'Manchester by the Sea': Kenneth Lonergan on the Film's Origin, Working With Casey Affleck

Kenneth Lonergan MoMa - H 2016 Screengrab

The writer-director spoke with THR's Tatiana Siegel after a screening of his film at New York's Museum of Art.

As part of The Hollywood Reporter's sponsored collaboration between New York's Museum of Modern Art and Los Angeles' Hammer Museum's third annual bi-coastal showcase of awards season hopefuls, Manchester by the Sea writer-director Kenneth Lonergan sat down with THR senior film writer Tatiana Siegel after a screening of his film played for a packed audience.

Lonergan spoke about the film's origin and how it went from concept to contender. "Matt Damon and John Krasinski came to my apartment with an idea for a movie about a guy from Manchester-by-the-Sea in Massachusetts who has left town because of a family tragedy," Lonergan told the crowd. "They wanted to know if I wanted to write the screenplay for this project and I could write it any way I wanted."

The New York-born Lonergan ultimately took on the project, but getting the lead role cast proved to be a rotating door of A-list Bostonian talent. "John [Krasinski] was going to be in it, then he got busy with doing something else, so Matt was going to be in it. It was always for Matt [Damon] to direct until I finished the script and he asked me if I wanted to direct it — which wasn’t a total surprise. Then I directed it, then Matt was going to be in it, then Matt's schedule got jammed up and then we asked Casey [Affleck] to be in it. We only wanted Casey if Matt couldn’t do it. That was the natural person to go to."

The decision proved fruitful, as Affleck has won rave reviews for his portrayal of a handyman with a tragic past who must return home to assume the role of caretaker for his teenaged nephew after the death of his older brother. Affleck recently earned a best actor nomination from the Golden Globes and is at the forefront of the best actor Oscar race. Lonergan himself earned Globe noms for both screenplay and director.

Lonergan, nominated for two screenwriting Oscars in the past for 2002's Gangs of New York and 2000's You Can Count on Me, spoke about how he prefers to work with the same actors and actresses on his projects, such as childhood friend Matthew Broderick, who has a small but pivotal role in Manchester and appeared in Lonergan's 2011 drama Margaret and You Can Count on Me. “I’m not an adventurous person. I like to really feel secure that the actors are going to be really great," said the filmmaker. "Not just good performers but good collaborators for me, and me for them.”

Speaking specifically on his working relationship with Affleck, Lonergan said, “We had a lot of fun just discussing the character and both trying to imagine we were him.”

Having taken on the dual duties of both screenwriter and director on the film, Lonergan also provided insight on the most challenging aspect of penning the script, which utilizes flashbacks often to tell its story: "I tried to [write it without flashbacks] and that was really dull. It just seemed like a pointless march of misery."

Watch the full interview below.