The Sundance Film Festival is officially underway, and with the influx of indie dramas, foreign docs and potential one-day Oscar winners comes a crop of rising new talent, making their big screen debuts. Part of that pack is Lucas Hedges, who joins Kyle Chandler, Michelle Williams and Casey Affleck in the Matt Damon-produced “Manchester by the Sea.”
Hedges, 19, followed in his dad’s footsteps and is attending the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, studying theater. His dad, Peter Hedges, was also his introduction into the world of film: Peter is an Oscar-nominated screenwriter who wrote, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “About A Boy,” and “Dan in Real Life” (which he also directed, and where Lucas got his first bit part).
“My dad was a playwright in New York in the late eighties, early nineties, while Kenneth Lonergan was a playwright,” Hedges says, says over the phone. He’s taking a quick lunch break between classes and packing (he flies to the festival the next day). Lonergan, who wrote and directed “Manchester by the Sea,” is no stranger to Sundance; in 2000 he won the Grand Jury Prize for “You Can Count on Me.”
Hedges grew up in Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill, frequently “going to my dad’s sets,” he says. “He had a chair for me on ‘Dan in Real Life’ with my name on it, when I was in fourth grade.” It was a middle-school play production though when his big break came, as the casting director for “Moonrise Kingdom” was in the audience and eventually cast Hedges in the film, his first role.
“I did a theater program the summer of my junior year of high school, and one of the plays we went to go see was ‘This Is Our Youth,’” he says, which Lonergan wrote. “And when I was a senior in high school, I was actually doing scenes from that play in my acting class, and then I was sent the script for a movie of his. So I went from doing scenes in my acting class with his work to working with him on a movie — which was, literally, living a dream.”
“Manchester by the Sea” is set in Boston’s North Shore and tells the story of an uncle raising his nephew after the boy’s father dies. “Casey was one of the names that really pulled me in. I’ve always been a huge fan of his,” Hedges says. “At first, it was extremely intimidating because it’s a movie where I have a Boston accent, and he’s one of the quintessential Boston actors.”
And while his days on set with his screenwriting dad have taught him a thing or two about scripts, he still was a bit intimidated reading Lonergan’s words. “His style of writing is hyper-realism, it’s extremely naturalistic,” Hedges says, of Lonergan. “It’s very easy and fun to work with his words.”
What’s next for the young actor? “Well, I’m doing a scene from William Inge’s ‘Picnic’ for my acting class right now, so that’s what I’m working on,” he says. But, in lieu of a summer internship or job, “I’m going to look for work.”
When not in voice class or weekending at Sundance, Hedges and his three best friends host screenings of the “Harry Potter” films in their suite, or play music together. “I’m teaching myself how to play the banjo right now,” he says. “It is very North Carolina.”
But any likelihood of working with his dad is far off at the moment — as any 19-year-old would feel. “Getting directions from my dad,” he says, “just seems so nauseating.”