'Manchester by the Sea' breakout Lucas Hedges readies for his Oscar moment

Heading into his first awards season, Lucas Hedges already has a fun story to tell his school chums about a fan interaction. In his case, though, it was with fellow Oscar hopeful Emma Stone.

The 19-year-old Manchester by the Sea star gets appreciatively gushy as he recalls meeting Stone at the Governors Awards. What would be better, though, is if he could actually remember any of it.

“I blacked out the second I looked into her eyes,” Hedges says with a laugh.

After a cameo in his director father Peter Hedges' 2007 dramedy Dan in Real Life, the actor has his breakout as a scrappy New England kid in Manchester by the Sea (now showing in New York and Los Angeles, rolling out nationally through December).

Played by Hedges, Patrick is a Massachusetts teenager dealing with not only the loss of his fisherman father (Kyle Chandler) but the fact that his Uncle Lee (Casey Affleck) has been named his sole guardian. Tension arises when Lee is stuck in the past, and Patrick just wants to move forward with his life.

What makes him crucial to the film: While most of the adults are saddled with heartbreak of some kind, Patrick is filled with youthful vigor, juggling a pair of love interests and making grand plans to take over his dad’s boat. Without him, Hedges says, “the movie seemed to fall into despair.”

Manchester writer/director Kenneth Lonergan worried about casting someone he had never worked with before, but of all the actors up for the role, Hedges “was the one I was most interested in watching,” the filmmaker says.

Hedges knew Patrick was different from him in high school (“I was much more cerebral and insecure and not tough and didn’t have two girlfriends”) but he was dying to play the part when he read the scene where Patrick loses that cool façade and finally breaks down. “I knew in that moment that fundamentally he just wants to be loved.”

He counts Mary-Louise Parker, who co-founded a theater company in the 1980s with Hedges' father, as “an amazing mentor” — she helped the up-and-coming actor through that key Manchester scene — and his parents have also been a strong grounding force. In regard to his Hollywood aspirations, “my dad is only as excited as I am," says Hedges. "He doesn’t make any assumptions about my life or what's good for me. He just listens and that comes with a life of listening to yourself.”

Hedges is taking a year off from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (also his father's alma mater) to work. “I’d be leaving school to go to school,” he figures. The actor has already filmed roles for upcoming Martin McDonagh thriller Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Greta Gerwig comedy Lady Bird. In January, the Brooklyn native makes his stage debut in a lead role in the off-Broadway play Yen.

By then, he might be getting other accolades: Twenty-two of 25 experts on the awards predictions site GoldDerby.com expect a best supporting actor nomination for Hedges. "He's definitely on the short list," says Dave Karger, special correspondent for movie site IMDb.com.

“It feels weird, man,” Hedges allows when Oscar talk comes up. “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t knock me upside the head in some way. Ultimately, I’m just really grateful to be seen right now for a piece of work I’m really proud of.”


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