French Exit, based on a novel of the same name by Patrick deWitt, arrives in theaters on February 12. The film centers on a nearly broke widow (Michelle Pfeiffer) who moves to Paris with her son (Lucas Hedges), and it benefits from the author also writing the screenplay.
Hedges spoke to Screen Rant about how his character Malcolm’s “uselessness” was endearing, and how his relationships evolve over the course of the film.
Lucas, congratulations on this film. Talk to me about when you first read the script. What was it about the world and the characters that you connected with?
Lucas Hedges: There is an interview that the writer gave about the book, and he describes my character as being essentially useless. I love that, because I think a lot of people are essentially useless, and I wanted to play somebody who’s useless.
The director hates it when I say that, but I think it’s true. I think he’s useless. It’s not his fault; I think it’s how he’s raised. And I wanted to play somebody like that. I’ve been very useless at times in my life, so I was tired of playing these really dramatic, traumatized roles. I wanted to play somebody useless.
Is it fair to say that is what appealed the most about the role of Malcolm to you?
Lucas Hedges: It’s not what appealed most, but it’s the way in which he’s useless. There are just moments where he’s just sitting alone eating a carrot that I like; staring out the window. He’s the kind of person who doesn’t do anything. He wears one outfit the whole time. He’d be fascinated with his buttons, you know?
And that’s really easy to do. It’s really easy to act, and I live a lot of my life like that. I’m much less complicated than I make myself out to be.
Can you talk to me about the mother-son relationship in this film and how it evolves over time?
Lucas Hedges: The movie begins with her picking him up at boarding school, and he doesn’t really have a personality or life before she picks him up. So, when she picks him up, she becomes his whole life. That basically progresses to the point where he has to choose between his fiancée and his mom, and he chooses his mom, because she’s more significant to him; she’s more of the basis of his life.
That doesn’t really fly, because every single person wants to be free; wants to be independent; wants to take care of others and lead their own life. So, the second half of the movie is the falling out of that decision.
You talked about Malcolm’s fiancée, Susan, a little bit. Can you tell me about the relationship between Susan and Malcolm in the film?
Lucas Hedges: He’s just a child. He is really a child, and I think that’s what appeals to her about him – that he’s not interested in the same things most traditional men are. But when it comes down to commitment, he’s out the window. He’s not even able to not commit to her. He’s not even able to say, “This isn’t gonna work.” He sort of just keeps everything in between, which is why he never lets go of her.
Another fascinating relationship Malcolm has is with Madeleine, the fortune teller. Can you talk to me about what intrigues Malcolm about her and how he gets drawn into her presence?
Lucas Hedges: Yeah, I think he’s just interested in her because the first time he sees her, she’s basically predicted a woman’s death. She’s told this old woman that she’s gonna die, and the woman starts crying.
He’s fascinated by her authority, and by how much she knows. He’s also really alone in his life and sad, so I think if anything, he just wants company. But there’s no deeper connection. It’s like a passing fascination.
A lot of the roles you’ve had have been set in the real world. Is this film being set in more of a surreal world liberating for you as an actor?
Lucas Hedges: Yeah, a lot more liberating. I’m tired of playing very dramatic roles who are traumatized, and I like surreal worlds. It’s actually more of a natural voice for me. In my own writing, it’s more than voice I write with that.
Is there anything that you wanted to add to Malcolm that may have not been on the page?
Lucas Hedges: Yes, I wanted to make more weird sounds. I wish I could have made more weird sounds and been more expressive. Oh, yeah. I should have done that.
There were a lot of moments where I wanted to make weirder sounds, and you could have chosen to leave them in or not. But I had the impulse to do that.
Malcolm doesn’t want to get into the middle of the seance between his mom and the awakened spirit of his father. What does Malcolm think about Small Frank the cat here?
Lucas Hedges: His dad was just completely absent in his life and was never there for him. To have the lingering presence of his father and their cat is frustrating and alienating for him. So, when he does get to speak to his dad, his opinions get to fly in a way that they couldn’t when he was younger because he’s liberated from his father’s physical presence. But his spirit remains, so it’s as if the anger remains. But the intimidation doesn’t as much.
Michelle Pfeiffer knocks it out of the park in this role, and there’s so much to chew on here. But what specifically did she bring to the role of Frances that you may not have been anticipating?
Lucas Hedges: Well, I didn’t really know Michelle at all. When I first met her, she was very shy. And I was like, “This is not gonna work.” I was like, “This is is a bad idea. She is not like this character.” But I was shocked by how masterful her grasp of the character was when she went to work. She’s just a very different kind of actor. She doesn’t get caught up in anything that’s not useful to her.
I was surprised by how much of a craft it was for her, and how much she was able to channel this character within that craft.
Was there any kind of motherly bond that you and Michelle had when doing scenes together?
Lucas Hedges: I would say when we were doing the scenes, yes. When we weren’t doing the scenes, she was just feeding me stuff and giving me bars. But their connection isn’t even very mother-son in a lot of ways. Except that at the very end of the movie, they do share some moments that are really loving. I felt so much love for her in those moments; just a magic amount.
I want to talk about the collaboration process with Azazel Jacobs. It’s quite the undertaking to do a film like this.
Lucas Hedges: He’s such a good listener. Whenever he felt something was off, he pulled me aside and asked me questions to find it. He would ask me questions until he felt I’d found it, and then I’d go back in. But he never told me what it was, and that was powerful. He was always dangling something for me to come find.
French Exit opens on February 12.