Having received an Oscar nomination for Manchester by the Sea and scored rave reviews for dramatic turns in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Lady Bird, Mid90’s and Ben Is Back, the 22-year-old actor has established himself as the go-to guy playing teen angst, showcasing a depth of emotion and insight years beyond his age. Now the Brooklyn native has added his first Golden Globe nomination to the list of his accomplishments: Best Actor in a Drama for his stirring role as Jared Eamons in Boy Erased, a powerful story on the son of a Baptist minister who is forced to participate in a church-supported gay conversion therapy program.
The film, directed by Joel Edgerton, is based on the memoir by Garrard Conley which Hedges used as his blueprint to create the character’s subtle arc as he first rationalizes and ultimately comprehends what is happening to him. “I didn’t know specifically what a conversion program looked like before I did this movie,” he revealed during an interview with the HFPA. But what emotionally struck the actor was that at that age, it is hard enough trying to live your own life, let alone having parents who choose to send you away in hopes of turning you into something else.
“Here we have a story about shame,” Hedges continues; referring to both the son’s and parents’ dilemma “Sadly, there are parts of America and parts of the world which have not made much progress in acceptance. Some people in the world are being stoned to death just for being gay, and that is why it was so exciting to do this film because hopefully it can elicit some change and help to move the needle. I see signs of hope and I do believe there is a lot to be optimistic about.”
With both of his parents in the entertainment business (his mother a poet and actress and his father a screenwriter and director), it seemed inevitable that Hedges, the second child, would forge a path in the arts. It was during a middle school play production that he was spotted by a casting director which eventually led to his film debut in 2012 in Wes Anderson’s Moonlight Kingdom. Roles in Labor Day, The Zero Theorem and Kill The Messenger quickly followed before he was cast in the part of Patrick Chandler, a 16-year-old boy dealing with the death of his father, who is then left in the unwitting care of his troubled uncle in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea.
While many actors might have cashed in on that newfound fame, Hedges was determined to refine his craft appearing next off-Broadway in the play Yen, winning the Theater World Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Debut Performance. Hedges and Lonergan once again crossed paths when he agreed to co-star with Elaine May and Michael Cera in the Broadway play The Waverly Gallery, currently receiving rave reviews in New York.
How do the accolades and the attention sit on his young shoulders?
“It’s really confusing and unsettling,” he notes. “it makes me feel way more important than I think I actually am. It also makes me feel like the center of attention, and I feel like my life is better when I am able to listen more and be more attentive to other people.”
Come this award season, it appears that other people might be more attentive to him.