• slideshow image
    L to R: Kenneth Lonergan, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Casey Affleck, David Laub (moderator)

The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Manchester by the Sea. 

Can you talk about playing someone who is emotionally disconnected or doesn’t show emotion?
Casey Affleck: I don’t often think myself about how much emotion I’m showing in real life. The writing is so rich that you get a sense of what’s happening to the characters while not being told exactly how they’re responding to any given situation. This leaves a lot of space for me as an actor to explore and was some heavy lifting as I hadn’t done a part that asked for so much for the entire course of the film. Scenes like the house burning down or seeing a relative pass required a lot of talking with Kenneth on how to calibrate my performance to make sure it’s not too much to avoid being melodramatic, but still getting an idea of what Lee is feeling and trying to contain.

“the goal is to feel that it’s correct instinctively and not constructed intellectually.”

What was your response to the material and how did you come to it?
Michelle Williams: Kenneth asked me to do a reading of one of his plays about 11 1/2 years ago and I said no because I was afraid of letting him down! And then he talked me back into it. I made up some excuse like I’m pregnant and I can’t act while I’m pregnant cause that would be terrible. Kenneth said that’s not really true, so I ended up doing a reading of the play and ever since that I’ve been secretly hoping to work with him. I knew that when this came around my answer would be yes. When I got to the scene with Lee and Randi I remember thinking that this will be the hardest and best thing that I will ever do in film and I don’t know how I’m going to do it.

We get an idea of Patrick’s life in the town throughout the course of the film. Can you talk about how his father’s death affects him and the prospect of moving away from his life?
Lucas Hedges: Patrick is in many respects not feeling valuable when we meet him as a teenager. He has all of the proof in the world that his family members don’t love him: His uncle won’t give him the time of day, his mother ran out on him, and his father is dead. So he has all of this proof that he can’t face. So I think while he is both charismatic and wants to have fun, he is driven by some sense of wanting to escape being alone with himself.

How do you see the dynamic between the two brothers and what do you think was Joe’s thought process leaving custody of Patrick to Lee?
Kenneth Lonergan: That was the crux of the film’s concept and I found it so interesting since he’s trying to do so many things at once in that moment. I think he knows that Lee is reliable though he may be heartbroken and shut off from the world. Lee will still show up when he needs to, despite the lingering emotional distress. The other thing is that Joe is always trying to save Lee and keep him present, so he hopes that this will pull Lee away from the edge of the cliff so to speak. It’s a gamble that he takes with Lee, not so much with Patrick.

What was your writing process in weaving the past to the present story?
Lonergan: It was intuitive, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to fish around a bit to find something that hits you in the right way, but the goal is to feel that it’s correct instinctively and not constructed intellectually. The internal logic seems to manifest itself by accident. Jennifer Lame, my editor, thought that the flashbacks worked best when they were done suddenly without a lot of introduction or fanfare. She even said how she liked how it felt like there were two stories happening at the same time, the flashbacks being what Lee is feeling internally. Lee has these memories that are so pungent and strong. The happy ones are painful and the sad ones are unbearable. He carries these memories actively, so the structure mirrors this experience nicely.