'It's always a surprise when things turn out the way you hope they're going to,' the filmmaker says

By Sara Vilkomerson
January 24, 2017 at 12:22 PM EST

Kenneth Lonergan was not watching the announcement of the Oscar nominations on Tuesday morning. While Manchester by the Sea, which he wrote and directed, received six nominations — including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor for Casey Affleck, Best Supporting Actor for Lucas Hedges and Best Supporting Actress for Michelle Williams — he was waking up his daughter to go to school. This seems entirely typical of the low-key writer/director/playwright, who later learned the news. “It feels really great,” Lonergan says. “I’m just glad people are liking the movie. It’s really wonderful. And I’m really happy for the cast. It’s a long way from Cape Ann.”

Manchester by the Sea, starring Casey Affleck as a handyman who must return to his hometown to take care of his teenage nephew after his brother dies, is a poignant, quiet drama full of everyday moments. There’s a tragedy at its center, but the film — much like Lonergan’s previous works, You Can Count on Me and Margaret — is filled with humor and human kindness. “I’ve been surprised by the whole experience,” Lonergan says. “I wasn’t sure people were going to want to go to a movie that is looking at such a rough side of life. More and more I realize the movie is looking at characters who are doing everything they can to show up for each other, to be there for each other. I think that’s something everyone can relate to.” He laughs. “It’s always a surprise when things turn out the way you hope they’re going to.”

Longergan says he will try to rustle up a few friends and his daughter this evening. “Maybe we’ll have a little celebration,” he says. “Maybe we’ll have some champagne.”

Manchester by the Sea

  • Movie
  • R
  • 137 minutes
  • Kenneth Lonergan