Although it’s nigh impossible to stand out against the force that is an on-point Christoph Waltz, a notable mark is left on The Zero Theorem by young actor Lucas Hedges. That his turn (playing the prodigious Bob) comes well after much has been established in the way of characters, narrative, world building, and director Terry Gilliam‘s idiosyncratic formalism makes his unique presence all the more welcome. The striking resemblance to Matt Damon‘s Management, whose son he portrays, doesn’t hurt matters.
Hedges’ career has been going longer than one might expect: along with a turn in Noah Baumbach‘s failed, likely-to-never-be-seen attempt at adapting The Corrections, he’s taken up roles in Wes Anderson‘s two most recent features and can soon be seen alongside Jeremy Renner in Kill the Messenger. Our focus is mostly on Theorem, which I admire a fair amount, but some interesting notes about his biggest collaborator can also be found herein, along with a good idea of what makes Waltz and Gilliam worthwhile collaborators.
The Film Stage: There’s really no better place to start than Gilliam himself. When you were handed this material and knew who’d be commanding the project, what did the name mean to you?
Lucas Hedges: Terry’s name meant Monty Python to me. I wasn’t familiar with anything other than Monty Python when I auditioned. When I got the movie, I watched all of them — I watched Brazil, Time Bandits, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Before, all I knew was Monty Python, and I absolutely love that.
There’s never any question of who’s directing when you’re watching a Terry Gilliam film, especially here. How does his on-set demeanor translate to the film? What makes Gilliam “Gilliam” when you’re working with him, and what separates him?
Terry’s films are just like manifestations of his mind. He’s sort of just existing in his mind while we’re filming, and he loves being on set. But what distinguishes Terry from working with other directors is the freedom he gives you. Terry’s only happy if you’re having fun and exploring the boundaries of the character and their circumstances — and that’s only wants. He wants to build a world around you and he wants you to get lost in it. That’s what makes him so special; it’s one of the things that make him who he is.
Did you feel the challenge of really diving in while working “outside” the material? I know Wes Anderson really prefers actors stick to every consonant and vowel of what’s on the page — which doesn’t preclude all freedom, but it certainly sounds different.
I mean, I don’t think I necessarily knew what to do with the freedom he gave me. I wasn’t a very experienced actor, and I’m still not a very experienced actor, and I was working with one of the more experienced actors there is in this business, who’s had a career in Germany for 30 years before he came to America. The both of them really helped me — and I was getting it towards the end — to make the crazy decision and not to hold back. But it was certainly hard, dealing with all that freedom and being thrown into such open-endedness — which is typically an actor’s dream, but it was also scary, when you’re not very experienced or very young.
Did you find great differences between what was on the page and what you were doing on the set every day? Did differences seem obvious, or was it a close adherence to material?
It was very similar to the material, but much more imaginative. That’s not saying that as, like, a “bash” to the writer [Pat Rushin], but just because that’s who Terry is, and he makes… he creates a world with whatever he’s given. He makes it interesting, even if it isn’t, and he has what he wants. I don’t… I don’t really remember the changes. It was a while ago; it was more than two years ago. But, yeah, I can’t really remember.
I was fascinated by your physical resemblance to Damon’s Management. Was it kind of strange to realize whose son you’d been pegged to play? I feel like it’d be sort of neat, as an actor.
Yeah. It was exciting to play Matt Damon’s son, but, at the same time, I’m not really playing Matt Damon’s son. There’s the whole thing about Management, and I think the backstory we sort of created for Management has Bob completely neglected; he doesn’t really have a relationship for his father and his father doesn’t really have time for him. He sort of discards… I mean, he doesn’t “discard” him, but he throws him into this crazy debacle with this crazy man and he doesn’t think about him. Bob has to think for himself, and he’s not really his son.
The trade-off is that you have extensive interactions with Christoph Waltz. As with Gilliam, can you share something unique about his process that those merely watching his films wouldn’t know? Perhaps how he helps you along a slightly difficult process.
Christoph was very helpful; he’s the most helpful actor I’ve ever worked with. He was almost looking out for me more than he’s looking out for himself, because I think he saw that I was struggling on the first day. He pulled me aside and started talking to me about music. One, because I wanted to get my head off the scene and, two, because the scene underneath it all was something I wasn’t realizing.
I was stuck in myself and saw myself as the most important thing, just because you’re so worried and think every eye is on you — everybody’s judging you, but, really, it’s not all about you. It’s about the music of the scene and the beauty of the scene, and I think it’s a beautiful way of helping me, sort of changing my perspective and looking at it a little differently. It was also just a genius thing to say.
Is it strange to be talking about this project as long as two years since you shot it? It seems like a decent amount has happened in your career since then.
Oh, yeah. It’s weird, because it’s almost as if I’ve moved on with my life and everyone else is just coming around to it. It’s like, “Why are we talking about this? It happened two years ago.” There’s certainly a disconnect, but it’s nice to be reliving it all — it’s nice being able to think about what Christoph and Terry gave me, because they deserve to be thought about all the time. It’s nice to be thinking about them, because they’re such important figures in my life.
With that in mind, I’m fascinated by what might be a “relationship” with Wes Anderson. I didn’t even realize you were in Budapest before doing a bit of research prior to our discussion. I find it funny how he had you come back. Is there anything you could share about that?
I think I was one of the few kids on Moonrise Kingdom who Wes found tolerable among the scouts. We were a very annoying bunch and we messed around on set. I had a great relationship with Wes and I think he likes me. I wrote him a nice letter after Moonrise Kingdom, and Wes loves working with the same people. He loves working with people who make him happy, and I think I made him happy. I don’t think it was particularly because of my work; I think it’s because he likes being in relationships. Also, for the fans, maybe to link the two movies together, if they see me or they see Gabriel Rush in Moonrise Kingdom as well. Because all his worlds are connected.
The Zero Theorem is currently available through VOD services and will hit theaters on Friday, September 19th.