In 2006, New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis profiled Matt Damon. The actor was riding high on the success of starring in Martin Scorsese’s new mob epic The Departed, but Dargis starts her examination by noting how forgettable the then-35-year-old is on screen.
“Matt Damon does what few stars with his kind of billing do: He disappears,” she writes. Dargis goes on to detail Damon’s knack for playing the Boy Next Door who’s more sharp than sweet. In Good Will Hunting, Damon is the rough but well-intentioned Boston boy, while he uses his disarming demeanor to get away with murder in The Talented Mr. Ripley.
After surmising Damon’s ability to score Oscar statues, box-office numbers and lucrative checks, Dargis concludes there’s an inherent contradiction to young Matt Damon. “When Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp, two other character actors masquerading as stars, take the screen, they tend to make noise. Their beauty creates its own distractions, and their forays into brooding intensity set off flares. Mr. Damon eases into roles so quietly you rarely see him acting,” she writes.
Fourteen years later, Damon is no longer this boyish actor. He’s still a leading man, now of the nice, buff fatherly type. However, his throne masquerading as a kiddy chair doesn’t sit empty. Instead, a new young man now reigns as today’s perfectly forgettable boyish actor — Lucas Hedges.
Coincidentally, it’s Damon who helped Hedges breakout in the first place. Hedges scored an Oscar nomination for the 2016 film Manchester by the Sea, playing a grieving boy whose father dies and leaves him in the care of a downtrodden uncle played by Casey Affleck. Damon produced the film, set, of course, just outside Boston.
Like Damon, Hedges is adored among his fellow actors. Since 2016, Hedges has remained one of the most in-demand young actors, appearing in at least one Oscar buzz project every year:
- 2017: Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
- 2018: Boy Erased, Ben Is Back and Mid90s
- 2019: Honey Boy and Waves
It’s happening again this awards season. In French Exit (out February 12th), Hedges plays the ne’er-do-well son of a broke New York socialite played by Michelle Pfeiffer (in Julianne Moore drag). He must accompany his mother on her final act: traveling across the Atlantic to Paris.
You’d be forgiven for mistaking this performance with his other project this year: Let Them All Talk. Both star an unmoored Hedges following an older woman played by an esteemed actress, trying to fulfill her remaining fantasies while maintaining an affinity for boat travel. In Let Them All Talk, it’s Meryl Streep playing his aunt and the Queen Mary serves as the vessel. In each, Hedges wanders around a ship aimlessly with unkempt hair and a tendency to wear ill-fitting suits without neckties.
Hedges has a knack for playing early twentysomething men who’ve yet to strike a match in their pursuit of life. He’s humdrum in his demeanor. Affectionless in cadence. There’s nothing about these guys that inspires thought. And that’s what makes his performances unforgettable. “He always gives really good, understated performances so you can’t even tell if he’s acting really well until you’re finished,” says Paul Wheaton, a 20-year-old film and media major at Georgia State University.
When speaking of Hedges, it’s hard not to mention his more flashy comrade, Timothée Chalamet. They were both the darling breakouts of 2017 and co-starred in Lady Bird. Chalamet is a much flashier actor. He twitches. He contorts. He demands you hear his deep, neurotic soliloquies. He leads big box office films, like Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming remake of Dune. Chalamet is the charismatic, tabloid tentpole Ben Affleck to Hedges’ reserved, off-the-grid Matt Damon.
A New York native, Hedges doesn’t spend much time working the Hollywood circuit. He doesn’t even do social media, instead spending his time with his filmmaker father Peter Hedges and family on the East Coast. Recently, he’s tried his hand on Broadway — he played a schleppy playwright who takes care of his grandmother (again played by an esteemed actress, Elaine May) in Kenneth Lonergan’s 2019 revival of The Waverly Gallery.
His preference for auteur films (and plays) over blockbusters has garnered him a Gen Z following of cottagecore enthusiasts, film students and other “Euphoria teens” dissatisfied with Chalamet’s increasing mainstream appeal. “In screenshots I’ll see from press calls and things, he doesn’t look like a 24-year-old,” explains Fletcher Peters, a TV intern at Paste. She calls herself “Lucas Hedges’ unofficial sister.” (They both have red hair.) “He looks like he’s got stacks of books he’s reading and sheltered away like Terrence Malick.”
That’s not to say Hedges won’t follow in Damon’s suits and pivot toward blockbusters and action roles. Having already snagged an Oscar nomination and worked with the likes of Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman before turning 25, he’s bound to want to explore new talents. But for now, it’s a joy to watch a young actor opt to learn from the greats rather than try and best them at the box office. It doesn’t sound like he’ll be making a French Exit from Hollywood anytime soon.