ENTERTAINMENT

Lucas Hedges Knows What You're Saying About Him Online

For the charming young actor, who appears in the new movies "Let Them All Talk" and "French Exit," navigating fame has become a balancing act.
Lucas Hedges, seen here in "Let Them All Talk" and "French Exit."
Lucas Hedges, seen here in "Let Them All Talk" and "French Exit."

Lucas Hedges doesn’t want to be That Guy Who’s In Everything. At 24, he’s more circumspect about his public image than many celebrities twice his age.

Anointed a Hollywood golden boy in the wake of his 2016-2017 breakout ― “Manchester by the Sea,” “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” ― Hedges is aware how easy it is to become overexposed. He’s taking steps to preserve a semblance of anonymity, like keeping his Instagram account private. And after a couple of high-profile lead roles in 2018, Hedges realized that, for now, he prefers meaty supporting parts, like the ones he has in the new movies “Let Them All Talk” and “French Exit.”

Both films are comedies with a gentle melancholy at their core. In “Let Them All Talk,” which premiered last week on HBO Max, he plays the pleasant nephew of a famed novelist (Meryl Streep) who invites him and two old friends (Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest) to accompany her on an important cruise. It’s an expressive role, full of puppy-dog charms ― especially compared to “French Exit” (due out Feb. 12), in which Hedges portrays an emotionally stunted snob whose imperious mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) relocates them to Paris when her finances dry up. They, too, travel by cruise, encountering various eccentrics along the way.

Hedges and I met for coffee in 2017 when he was first adjusting to the whole fame thing. Three years later, he’s still adjusting. Over Zoom this week, we talked about being a known commodity, his new movies, his many A-list movie moms, and observing what people say about him on the internet. 

Your characters in “Let Them All Talk” and “French Exit” are polar opposites, almost.

Yeah, definitely, in a way. They do both feature cruise-ship sequences. And neither of them have really taken ownership of their own lives. Tyler in “Let Them All Talk” is trying to make the most of his life. But at the same time, their lives are [designed] so that it’s most convenient for them to ride on the coattails of the older women in their lives. But that also seems to be a somewhat consistent theme in the movies I do.

I’m sure I’m hardly the first person to comment on the number of A-list movie moms that you have had over the past few years.

Yeah, I don’t know what spiritually is going on in my life that has resulted in this, but I definitely just keep being drawn to these projects.

Meryl Streep and Lucas Hedges in "Let Them All Talk."
Meryl Streep and Lucas Hedges in "Let Them All Talk."

Let’s rewind a minute before we get into these new movies. Late 2018 was thought to be the season of Lucas Hedges. You had “Ben Is Back,” “Mid90s,” “Boy Erased” and “The Waverly Gallery” on Broadway. At the time, did it feel like, “This is my year”? And does it feel that way in retrospect?

I think it felt like it was my year in a way that made me uncomfortable. I felt like I was just in everybody’s face, like I was like, “Hey, everybody!” I think it felt like too much for me. I’m still trying to understand how I want to act in movies and how I want to engage with this profession. One of my favorite ways is by playing supporting roles. That’s just been really fun for me. I mean, “Mid90s” was definitely in my bag in the supporting regard. The other two [lead roles] were more foreign. Also, when “Manchester” came out, I was doing a play, too, and I was doing a play as all those things were coming out. So you’re totally right that it was intense. On my birthday, I had to wake up at 6 a.m. to do “Good Morning America” for “Ben Is Back.” It was kind of endless.

But your question is like, yeah, the year of Lucas Hedges. I don’t know. I am having a slightly dissociative experience. Especially in the last year, nobody recognizes me since COVID. I haven’t acted in a movie in a year. When people mention that they’ve seen me in something, I’ve forgotten a little bit that I do even act in movies.

Sure. I think we’ve all forgotten parts of ourselves in the past several months. So do you mean you had a period where you felt like strangers were approaching you a lot, which has tapered off some?

This year, yeah. I mean, I’ve been in houses. Like, I haven’t been leaving places for the year, but I was in Maine and Montauk and now I’m in Arizona, and I would say 1000% I feel like I honestly can’t really imagine that people know who I am. I’m not even joking. It’s really surprising to me, and when I do look up myself on the internet I’m like, “What? Wait, how have I been to all those places? When was I there?”

“There” being the places where you filmed these movies?

No, [doing] press. Like, when was I taking this photo with that person smiling? I’m like, “What is going on?” So I’d say that, in retrospect, yeah, it was a lot. It was so much. But I think it’s really understandable because we’re sort of taught to believe in this industry that when you get your moment, you just go for it. I guess my mindset became that I thought I could handle more than I actually can. I’m not saying I couldn’t handle it. What I am saying is it was very overwhelming for me.

Specifically, being the face of those movies?

Yeah, totally, and then I don’t really want to be the actor that everyone’s like, “You’re in everything!” That’s not dope to me. That’s the beginning of the end, in my mind. The second actors are in everything, I’m like, “Get them out of my life.” 

Nicole Kidman and Hedges in "Boy Erased."
Nicole Kidman and Hedges in "Boy Erased."

It creates a very predictable cycle, too, because then you have somebody like, for example, Jennifer Lawrence, who went through a phase of saying, “OK, I need to take two years off because I’m overexposed.” 

Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s a good person to bring up, but at the same time, I never got bored of her. But I wasn’t also seeing every Jennifer Lawrence movie. I was just like, “Oh, she seems great.” But it’s true. I mean, I think there’s so much to be said for going away and then coming back. One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is the culture and what the culture loves. When I say “the culture,” do you know what I’m referring to?

I assume you mean the zeitgeist, what the conversation is at any given moment, so to speak. That’s always a vague notion anyway.

Yes, it’s elusive and mysterious, but there are certain people that the culture — like Twitter — latches onto and swarms around in the world that we live in. I don’t know what it was like in the ’80s or even the ’70s. I’m sure it was the same but just manifested a little differently. But it’s hard not to think about the second I put myself out into the world as an actor. Immediately, in my experience so far, it becomes understood through the lens of the culture. That is partially something that I am excited about but also terrified of. I think the second I feel like I am a piece of the culture, suddenly that’s when I dissociate most, when I’m like, “Wait a second, what? What’s going on right now?”

You mentioned the way the culture vaults certain people into these trendy internet-y buzz names. Do you feel like you’re one of those people?

I feel that on and off. I definitely had some people sending me some interesting and funny tweets these past few days, which made me really happy.

And what was the tone of those tweets?

This is so funny. This girl Natalie Walker tweeted, like, “If Paddington Bear was American, it would be Lucas Hedges.” I’ve never seen that movie, but I thought it was funny. My favorite tweet my brother sent me is [from] this guy — he’s like, “Lucas Hedges is attractive, and he should have the career that Timothée Chalamet has, and this isn’t a knock against him, but he looks just like the two lead guys in ‘Mr. Meaty.’” Do you know “Mr. Meaty”?

No, but it sounds funny based on how much you’re laughing right now.

I’ll show you. The funny thing about it is that was my favorite TV show growing up, and they are the weirdest-looking puppets, but I do look like them. [Hedges pulls up a picture of the characters on his phone.] This show was so inspiring and weird, and I see it as being more in my bag and up my alley than a lot of how I think the culture understands me. So in a way, it’s almost like he posed a question in the tweet and then answered it at the same time in a way that is so exciting to me. He almost intuited it, if that makes sense. But I have a very extreme mind, so it’s like I only understand things in extremes usually. 

I guess you do have to dissociate a little bit when you know that people on the internet are so interested in you. Do you have a burner Twitter account?

I don’t, no. I have a secret Instagram because Instagram is fundamentally an incredible platform. There’s nothing better than photos and writing things underneath them. We’re born to look at photos and read whatever is being said underneath them. Now, Instagram’s basically the internet, so it’s shopping, [which] freaks me out. But I just love being able to feel a certain way, take a photo and then write something about it.

Hedges and Saoirse Ronan in "Lady Bird."
Hedges and Saoirse Ronan in "Lady Bird."

But it’s important to you that your Instagram account only be followed by people who are actually in your life, not the entire public.

One trillion percent. It’s so important for me partially because I’m still cultivating and discovering who I am. I actually got this Instagram, and I didn’t have any followers for six months because I just wanted to see what I wanted to post without anybody seeing it, just to actually be like, “OK, where’s my mind at? What do I actually care about?” Then gradually people came in, and the more people came in, I started to notice that the things I posted were different. I saw the shift. I think it’s good and healthy for me to be able to share things with people, but I need to protect my own integrity for the sake of still being able to grow up with myself. 

That’s interesting and very different from how most people approach fame. When those three movies came out in 2018 — and we can fold 2019 into that, too, with “Honey Boy” and “Waves” — they were big festival movies. 

They always are. They always are.

But none of them became what “Manchester” became, or what “Lady Bird” became, in terms of box office or awards season recognition. Since you were more front and center, how did that make you feel?

I felt weirdly it did make me question myself. It feels ridiculous to say this, but I don’t think that many people saw “Boy Erased” or “Ben Is Back” in theaters, and that made me go, “Huh, but I’m on the billboards for those. I’m not on the billboards for the other ones.” So that did make me feel a little insecure.

But that having been said, and then pushing forward to “Honey Boy” and “Waves,” I felt so, so proud of those movies, so proud of how I grew from “Boy Erased” and “Ben Is Back.” I really felt like such a beast last year when those movies came out. Obviously, I thought “Waves” was going to be a movie that the culture would latch onto, like “Euphoria” or something. But I don’t think that many people saw it, although I do have a bunch of friends who saw it who love it so much. I wish it was seen more, but I have no complaints with them not being blockbusters.

I really do feel like the way things are going for me is perfect. I was listening to this Brené Brown podcast last night about endurance. I’m totally a perfectionist and I want things to be amazing now, but I’m also so unsatisfied as an artist. I’m really interested in what’s going to be happening 20 years from now. Of course, the next movie I do, I’m going to be fucking freaking out about whether or not it’s good or bad, or how to do it right. But I want to be like Sam Rockwell. I want to be like those people who just have really been playing this game and know what they’re doing. I still don’t really know what I’m doing.

When I met you a few years ago, I asked you questions about your dating life, and journalists since me have asked you questions about your sexuality. How does that make you feel, and is that part of why you don’t want to put more of yourself out in the world than you have to?

Yeah, I think part of what was hard about “Boy Erased” and the press of it was that I felt the pressure to know more about myself than I actually did. Not only the fact that it was a huge fucking movie that was coming out that I was the lead of, [but] I also really wanted to live in integrity. I really wanted to be honest, and at the same time, my honesty in that moment was still being figured out. But yeah, I would say that I want to protect myself more. I think the more people are talking about very personal things of mine, if I step onto a red carpet or if I’m doing anything in life and it’s like, “Lucas Hedges sexuality, sexuality, sexuality,” it does take something away from me.

I think that is a reflection of the culture, too. I think our culture is very confused, and I think it likes to see me in the terms of sexuality. I understand that because I love seeing other people in those terms, too. But yes, I think that probably does have something to do with me wanting to just grow up in a smaller community. I don’t need to grow up in the web of arms outstretched, just throw myself into the world and carry me wherever the fuck they want.

Hedges in "Honey Boy."
Hedges in "Honey Boy."

When you were approached about “Let Them All Talk,” were you told it would be a heavily improvised movie on a cruise ship with a bunch of veteran A-list actresses?

I had a meeting with [director] Steven [Soderbergh], and I knew he was going to do an improvised movie. He was like, “Whatever you want. You can wear anything you want, you can say anything you want. If you want this character to be a dancer or a rapper, whatever, he can be that.”

Did you think about making him a dancer or a rapper?

I did. For a while, I was trying to make him this kind of hipster guy who would have gone to Dover Street Market with black Air Force 1s, but I didn’t know what that vibe is. I was basing him off of a few people — the kids in my generation who are covered in tattoos, but [like] Zoë Kravitz’s tattoos, so it’s not hardcore. It’s more like artsy hardcore, I guess. Then, all of a sudden, the idea of a dude who wears a lot of fedoras and doesn’t really have a fashion sense came into my mind, [someone who] was into magic. That was going to be my way in, and then I had two weeks and I was like, “I don’t know how to create a character right now who I improvise the whole movie through. I’m just going to wear all of my clothes and just be me.” So that’s what happened.

Did you feel comfortable improvising? Had you done anything like that before?

I felt like “Honey Boy” is where I started developing that skill because I was prepping that character for a long time. Whenever he stepped into a space, he had to know how to fill in the gaps with language. That was the thing when I was studying Shia [LaBeouf] at the time: He always knew what to say, so I got that from that character. Then some of “Waves” was improvised. I felt totally comfortable. I love doing that.

Steven said in a recent interview that every day would begin with you and Meryl having breakfast together.

Maybe I’m revealing the magic trick, like the bunny in the hat or whatever. He really just set up a few cameras and was like, “Go.” Then we’d talk for 10 minutes and then sometimes he’d be like, “Let’s get that one more time.” But a lot of times he’d just be like, “All right, we’re good.” So yeah, it was really just me and Meryl talking. I just got to just say what I wanted to her, and it was really easy in that way.

What is it like to watch yourself in an improvised movie as opposed to a fully scripted one like “French Exit,” where you knew what everyone was going to say the entire time?

It’s much easier to watch myself in an improvised movie because there’s less effort. When I watch myself in scripted movies, there’s something I’m trying to do in those movies. I’m trying to capture something. Even when it’s really good, there’s a lot of room in my mind for error. I’m squirming in my seat when I watch myself in scripted movies.

Michelle Pfeiffer and Hedges in "French Exit."
Michelle Pfeiffer and Hedges in "French Exit."

Interesting. I guess I was assuming you would say the opposite because not knowing what to say next might leave you vulnerable. What if it goes off the rails? With a script, it’s like you have a comfort object.

Yeah, that is exactly what it is, and that’s the problem with it. The second you have something you can hold onto, the present moment has nothing to do with what you’re holding in your mind. The second it becomes “I know what I’m going to say next,” it goes out the window. When I watch movies, I’m like, “How are they saying what they know they’re supposed to say and making it look so effortless?” I’m still baffled by that. There are some people who do it so well. One of my favorite performances — maybe of all time and certainly of this year — is Jack Grazer in “We Are Who We Are.”

Me too. I love him.

I bow down to that kid. Holy shit.

That is the perfect example of a show that is fully scripted, but his performance feels entirely improvised because it’s so relaxed.

One trillion percent, one trillion percent. That’s what I want to do, and what’s coolest about when I see that performance is a part of me knows how to do that when I see him do it, but he’s doing it with such fluency that he’s showing the way.

In “French Exit,” your character — and especially Michelle’s character — has a very specific way of speaking. Even the tonality of their speech. What was your approach to how Malcolm would look and sound?

Appearance is the thing that stands out to me most, and the thing that I’m most proud of in that movie is how I look in it. I think we killed it with the costume. I wear one suit the entire time, and I tried to get it so that I would wear Hokas the whole movie. I wear them because I think that he’s just obsessed with feeling comfortable and like he can almost give the absolute minimum on everything. Which I relate to, sadly. I wish I could say I did have a specific angle on the vocality, but I don’t know the answer to that. I love the writer [Patrick deWitt]. I loved his voice, and to this day, Malcolm’s a mystery to me. The more I tried to understand him, sometimes the more confused I became. But I was down for it because I loved the story so much and I trusted it, but I also didn’t understand it at the same time.

Malcolm is insensitive, dry and lackadaisical. Tyler is sort of the opposite. He’s more engaged with his surroundings, and he gets a real puppy-love moment. Is one more fun than the other?

Malcolm, I see him as just truly lost. He doesn’t belong. This is why he wears Hokas with his suit. There’s no sense to it. I think his is a deep hopelessness, honestly, whereas Tyler is just a normal guy like me. There were some moments in which Malcolm was more fun to play, but I don’t have a preference. I also feel like whichever filmmaker reads this interview might feel a little scorned.

Before I let you go, I would love to do a free association with your movie moms. Tell me what comes to mind with each of these women.

Oh, fun.

We’ll go in chronological order by release. First, Frances McDormand in “Three Billboards.”

My experience with Frances McDormand is pretty much exactly the same as my experience watching her in movies. I asked for her help before a scene because I thought I had to be emotional in the scene, and she was like, “Come into my trailer.” She was doing work with a dialect coach. She had me do the scene and then she coached me. She was like, “You can’t think about emotion.” Then I did the scene and immediately started crying when I was doing the scene, which didn’t happen in front of the camera, but it was just a beast moment where it was kind of like a Tony Robbins-type vibe where he just looks at you and you find direction. I found direction through the hand that she’s developed over however many years of learning to trust herself.

Next is Nicole Kidman in “Boy Erased.”

My relationship with Nicole was very silly. I feel like I could tell that she liked to laugh, so in a lot of our interim moments, I would do things and say things to her that were sometimes purposefully silly and confusing, and she was always sort of like, “Lucas, you’re silly.” I just loved that. If I saw her on the street today, it would just be joy. She’s just fun.

Julia Roberts in “Ben Is Back.”

Very caring. Nicole I don’t think mothered me ― she wasn’t like, “Let’s take care of you.” But Julia was. I stayed at her house, she made me delicious pasta, and we would drive home together after filming. I think it’s that sturdy mothering hand that stands out, and I really did feel that she cared about me in her very concentrated and strong way, which is powerful.

Julia Roberts and Hedges in "Ben Is Back."
Julia Roberts and Hedges in "Ben Is Back."

A vibe like that with Julia Roberts on “Ben Is Back” almost feels antithetical to the vibe that you would want to capture with Michelle Pfeiffer on “French Exit.”

No, my relationship with Michelle is very similar to my relationship to Nicole. They’re almost identical in a weird way. Except Michelle’s like Julia and Nicole combined because Michelle’s also giving me energy bars and making sure I eat enough food. I became very childlike around her. She liked to call me Mr. Bean because I was so much like Mr. Bean around her, the Rowan Atkinson character.

Michelle is definitely doing a voice in “French Exit.” It’s a breathy, prissy voice. Did you notice her turning it on and off between takes?

She got into it a little before [takes]. I was going to say that I feel like my experience with women is that they’re able to play characters with much less stress and more fluidity than male actors, but my experience with Russell Crowe [on “Boy Erased”] was he was able to just transform into the character. So it’s not a totally general thing, but I’ve never met a female actress who is neurotic in their process. Eighty percent of the male actors I’ve worked with are like that.

[Warning: Spoiler alert below.]

Last one: Meryl in “Let Them All Talk.” Not a mother, but a mother figure.

OK, there’s a scene in the movie where she is dead. We did a bunch of scenes where I came in [to discover the body]. We did it eight times. The one they used, I think, is the first take actually, but after six [takes], I was feeling a little lost and I was like, “Steven, can I just do it wrong?” And Meryl, from her dead position, was like, “Yes, please, please do it wrong.” She just went from being dead to saying that, and I loved that. To have the freedom to do it wrong is where the spontaneity comes from, but just the fact that she was so lit up by that and I think interested in me having that experience was great.

But what does that really mean, doing it wrong?

I think I came in and literally sang it. I literally was singing.

OK, yeah, that seems wrong.

Yeah, that’s wrong. I did it as a whole song. I’m running around the room singing. What it does is I think it fills the air with breath, because what happens when you try to do it right is you stop breathing. You need to breathe and be open, so there have been a few times when the notion of going broad has sparked the fire.

What did you sing?

It was an improvised song. Or maybe it wasn’t. No, I think it might have been “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin.’” That was the one song I sang at acting school, but I didn’t plan on doing that. It just came out when I got in there.

And Dianne Wiest played your mother in “The Corrections” [in 2012], though we’ve never seen that one because HBO didn’t pick up the series.

I can’t believe I was in that. I cannot believe I was in that! That doesn’t make any sense to me. I cannot believe that. In my mind, I’ve never been in a Noah Baumbach project, but I was. That was right around the time of “Moonrise Kingdom.” I remember it did coincide [with] this movie I really wanted, “The Way, Way Back.” Do you know that movie?

Yeah, with Toni Collette. 

They told me they were considering me and one other person, the boy who got it [Liam James]. My manager called and said, “You didn’t get the part and they’re not going forward with ‘The Corrections.’” It was just a double whammy. I think my manager felt like, “This is going to be really tough for him, this whole mess, being a kid and having tough news broken to you that you didn’t get a part in a movie.” It’s just kind of funny.

Well, I’m really glad to get to catch up with you, and I really loved both of these movies.

Oh, good, yes. It’s so fun having “Let Them All Talk” come out right now because everyone’s dying to see something. It weirdly is a great time to drop something I think because people just want to talk about things. I’m very happy about it. This is the last thing I’ll say: Have you seen “Postcards From the Edge”?

Yeah, of course.

Isn’t that the best movie ever?

The best movie.

It’s the greatest thing ever. I saw it in preparation for [“Let Them All Talk”] because I wanted to see some of Meryl’s stuff, and I can’t believe how good that is. That’s one of my favorite movies.

What other Meryl movies did you watch to prepare?

I texted Greta [Gerwig] and was like, “What movies should I see of hers?” I only watched two movies in preparation: that and “My Dinner With Andre” because we had cast dinners to get to know each other, and Meryl was like, “My dream for this movie is that it’s like ‘My Dinner With Andre.’” And Deborah Eisenberg, the writer with Steven, was like, “I love you, Meryl, thank you so much.” 

“Postcards” is good prep in terms of Meryl movies. There’s some DNA between those two characters, the kind of haughty, self-mythologizing artist types.

She’s almost like a teenager in that movie, too, because in the presence of her mom she’s just a girl, and I’d never seen that from her. I’ve recently just seen “Kramer vs. Kramer,” which she’s so incredible in.

Maybe this is contradictory to everything we were saying about “Boy Erased” and “Ben Is Back,” but speaking of HBO, does part of you want a tentpole blockbuster like “Dune”?

No. No, I don’t want that. Those worlds don’t play on any parts of myself I find very interesting. Maybe I’d like to one day play a villain in one of those worlds. That would work for me. But even that, it’s like, actually, the villains are just as basic as the movies are in a lot of cases. When I see those movies, there’s nothing exciting, other than, like, “Denis Villeneuve is a fucking beast, and I want to watch his movies and die inside of them.” But I can’t imagine me being in an action scene, fighting somebody off. That sounds crazy. I’d play a Jeremy Renner-type role in “Arrival.” That would be sick. The dream movie for me in those worlds would be an “Alien” movie, one of those ensemble pieces. But even then, I’d like to play a supporting role because they’re more interesting to me. I feel like the “X-Men” platform can be really exciting, but I doubt I’d want to sign on to a five-movie deal, so in conclusion, probably no.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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