Lucas Hedges, Russell Crowe on Political Significance of 'Boy Erased': "It Was More Than an Artistic Endeavor"

Russell Crowe and Lucas Hedges attend the New York screening of "Boy Erased"  Getty -H 2018
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The actors — who star in the film about a real-life teen who was sent to gay conversion therapy — tell The Hollywood Reporter why the story feels more relevant than ever as the Trump administration makes another attempt to roll back LGBTQ protections.

The New York Times on Sunday reported that the Trump administration is considering defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, with the Department of Health and Human Services arguing that key government agencies should adopt a uniform concept of gender "that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable."

The leaked memo marks yet another effort from President Donald Trump to roll back LGBTQ protections — including his signed ban for transgender people to serve in the U.S. military — and it fueled many conversations on Monday night at New York's Whitby Hotel, where Russell Crowe, Lucas Hedges and the cast of Boy Erased gathered for a special screening of their film.

Boy Erased is based off Garrard Conley's 2016 memoir of the same name and highlights the emotional pain LGBTQ youth experience at gay conversion therapy centers. Hedges, who plays the lead role of Jared, told The Hollywood Reporter that releasing this film in today's political climate feels like a form of activism.

"One of the things that was exciting about doing this movie is that it was more than an artistic endeavor. It feels like it has a historical significance and certainly a political significance. It's special to work on something in which the motivation is greater than asking myself, 'How can I get my kicks artistically?'" he said. "Since the news about Trump's memo came out, I've been thinking about the amazing young people in the world who are bouncing back with such passion."

The response to the Trump administration's memo, which essentially threatens to erase the identity of trans citizens, was almost immediate. Along with a #WontBeErased social media campaign — championed by Laverne Cox, Lady Gaga and Hillary Clinton, among other notable figures — demonstrators have stepped out in cities across the country to protest the attack on LGBTQ rights.

"I hope the activism happening around LGBTQ rights will become even more intense after people experience this movie. Every aspect will feel more real," Hedges said. "Hopefully, it can be a part of the conversation. I'm optimistic that the sheer humanity of Boy Erased can shatter the illusion that something is wrong with LGBTQ individuals."

Added the 21-year-old star: "And I hope that really sits with parents who are having trouble accepting their LGBTQ kids. Hopefully, if they're thinking about sending their kids to conversion therapy, this film can prevent that."

Crowe — who plays Hedges' father, Pastor Marshall Eamons, in the film — agrees. Though the Oscar winner found that the Boy Erased author's real-life dad, Hershel Conley, had "a massive amount of love inside him" by spending time with the Arkansas-based Baptist preacher, the actor still can't fathom the idea of "trying to convince a child that they aren't who they are."

"All of these practices are faith-based. You would think that within the very nature of faith that the idea of forcing a conversion is just illogical because it's supposed to come from a place of love. But one of the aspects that the movie shows very clearly is that even deeply loving parents can make mistakes," Crowe told THR, noting his character's attempt to try and "cure" his son. 

"You can see how damaging something like conversion therapy is. Many countries have just stopped the practice, but here in America you still have 39 states that allow it. It needs to stop," the New Zealand native continued. "So many other places are more advanced when it comes to the conversation around LGBTQ rights, but here in the U.S., it's still a bit of a minefield."

Currently, only 14 states — along with Washington, D.C. — ban conversion therapy for minors on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. In late July, Delaware became the last to restrict the practice, which has been denounced as harmful and ineffective by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association. Conversion therapy, which can sometimes involve forms of emotional and physical abuse, has been shown to increase depression, anxiety, substance abuse and even suicide.

Martha Conley — the mother of Boy Erased scribe Garrard Conley, and who is played by Nicole Kidman in the film — told THR that it's imperative for parents to "do their homework" before subjecting their children to what she described as "pure horror."

"I was so naïve. I didn't realize how terrible it was until I saw it with my own eyes," said the mom of one, who took her 19-year-old son out of conversion therapy after nearly two weeks in 2004. "I wish I could have seen a film like this when Garrard came out. My main concern for parents is for them to listen to their kids. And don't be afraid to change. I took my son to conversion therapy, but I'm the one who converted."

Boy Erased — which also stars Troye Sivan, David Joseph Craig and Joel Edgerton, who also wrote, directed and served as a producer on the film — is set to hit theaters Nov. 2.