The acclaimed actor and VMAN40 cover star redefines the Hollywood leading man.
The acclaimed actor and VMAN40 cover star redefines the Hollywood leading man.
This interview appears in the pages of VMAN40: The New Vanguard Issue, hitting newsstands on August 23. Pre-order your copy today at shop.vmagazine.com!
Star-making supporting roles in awards-show favorites, from Manchester by the Sea to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, made Lucas Hedges Hollywood’s golden boy. But for his first leading role, Hedges defies the typical leading-man trajectory, starring in Boy Erased as a victim of gay conversion therapy. Here, Hedges, who will also star in Mid ‘90s and Ben Is Back by the year’s end, reflects on his generation’s progressive values, gay visibility, and more with Boy Erased costar Troye Sivan.
Troye Sivan You are so young. Do you ever get overwhelmed with how quickly everything is happening for you?
Lucas Hedges Yeah, for a straight year I felt that way and I still do. The first year when Manchester by the Sea came out was very overwhelming and exciting. But for the most part, I just felt like I was high on Adderall the whole time. It was really sensory overload. I think I do still feel that way, but I’m realizing that the more I see behind the curtain, the less I idolize people I see on screens. I have an increasing fascination with what’s going on outside of this world. Like, what are my high school friends doing? I’m really perceiving the camera as something else right now. The more I can remove the barriers and walls that I used to hide behind in front of the camera, the more it’s really exciting to share myself through the camera to the world.
TS I’m really interested in your relationship with masculinity, because I feel like that’s always been a very clear-cut thing that I never had. I didn’t ever do anything that was stereotypically masculine. I didn’t ever play a sport; I obviously didn’t like girls. All that stuff was just not a thing to me and I feel like you, as a creative, sort of toe that line.
LH It’s interesting that you asked me this because yesterday, my friend painted my nails, so I have this blue nail polish on right now. I’m walking around Florida right now and I’m noticing people look at me, like, “Wait, is that, huh?” At first, I hear the voice of the kids I grew up with, and the judgment of this familiar masculine voice I grew up around: “It’s weird for you to do this.” I also had this big golden hoop earring in and I experienced myself as beautiful. It was almost as if I was honoring and respecting my own beauty in a way that is not very typical in a masculine world. I think one of the most beautiful ways to portray a man is for them to get as muscular as you want, but also honor the beauty, you know? It seems like [men] put all their eggs into the “handsome” or “strong” basket. I think that’s such bullshit. This image of really muscular—and at the same time feminine—men is a beautiful collision. Somebody like Robert Mapplethorpe was able to depict such beautiful male figures. He has these photos of flowers, and then these gorgeous big male bodies. That’s just very intriguing to me.
TS It’s just so cool to me that you’re not scared of it. That stuff was always just so tough for me because I knew that I couldn’t be that, but I also knew the alternative was really, really terrifying. It feels like you’re not scared.
LH That’s really sweet. Thank you. It’s also having friends like you really help me out; you introduced me to Palomo Spain, that company that puts those gorgeous dresses on men, and it was like, Whoa, I want to wear that.
TS Did you ever get shit as a kid for being creative and into the arts?
LH I got shit for being way too sensitive. I remember every single time I got in an argument with somebody, tears would just inevitably come into my eyes. If anything got physical, I’d cry. Most of the shit I got was just for being weird. I always had a very weird sense of humor. I would play characters—just invent creatures and be them.
TS Was that what drew you to acting at an early age?
LH I think so. But most of the acting I’ve done has been very straightforward independent film roles, when in reality, I’m actually a very weird person. I’m definitely trying to figure out how to coax it out of me because I’m still very wary of the fact that that’s the thing that people didn’t like about me as a kid, so in order for me to survive, I had to cover that up. We’re all such anomalies. What’s the great James Baldwin quote, “The place in which I’ll fit will not exist until I make it”? We’re kind of following in people’s footsteps, but the only way in which we actually will belong is if we pave the path for ourselves.
TS Right. I love that. What made you want to do Boy Erased?
LH Well, I read the book and fell in love with [author] Garrard [Conley]’s voice and heard my own; I really heard myself in his voice. Every room he walked into, any look he got, he felt as if he had done something wrong; I sympathized so much with that. That’s how I always felt. I felt like he was a hero. I wanted to play somebody who genuinely climbed to the top of a mountain and slayed a dragon in his own way. I felt like, if I’m gonna learn anything about life, it’s going to be through a character like this.
TS What are you trying to achieve by making a movie like this?
LH I’ve never worked on a movie that has historical as well as artistic significance. The sweatshirts they gave us listed all the states in which gay conversion therapy is still legal, with “Coming Soon” written above, and then all the states in which it is not. I thought, Okay, it’s actually not about me, it’s about the fact that there’s an enormous amount of good that this movie can do right now. Perhaps the obvious and most truthful answer is hopefully it has some lasting effect on the world, with respect to making gay conversion therapy illegal. I hope it has that much power. That would be the dream.
TS I’m on the same page. That would be insane. Was there anything specifically challenging about Boy Erased?
LH I’d never had the lead role, and been in every scene.
TS Wait, this was your first lead? Oh my God, how were you so calm?
LH I mean, I was burning alive inside. It was crazy. I felt like I had a lot of crazy voices in my head that were really judging myself, but also supporting myself, you know? Also, getting to work with Nicole Kidman was something in and of itself that made the experience individual and unlike anything else. I couldn’t believe how generous and special she was. She was so good. It was really eye-opening working with Russell Crowe, and seeing how rich his process is. He studies every single detail of the character, and he’ll be with the props guy for hours, figuring out the watch, the pen; everything is so specific. I always thought it would be a burden to ask that much of them, but everybody really just wants to do great work. I wanted very badly to emulate both of those actors, but at the end of the day, there’s no way other than me finding my own way.
TS I just want to know your happiness level. Are you good?
LH [Laughs.] Thank you for that. I’m honestly doing probably the best I’ve done in my adult life. Like, I feel weird. I feel like I’m bragging. I really feel like I’m on my path, like I’m not lost. I mean, I obviously get lost every other day, but I’m not getting lost doing something I don’t love. I truly feel like I am heading exactly where I need to be heading and the amount of relief I feel in knowing that, is like, I can’t tell you. Because I think two years ago, I felt like I was completely in the dark about what to do with my life.
TS What changed?
LH You know, it’s a really strange thing because I think one of the things that led me to this place is that I went to college because I thought I would be perceived as, like, the man. I thought if I went to this acting school, everyone would think I was just the greatest actor. But in reality, it went the total opposite. I sort of got shat on, and rightfully so. I wasn’t really doing great work. I was expecting it to be handed to me. So I went there with all the wrong intentions and yet there were a few teachers who gave me all of the teaching I needed. It really is mind-blowing to me, but I see all the good in my life today as coming from just surrounding myself with people who light a fire underneath my feet. It’s really mind-blowing how much good can come from making choices that make you feel good.
TS What do you think distinguishes our generation from previous ones?
LH The definitions of what it means to be a human being are really shifting. I think there’s a lot of open minds in our generation. Particularly seeing sexuality as something that’s become more fluid is very exciting for me. To have people like Frank Ocean, who’s an openly gay rapper is like, I don’t know. I love the idea that gayness is becoming cool. I just think that’s awesome. There’s nothing weird about it at all. I think that’s something that’s already setting our generation apart. It’s obviously not the whole world and not all of America, but I imagine that the next generation will be miles ahead of us. They’ll be doing stuff that we’ll look at and be like, “What? How did they do that?”