Peter Hedges didn’t write the role of Ben Burns, a 19-year-old recovering drug addict in “Ben Is Back,” for his Oscar-nominated son Lucas Hedges.
It was actually Julia Roberts who nudged Lucas Hedges to consider portraying her on-screen offspring in the emotional drama about a mother who attempts to help her son after he returns home from rehab.
“I assumed reading a Peter Hedges screenplay that this great part for a young man, that was a killer part, was a fait accompli,” Roberts said at the New York premiere of “Ben Is Back. “I pictured Lucas, and he was brilliant in my mind’s eye, as I knew he would be.”
But when the award-winning actress met with director-writer Peter Hedges to discuss who would co-star, he came prepared with a number of young actors who were suited to portray Ben. None of which were named Lucas.
“I knew I had a problem when I met with Julia, and she wouldn’t listen to any of my ideas for who could play Ben,” Peter Hedges told Variety. (The director wouldn’t, however, disclose to the trade anyone on the list of potential leads he came armed with the first time he met with Roberts.) “She said, ‘I want Lucas to do the movie.’ We talked through it, so I was thrilled when he finally decided to read the script.”
For his part, Peter Hedges understood that his son might not want to star in a movie that his father is directing.
“Who wants to go work with your dad when you can work with Greta Gerwig?,” Peter Hedges said, laughing. “You can work with Martin Mcdonagh, Kenny Lonergan… why would you want to work with me? I get it. I would want to work with them before me.”
Lucas Hedges doesn’t deny Roberts’ influence, but couldn’t help give his dad his due.
“He doesn’t give himself enough credit,” Lucas Hedges said of his old man. “He wrote an unbelievable script, and he’s also at the end of the day, the only reason why I do this. I would have come along to it, but Julia accelerated the process.”
It’s been a banner year for Lucas Hedges, who also starred alongside another Hollywood heavyweight, Nicole Kidman, in the coming-of-age drama “Boy Erased.” He’s currently working with his “Manchester by the Sea” director Kenneth Lonergan in “The Waverly Gallery” on Broadway.
“I’m one of those people that the less I do, the more exhausted I am. The more I do, the more energized I am,” the 21-year-old actor said. “It keeps me going, doing all this.”
All the familial bonding made Peter Hedges a basket case on set. Roberts teased the director for routinely crying while they were filming. (Peter Hedges justified the waterworks saying, “I read once that fear is the anticipation of the eye’s future.”)
Right before the movie rolled at the AMC in Lincoln Square, Peter Hedges introduced the cast, capping off the kudos by bringing up “my favorite actor in the world, Lucas Hedges.” Like clockwork, Peter Hedges got choked up as tears streamed down his face.