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Lucas Hedges might just be 24 but with an Oscar nomination and nearly 20 films to his credit, he knows a good screenplay when he reads one.

“The appeal was in the effortlessness of the language,” Hedges says via Zoom about “French Exit,” his new film with Michelle Pfeiffer. “There were no clichés in the writing. Nothing cliché about it.

“Even when I didn’t understand what he was saying, I thought it was interesting,” he says. “And so I wasn’t even drawn to the character as much as I was to how much I loved the voice.

“I didn’t think there was anything embarrassing about it, and I find a lot of screenplays embarrassing.”

In “French Exit,” which screenwriter Patrick DeWitt adapted from his own 2018 novel of the same name, Hedges plays Malcolm Price, the 20-something codependent son of Pfeiffer’s Frances Price, a once-wealthy Manhattan heiress.

Having unexpectedly outlived her money, she packs the last of her cash, Malcolm, and Small Frank, the black cat who harbors the spirit of her late husband, and heads for Paris to see how her story ends.

  • Lucas Hedges, left, as Malcolm Price, with Danielle Macdonald as Madeleine in “French Exit.” (Photo by Lou Scamble, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

  • Michelle Pfeiffer as Frances Price in “French Exit.” (Photo by...

    Michelle Pfeiffer as Frances Price in “French Exit.” (Photo by Lou Scamble, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

  • “French Exit” is the story of a dysfunctional mother and...

    “French Exit” is the story of a dysfunctional mother and son played by Michelle Pfeiffer and Lucas Hedges who head for Paris when their wealth runs out. (Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

  • Michelle Pfeiffer as Frances Price with director Azazel Jacobs on...

    Michelle Pfeiffer as Frances Price with director Azazel Jacobs on the set of “French Exit.” (Photo by Lou Scamble, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

  • Valerie Mahaffey as Mme Reynard (Photo by Lou Scamble, courtesy...

    Valerie Mahaffey as Mme Reynard (Photo by Lou Scamble, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

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  • Michelle Pfeiffer as Frances Price, right, with Lucas Hedges as...

    Michelle Pfeiffer as Frances Price, right, with Lucas Hedges as Malcolm Price in “French Exit.” (Photo by Tobias Datum. courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)


    Directed by Azazel Jacobs, the mother-son buddy movie eventually shifts into an absurdist or surreal tone that nevertheless treats the world inhabited by the Prices as a real one.

    Over the course of the movie, other characters move into their Parisian orbit — Malcolm’s neglected fiancée (Imogen Poots), a spiritual medium (Danielle Macdonald), a lonely American widow (Valerie Mahaffey), and the dead-husband-in-the-cat (voiced by Tracy Letts) — all of whom add quirky charm to the tale.

    For Hedges, “French Exit” represents another strong role in his ascendant career and a movie about which he was happy to answer some questions before it opens on Friday, Feb. 12. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

    Q: Malcolm and Frances are an odd pair, not your typical mother and son, who are disconnected from the world at large. How’d you come to understand their relationship?

    A: He’s never been treated like a person. So she’s the basis for his life, and without her, he doesn’t know who he is.

    Q: Why does he stay with her so long? Because she can be both loving and cruel in the same sentence.

    A: I think it’s really scary. And I think some of it is laziness, or fear, and the inability to imagine what life would be like without her. But I don’t blame him entirely. I just don’t think he knows what adventurous means. If you don’t know how to live these things, they lie pretty dormant within yourself.

    Q: As for Frances, why is she so self-destructive? 

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    A: I think she’s like a one-woman show. And I think she’s reached the point where she realizes her one-woman show is doing more damage than positives. And I think she knows that her son will not be free if she continues on as she is, so she’s on her way to something positive through something destructive.

    Q: Michelle Pfeiffer exudes that old-fashioned movie star quality that not many actors have anymore. What was it like working with her?

    A: She’s a really not-intense human. She’s very straightforward and shows up to do work. I really thought we would have a very distant relationship until we started working together, and then when we started, through doing the scenes, I got to know her and then we became very close.

    But it was never the kind of closeness that was like deeply revealing of ourselves. It was just comfort. We were comforted by each other, which is very much like the characters. They don’t reveal anything of each other. They just like being around each other.

    Q: When Malcolm and Frances get to Paris things get … strange. Or stranger. What was it like to make that shift?

    A: I think the tone remained the same, it didn’t change. But the nature of the story, and its oddness, is that the circumstances seem very unusual but they’re being played as if it’s normal. It would be a totally different movie if a séance led to people freaking out about whether or not ghosts existed, you know. But everyone accepts it, for the most part, and that’s part of what makes the world so special.

    Q: Some reviews of the book when it came out compared ‘French Exit’ and its characters to a Wes Anderson movie. You’ve been in Wes Anderson movies (‘Moonlight Kingdom,’ ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’) — is that an accurate comparison for the world of ‘French Exit’?

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    A: I see Wes Anderson as being something that I think you could mistake it for, but I don’t see it as being like Wes Anderson. I mean, I do — like they’re cousins. But I see them as cousins with completely different missions. I know that our director didn’t want it to come across like that.

    I think the Wes Anderson movies are like … I don’t even know how to compare them. His movies are about people who you would never meet. Or that you’ve heard about, or that existed 400 years ago, not literally, but they’re legendary people in weird circumstances.

    Like they’re not real people but there’s truth to them. So in that regard, they are similar, I will say.

    Q: In the world of the movie, what do you imagine happens to Malcolm?

    A: I see him … oh God, I do see him loving Susan (Imogen Poots); I see them getting back together. Shifting his energy onto her and his care to her. And being more responsible and aware and that leading somewhere, but I have no idea where it leads.

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