Q&A: Director Kenneth Lonergan Talks About ‘Manchester By The Sea’ & Being Authentic

Christian Ziolkowski ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Kenneth Lonergan, the legendary playwright behind ‘This Is Our Youth’, has enjoyed equal success after pivoting to filmmaking. After the New England premiere of his third feature, Manchester By The Sea, at the Coolidge Corner Theatre on November 1st, Lonergan answered some questions from the audience.

Lee (Casey Affleck), is not a very articulate character, yet he is always full of emotion. How did you go about writing a character like that?

Kenneth Lonergan: I just try to put myself in his situation, I guess. I just think about what he’s feeling in all the scenes, and what he would say and what he wouldn’t say. I hadn’t noticed that he wasn’t particularly articulate until other people pointed it out to me. Because to me, he’s always a character that’s very emotionally full all the time. I’ve heard him characterized, not unkindly, as emotionally shut-down, but to me he’s always trying to keep things at bay. Trying to keep the walls from caving in, trying to keep the dam from breaking, and that being a very difficult, continual struggle on his part. And often an unsuccessful one. And I just wasn’t really thinking about how much he was saying.

Casey Affleck in Manchester By The Sea. Photo Credit: Roadside Attractions.

As a director, was it nice having total control over a movie again?

KL: Well I assume you’re referring to my last movie, Margaret, which had some issues that were blown out of proportion in the press. But the answer to your question is, I control everything and I control nothing. A movie is way too big to be made entirely by one person. In fact, the director does not really make the movie. The second unit director does. The director will say “I want that to be blue” and the second unit director says okay, and then ten minutes later he comes back and says “we can’t make it blue, is red okay?” And as the director, you usually say yes.

Why do you think you’re drawn to the genre of family drama?

KL: I don’t really have much say over what I’m able to write about, as opposed to what I’d like to write about. I have lots of interests…but I guess I’m decent at writing family dramas…I am interested in families. I’m interested in people who have mixed feelings about each other. It interests me when people have complicated relationships. But I wouldn’t say that I’m a “family drama director.” Matt Damon and John Krasinski brought me this idea and I liked it, so I decided to make the movie. And I just hope I did it justice.

Matt Damon, Anna Paquin, and Kenneth Lonergan. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight.

Can you talk about the dialects used in the film, and why the actors did not sound like people from the town of Manchester?

KL: We did our best to be authentic. We had dialect coaches on the set. The thing to remember is, everybody in Massachusetts does not talk in the same way. If you go into a bar in Manchester, you aren’t going to hear everybody using the same dialect. Some people will talk like they’re from one part of Boston, others from another, some people will sound like they’re from New York…we wanted to recreate the Massachusetts experience to the best of our ability. And if we screwed that up, it was my fault.

You mentioned that Matt Damon and John Krasinski came up with the idea for this movie. How did you collaborate with them?

KL: Yes, Matt and John came up with the idea for a movie about a guy who has to return to his childhood hometown after his brother dies. And they came to me and said “will you write and direct this.” And I liked the idea, so I said I would do it. And they had a lot of other ideas for the story that I was not crazy about. But once I was onboard, they gave me leeway to make the movie that I wanted to make. So I took the things that I liked from their original idea, and got rid of some of the things I didn’t like, and the result was the movie you just saw.

Manchester By The Sea is now in theater. Check out Emertainment Monthly’s review here.


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