Currently starring in: Probable Best Picture contender "Manchester By the Sea," a movie that was recently named Film of the Year by the National Board of Review
He plays: Patrick, a darkly humorous, hockey-loving teen whose emotionally distant uncle (Casey Affleck) becomes his guardian after the death of his father (Kyle Chandler)
Praise: Scored two Critics Choice Awards nominations for Best Supporting Actor and Best Young Actor/Actress
Acting hero: Ralph Feinnes
Most recent movie he watched and loved: "Sing Street"
"Manchester by the Sea" is one of the best-reviewed films of the year. What has it been like for you to see the film earn such a positive response?
It does feel a bit like I'm living in split worlds. I go back to Brooklyn and the film sort of fades away. Then I return to this other world, [with] the cast and the director reminiscing about the process and celebrating it. So it does feel like there's a duality between the present and the past. Also, the other night I went to the Governor's Awards and meeting all my heroes and some of them had seen my movie. That was incredibly surreal.
Who were you wowed by the most?
Well, I met Andrew Garfield. I actually met him several years ago when he was doing "Death of a Salesman" [on Broadway]. I was taken backstage because I knew the producers and met him briefly. But this time, I was meeting him and we were the same height. That was amazing. And a few minutes later, I got to meet Emma Stone, who had seen "Manchester." It was back to back, so I got these two wonderful punches to the face. I mean, they weren't punches in the face.
Although, that'd be a heck of a story if Emma Stone came up and punched you in the face.
Oh, yeah. I wouldn't mind that.
So, I want to go back in time a bit: What was your first paying job in the industry?
Technically, my first paying job was I was an extra in my dad's movie "Dan in Real Life." And it's funny because it was ridiculous. I worked one day, I had one line, and I made more on that movie than I did any of the following speaking [roles] I did. For some weird reason, I think it was some glitch, they paid me for four weeks of work. Maybe my dad rigged it so he'd get his son some more money.
It set the expectations a little high.
Yeah, it definitely did, but I can't complain.
So your dad, Peter Hedges, is in the business, as you mentioned. What was his reaction when you first started showing an interest in acting?
I don't know if there was ever one moment where I was like, "Dad, this is what I want to do." I did the plays in middle school. I was cast as a gate in my fourth grade play, and every year I got a bigger role. Then in 7th grade, I played Smike in "Nicholas Nickleby," and the casting director saw me and asked me to audition for a movie. That movie led to me getting "Moonrise Kingdom." Then it was like, "Maybe this is something I could do. I'm gonna try it."
You're also in college, correct?
I'm taking the year off from school right now. So I did a year in an acting conservatory in North Carolina. But it seems sort of like it didn't make that much sense to be at a conservatory this year because of the work I've been getting. I've done two films and I'm about to do a play. It just seemed like it made more sense to make the most of these opportunities. The characters I'm getting to play are more in depth characters than the characters I'd be getting to play at school.
How old were you when you got the script for "Manchester by the Sea"?
I got this script when I was 17. I was a senior in high school.
And what was your reaction to the material? Because it's a heavy script and, to be honest, I'm not sure how I would process it at 17.
It was the best part I'd ever read for a teenager. You don't see parts this good for adults. Most movies I audition for, I'm just the kid of someone. I'm somebody's kid. And Patrick is a force. He's a force of nature. He is somebody's kid but that's not how we see him. He's not an association. He's not associated with another actor, he's a force in the film.
On set you got a chance to work with big names, obviously. How was that as a learning experience?
Well, it's funny because either way, if I had or hadn't gotten the movie, I would have worked on something Kenneth Lonergan related because I was doing scenes from "This Is Our Youth" in my acting class. So it was either I get to work on it or I get to work on a new film directed by him for two months. I lucked out.
And working with Casey [Affleck] was very intimidating at first, but almost immediately after I started, he blocked out time for us to have together. He said to me on the first weekend, "Look, all I'm doing this weekend is laundry and setting up living here. But I can give you 2.5 hours on Saturday and Sunday if you want to come over and work." And it was that kind of openness from him that allowed me to trust him. On top of that, though, we didn't get that much time to rehearse together because he had to leave. I forget what he had to leave for, but he couldn't rehearse for the amount of time that we would have initially hoped. That ended up serving us, though, because there's an estrangement between the two characters. So the lack of rehearsal time was beneficial in the end.
Lastly, I need to ask you about one of the best scenes in the movie, which involves a breakdown and a freezer full of frozen chicken. It's a perfect example of that estrangement -- Patrick's uncle doesn't know how to deal with his nephew's pain. It was sad and heartbreaking and awkward, all at the same time. How did you craft that scene with Casey?
The great thing about scenes that involve nervous breakdowns -- in the little experience I have doing them -- is that there's no way to craft it. You just have to do it and it sort of crafts itself in just being incredibly messy. So it was actually the only scene I tried not to think about going into filming it. I couldn't intellectualize any of it. There's nothing else I could do except do it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.