MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to take a turn now to the movies with actor Lucas Hedges. You might be familiar with his performance in "Manchester By The Sea," which earned him an Oscar nomination in 2017. Or you might remember his supporting role in last year's critically acclaimed comedy "Lady Bird" or his role in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." Now he's tackling his first leading role in the film "Boy Erased." Hedges plays Jared Eamons, a young man struggling to come to terms with his sexuality, his family and his faith. It's based on the memoir "Boy Erased" by Garrard Conley about his brutal experience in a so-called gay conversion therapy program after being outed to his conservative, Christian parents.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BOY ERASED")
LUCAS HEDGES: (As Jared Eamons) You want me to stop with the games? I'll stop with them. I broke up with Chloe because - we broke up because I think it's true about me.
RUSSELL CROWE: (As Marshall Eamons) God help me.
HEDGES: (As Jared Eamons) I think about men. I don't know why. I'm so sorry.
MARTIN: It's a quiet but deeply textured performance from the 21-year-old actor who's made a name for himself by taking on these types of intense roles. We caught up with Lucas Hedges at his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., and I asked him what draws him to these characters.
HEDGES: I feel like it's a very confusing and complicated time in my life, and I have so much, like, stored up in my body from high school and just confusion and fear. And this sort of string of projects that are very intense is the best way for me to engage in, like, a dialogue with myself and with, like, the communities around me about what's going on with me. And I felt in - after doing these last, like, four or five movies something shifting. And I - and, hopefully, it will lead to me making some lighter decisions.
MARTIN: I also asked Hedges just how he connected with Garrard Conley's experiences in so-called conversion therapy.
HEDGES: Yeah. I didn't - I mean, I knew that it existed. I didn't know that it was legal in 36 states, and it currently still is. I would say that the root of his experience is that of trying to sacrifice his ability to take care of himself in order to take care of those around him so that he will - he can be liked and have a safe environment to live in. And I think that root experience is something I've identified with from my whole life. I've found that I wanted to get to live a story as truthfully as I could. That was such an extreme case of what I identified as being, I guess, similar to my life because I thought, in what ways are my denying myself my own freedom that Jared has to - has had to overcome.
MARTIN: I understand that you and Garrard went on a trip to his hometown in Arkansas. Is that so?
HEDGES: Yeah. It was me...
MARTIN: You had a field trip. How was it?
HEDGES: Yeah. It was a field trip. We went and visited where - LIA, where the program he went to was. We visited his family. We had dinner with his parents, and we saw his father preach. This part of Arkansas is really, like - it's almost like there's a force field around it. It doesn't feel as though it's touched by the outside world. His high school - there's a Confederate flag and an American flag at the entrance. I had the feeling that I don't feel as though I look like everyone here, and I feel really unsafe because of it. And that's, like, I'm a white man. It felt like a threatening place to be.
MARTIN: One of the reasons I'm glad that you went is that, you know, I know you're from Brooklyn. I'm from Brooklyn.
MARTIN: And we are speaking as if we have a shared understanding that what happened to Garrard was wrong, right? We are speaking as if we have a shared understanding that the premises on which all of this is based are wrong. And there are many, many people who just don't buy it. I mean, they just - they think that they are saving souls. They really think that people who are LGBT are going to hell, and that they're - it's their job to save them.
MARTIN: And I just wonder, did you get an understanding of how it could be that we could still kind of live together in this country with these very different ideas about what's right and what's wrong?
HEDGES: Yeah. Well, I think the thing that's really hard about Garrard's story is that even the people who appear to be most stubborn and set in their ways - change is possible. And, you know, this movie isn't about preaching to the converted. We're not trying to make a movie for just people in LA and New York to see. It's really meant for the parents who would consider sending their kids to these places.
MARTIN: Well, thanks so much for talking with us. I want to mention you're in this film. You're in the Broadway play "The Waverly Gallery," which I think opened last week, right...
HEDGES: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MARTIN: ...In which you play a man watching his grandmother slowly die of Alzheimer's. And you're in the upcoming movie "Ben Is Back" playing a heroin addict.
HEDGES: Oh, my god.
MARTIN: OK. So how about a - like, a little Christmas movie after this, maybe? Or a - I don't know.,
HEDGES: Honestly, I'd be so down.
HEDGES: I would be so, so down.
MARTIN: Lucas Hedges stars in the movie "Boy Erased," which is out now.
Lucas Hedges, thank you so much for talking with us.
HEDGES: Yeah, thank you very much.
MARTIN: Congratulations to you.
HEDGES: It's a pleasure to be here, really.
MARTIN: And tomorrow, we'll hear from Garrard Conley, the writer whose memoir "Boy Erased" has been made into the film of the same name. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.