If you’re looking for clues to the rise of 22-year-old lucas Hedges, who broke through (and often stole) the 2017 film Manchester
by the Sea, begin with his father, Peter, who wrote the screenplays for two films featuring astonishing performances by young actors: 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, starring Leonardo Dicaprio, and 2002’s About a Boy, with Nicholas Hoult. He has also written his son’s latest film, Ben Is Back, with Hedges as Ben, a recovering addict who breaks out of a sober-living facility to reconnect with his family for Christmas. His mother, Holly, is played by Julia Roberts, whose devotion is tested when she’s exposed to the truth about her son. Hedges got an Oscar nod for Manchester, and there’s buzz building for Ben too. In doing research for the part, the actor’s views on addiction shifted: “At this point, I wouldn’t just offer unsolicited advice to an addict; that can be very triggering,” Hedges tells Newsweek. “If they were to ask [for help], I’d recommend the 12-step program—i have complete faith in that.” How did you get into Ben’s head? I met with addicts and went to Narcotics Anonymous meetings— the movie is more about recovery than addiction. We’re meeting Ben at a point where he’s made it hard for people to trust him, and when you’re surrounded by people who don’t trust you, you start trusting yourself less too. I’m a lot like Ben. I’m just surrounded by a friendlier environment—one I helped cultivate, of course. But if you threw me into his world, it would be much harder for me to survive. How did you and Julia Roberts prepare for playing mother and son? She let me stay at her house for several days last Thanksgiving to get to know her, her husband and kids. I keep coming back to an idea: that what makes Julia Roberts such a great actress is how rooted she is to being a mother in her own life. It gives her something to fight for and a sense that there are things bigger than herself. Ben tries to tell Holly about something he’s done, but she doesn’t want to hear it. Does that make it harder for him? Holly isn’t the problem; it has to do with Ben’s relationship with himself. Most of my self-sabotage comes from shame, and I think Ben feeling that he’s done something unforgivable feeds into the idea that there’s something wrong with him, that he can’t be forgiven—and that’s an isolating mindset.
“What makes Julia Roberts such a great actress is how rooted she is to being a mother in her own life.”