At 20, Lucas Hedges is the youngest nominee at this year's Academy Awards, and his performance in Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea has earned him comparisons with Timothy Hutton, who was also 20 when he was nominated for Robert Redford's Ordinary People in the same category Hedges finds himself in this year, Best Supporting Actor. The son of filmmaker Peter Hedges, who is best known for writing the Leonardo DiCaprio drama What's Eating Gilbert Grape and directing the Oscar-nominated Pieces of April, Hedges has quickly proven himself a versatile young actor, wry and youthfully sarcastic in Manchester, a part he had to audition for at least five times, and brooding and devastating for his stage debut in Anna Jordan's Yen, now off Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. (The production closes in a week.) In fact, Hedges' eagerness to tackle emotionally demanding roles underscores a zest for acting that he's cultivated since he was just a young kid, and so wanted to act that he used to memorize the birthdays of famous child actors. We won't know until Sunday if Hedges will triumph in his category—his competitors are veterans actors like Jeff Bridges and Michael Shannon and newcomer Mahershala Ali of Moonlight—but it is worth remembering Hutton won his year, and he was up against Jason Robards and Joe Pesci, for his performance in Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull no less.
What was the very first thing that you auditioned for?
The first thing I ever auditioned for was a movie called Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. And, this is kind of a secret, but it came down between me and the one other kid for it, but I didn’t get it, so. [Laughs]
Were you acting a lot at the time? Was that something you had wanted to do?
Well, my dad’s a filmmaker and my mom’s an actress. She was the original understudy, actually, for Harper in Angels in America and did the show for about several months while she was pregnant with my older brother. And so I grew up obsessed with film and filmmaking. IMDb was my first love, but I never considered that it would be a possibility for me to be an actor. I was an actor in my dad’s movie [Steve Carrell drama] Dan in Real Life, and I got cut from the movie.
You were cut?
I was cut.
Your father cut you?
My talking scene was cut, but I’m actually in the last scene of the movie, and I stare directly into the camera at one point. There was no reason for me to be in the movie to begin with though; I think he sort of put it in just to be nice to me.
Yeah. And so when you would go on IMDb, what was your search like?
Okay, this is actually like kind of sad. At the time, I memorized child actors' birthdays. I think it was actually just because I really wanted to be like them; I really wanted to be an actor, and the only people I could relate to in the industry I guess were other kids. But I’ve had weird talents like that my whole life. Like I can say things—if you give me a word, I can say it backwards. I can juggle five balls. I just I memorize birthdays. Like I memorize all my friends’ birthdays as well. So it wasn’t the only weird talent I had or just weird obsession I guess.
So when you did "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" you got incredibly close to the part. Did you feel frustrated, or did it just spur you onward?
Well, fortunately enough during the scene test of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, there was a producer watching from the next room over on a monitor, and his name was Scott Rudin. [The powerful producer who's again up for an Oscar this year with Denzel Washington's Fences.]
And that meeting Scott through Extremely Loud is probably the reason why I ended up getting Moonrise Kingdom. So, just like a month or two later I had another job and it was a Wes Anderson movie, so I can’t really complain.
In "Moonrise Kingdom" you were kind of—what would be the word? [Laughs] A bully I guess, yeah.
Was that a stretch for you in real life?
I mean, I guess. I’d say it was a stretch, but I can’t entirely say that I was approaching it from a standpoint of like...I wasn’t method. I was really just having fun or trying my best to have fun. So it didn’t feel like I was like Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will be Blood.
So, "Manchester by the Sea" how did that come about?
Funnily enough, I’ve known Kenny since I was like three or four years old; I met him when I was in a stroller. My dad was pushing me down the street and I met Kenny; neither of us remember.
Except your dad. [Laughs]
Except for my dad. [Laughs] But that’s not how I got the audition. I auditioned five times, and, maybe six times actually. I auditioned twice with Casey [Affleck]. And the final time, when he offered me the role, I was actually with my dad. So it was sort of like a reunion. I didn’t burst into tears, but my dad did. [Laughs]
And then you guys filmed in Manchester. How did you get the accent?
Yes, I did a lot of Boston accent research and a lot of listening to recording voice memos and listening to them over and over again.
Like you know the little app on your phone that you record and you play back? I just recorded YouTube videos. I’d watch some S--t Boston Guys Say, which is actually a very reputable source it turns out. And I watched local newscast reports and, like, Mocket Basket videos, which is the local Whole Foods of that area.
Wow. That’s so intense. Have you watched the movie?
I’ve seen it four times. [Laughs]
Does it get to you?
You know, I have yet to have an experience with a film where I can fully divorce myself from the making of it. I find, though, that every single time I watch it I don't know if I can have an experience with the film, but it fills me with—every time it fills me with gratitude. And it takes me back to a time in my life when I was surrounded by I mean Casey, Kenny, Michelle [Williams]—all people I revere. And we made a movie together. I mean I can’t say that for anything else I’ve been a part of. I’ve never been this big of a part of something that I cared so deeply about.
Michelle Williams Could Sleep Under a Banner of Barbra Streisand's Face