Oscar Profile #318: Peter Hedges

Born July 6, 1962 in West Des Moines, Iowa, Peter Hedges was the third child of psychotherapist Carole Simpson and Episcopalian minister Robert Hedges. Father Hedges was, among other things, the chaplain of the Iowa National Guard for 21 years before relocating to Texas where he died in 2014 at the age of 88.

Peter Hedges attended West Des Moines’ Valley High School, where he was involved in the theater department, including the improv group and the mime troupe, The Bakers Dozen. He later went to the North Carolina School of the Arts where he studied drama. Although he started out as an actor in the second lead of a film at the age of 15 as the older brother of star Eric Buhr in 1977’s Sammy, his acting has since taken a backseat to his writing. Hedges is better known these days as an author, playwright, screenwriter and film director.

Hedges’ first six plays, Oregon, Champions of the Average Joe, The Age of Pie, Andy and Claire, Teddy by the Sea and Imagining Brad were written and performed between 1984 and 1988, preceding his first novel. That novel was What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, published in 1991 and made into a film in 1993 for which he wrote the screenplay. His father, in an example of art imitating life, played the minister in the film which starred Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio in his first Oscar-nominated performance.

Hedges wrote two more plays, Baby Anger and Good as New and another novel, An Ocean in Iowa before directing his next film, 1999’s A Map of the World. Back to writing, his next film, 2002’s About a Boy co-written with the film’s directors, Chris and Paul Weitz from Nick Hornby’s novel, resulted in an Oscar nomination for Hedges and the Weitz brothers for Best Adapted Screenplay. Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult were the stars.

On the heels of his Oscar nomination, Hedges wrote and directed Pieces of April, which is dedicated to his mother. The Katie Holmes starrer earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Patricia Clarkson.

Hedges and his wife Susan are the parents of two sons, the younger of whom is actor Lucas Hedges who made his screen debut at the age of 10 in a minor role in his father’s 2007 film, Dan in Real Life which starred Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, Dane Cook and Allison Pill. His last film as writer-director to date was 2012’s The Odd Life of Timothy Green starring Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton. His last screen credit to date was for supplying additional material to 2015’s The Good Dinosaur. He had a co-starring role for the first time in almost forty years in 2016’s Little Sister.

At 54, Hedges should have many years both before and behind the camera ahead of him. He is joined in his acting pursuits by son Lucas who is himself garnering all sorts of awards for this year’s Manchester by the Sea at the age of 19.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE, directed by Lasse Hallstrom (1993)

Hedges adapted his own first novel for the screen. Although Leonardo DiCaprio received an Oscar nomination as well as numerous other awards for his brilliant performance as Johnny Depp’s mentally disabled brother, the film deserved many more accolades. I think it should have also received Oscar nominations for Best Picture as well as Hallstrom’s direction, Hedges’ screenplay, Sven Nykvist’s cinematography, Andrew Mondshein’s editing and certainly for Darlene Cates’ heartbreaking portrayal of Depp and DiCaprio’s morbidly obese mother. Not only that, but DiCaprio and Cates should have won.

A MAP OF THE WORLD, directed by Scott Elliott (1999)

Both Sigourney Weaver and Julianne Moore received awards recognition for their sensitive performances in Elliott’s film which was adapted for the screen by Hedges from Jane Hamilton’s novel. Weaver plays a woman with two children who while minding friend Moore’s two children along with her own, leaves them alone for a minute while changing into her bathing suit. When she returns, one of Moore’s children is found missing. This, along with another child’s accusation that Weaver abused him years before sets Weaver up as the town pariah. David Strathairn co-stars as Weaver’s supportive husband.

ABOUT A BOY, directed by Chris and Paul Weitz (2002)

Hedges received his only Oscar nomination to date for co-writing this adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel along with the Weitz brothers who also directed. Hugh Grant had his best role since Four Weddings and a Funeral as the immature middle-aged man given lessons in acting grown up by child actor Nicholas Hoult in his star-making role. Toni Collette co-starred as Hoult’s perpetually depressed mother. Fourteen years later it was adapted into a TV series that ran for two seasons. Hedges and the Weitz brothers were given writing credit on 27 of the series’ 33 episodes.

PIECES OF APRIL, directed by Peter Hedges (2003)

Katie Holmes stars as a young woman who invites her dying mother (Patricia Clarkson) and other dysfunctional family members to her tiny New York apartment for Thanksgiving dinner in this quirky comedy-drama written and directed by Hedges. Derek Luke is her boyfriend, Oliver Platt and Allison Pill her brother and sister and Lillias White a friendly neighbor. Sean Hayes livens things up as virtually the same character he played on TV’s Will & Grace. I don’t think the film is meant to be autobiographical, but interestingly Hedges dedicated the film to his mother who had recently passed away.

DAN IN REAL LIFE, directed by Peter Hedges (2007)

Steve Carell is the title character, a newspaper advice columnist, who in real life could use a little advice himself. A widower with three daughters, he becomes smitten with a woman (Juliette Binoche) he meets in a book store, later finding out that the man she told him she was seeing is his brother (Dane Cook). This makes things awkward for the family that is spending the holidays together. The supporting cast includes Amy Ryan, Emily Blunt, Matthew Morrison and making his film debut, Hedges’ ten-year-old son Lucas Hedges as the boy who gets to dance with Carell’s youngest daughter.

PETER HEDGES AND OSCAR

  • About a Boy (1992) – nominated – Best Adapted Screenplay – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

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