There’s no one way to play those scenes. You can’t predict what you’re going to walk in with, and what you’re going to leave with. Ultimately, you have to be surprised.
AD: I’m listening to your accent, and you’re not from Boston. What did you do to perfect that cadence?
LH: I just listen. You have an English accent, and I’m about to do an English accent in a play. So, I’ve been listening to you closely.
AD: My accent is London.
LH: My play takes place in Feltham. Do you know where that is?
AD: Yes, it’s west of London. How exciting for you.
LH: So, what I did was listen to tons and tons of voice memos. So, the key to an accent is to sleep on it. Our bodies digest the accent overnight. I’d do it for thirty minutes a night for two months and by the time we came around to shoot, I felt I had it.
AD: What did you find challenging for you?
LH: I think the humor was the most challenging. I see myself as someone with the capacity to be funny, but I have a different sense of humor than Patrick. The hardest thing was connecting to how he makes fun of his uncle which is a primary source of humor.
AD: You’ve done some TV work; what surprised you when you did that?
LH: Oh yes. I didn’t know going into TV you save your performance for the close up. The beauty of this film is that we stayed in wide which is much like theater that I love. You can give it all in the wide and then you can say goodbye to it. I don’t know why more filmmakers don’t shoot in wide as it seems more truthful to me.
Manchester By The Sea is on general release