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The Indiewire Springboard: Actor Nat Wolff On Playing The Bad Guy in ‘Palo Alto’ and The Blind Guy in ‘The Fault In Our Stars’

The Indiewire Springboard: Actor Nat Wolff On Playing The Bad Guy in 'Palo Alto' and The Blind Guy in 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Every Friday, Indiewire’s Springboard column profiles up-and-comers in the indie world who deserve your attention. Today we talk to actor Nat Wolff.

After his scene-stealing performance as Isaac, a heartbroken, wisecracking teenager with cancer in “The Fault In Our Stars,” Nat Wolff will surely be declared a newcomer to watch. But the thing is, though Wolff is only 19, he’s far from a newcomer. In fact, he’s been performing for years. Wolff got his start with roles in Off-Broadway productions and in 2005, at the ripe old age of 9, he gained recognition along with his brother Alex Wolff for singing and acting in “The Naked Brothers Band: The Movie.” The film, which was written and directed by his mother, Polly Draper (“Thirtysomething”), was later adapted into a hit Nickelodeon TV series. The show was a family affair with Wolff’s mother writing, producing and directing and his father, Michael Wolff, co-starring, producing and supervising the music. After the show ended, Wolff went on to nab roles in films including Garry Marshall’s “New Year’s Eve” and Josh Boone’s “Stuck in Love,” which proved to be a career-changing experience since it helped him land the role of Isaac in “Stars.” In fact, it was Wolff who handed Boone the script for “Stars” and urged him to go for the directing gig.

READ MORE: How Indie Director Josh Boone Landed ‘The Fault in Our Stars’: He Pitched It as ‘Titanic’

Now with back-to-back roles in Gia Coppola’s disaffected teen drama “Palo Alto” and “The Fault In Our Stars,” Wolff is displaying his impressive range as an actor — shifting easily between the nasty, darkly charismatic Fred in “Palo Alto” and the lovable, blind Isaac in “Stars.” Wolff recently spoke to Indiewire about his roles in the two films. Distributed by Tribeca Film, “Palo Alto” is in theaters now and will be available on VOD this summer. “The Fault In Our Stars” hits theaters today.

I started off in a band with my brother and I’m still in the band. And
it’s cool we have two songs coming out Thursday (yesterday) and then I have “The Fault in Our Stars”
coming out Friday (today). It’s weird how the worlds always seems to collide. My dad was a jazz musician and my mom was an actress and all their
friends were like weird artists and stuff so I just thought that’s what
everyone did. But the Naked
Brothers Band show that my mom created about our band—That show was kind
of like an acting school and a music school. I had to write 13 songs
and we’d do 13 episodes and then we’d go to school during the year. And
then I ended up doing plays in New York and studying with teachers in
New York and just trying to get better and better. And then I was lucky
to meet people like (“The Fault In Our Stars” director) Josh Boone who actually want me in their movies.

I just read the script (for “The Fault In Our Stars”) and it was one of those things. The book was so good and the script was so good, but I knew that a bad
director could ruin it. And I just worked with Josh and I loved him so
much and I thought he would do a great job. And I told him ‘you gotta go
get that job’ and he’s like ‘I’ll never get it, but I can try.’ And I
think he just owed me.

The parts of Fred and Isaac are so different. I meant it was good. After “Palo Alto,” I was physically exhausted and
emotionally exhausted. And just the part of Isaac, I thought it was
going to be sort of easier than it turned out to be. It ended up being
really difficult because I realized I had to balance creating levity
and—intensity. But at
the same time deal with the reality that this guy is going blind and
being dumped by his girlfriend.

I’m just 100 percent that guy in Palo Alto (joking!). No, I mean those characters
in “Palo Alto” were so truthful, that’s why everyone was clamoring to be a part of that
movie. I think when I went for my first meeting with Gia,  I said “I don’t
think I am that guy. I think I feel much more like the Teddy (Jack Kilmer) character.” And she said, “yeah that’s why I think you’re perfect for Fred.” I guess
in that character it was thinking about kids who I went to high school
with who were really self destructive and also finding part in that part
of myself that’s self-destructive and the part of myself that needs a
lot of attention and kind of aspects of myself that I like to keep
hidden. And at the same time, I started finding the fun and the humor and
the lightness—finding his charm. Which I think makes it more upsetting.
Because I liked him. When I read the script, I found myself strangely
attracted to Fred.

To get into the role of Isaac, I spent about two weeks every day where I would wear an eye patch all day. It was kind of my practice for when I had to have one eye out (as Isaac). It kind of messes with your balance and then I would spend other days when I would just close my eyes and put sunglasses on and would do my entire daily routine. I would brush my teeth and try to make a bowl of cereal. And then I would try to get my mom or my brother to take me out and walk me around as a blind guy. I actually ended up one day throwing eggs in the park with my mom until park security came and tried to get us to leave.

In the scene in “The Fault In Our Stars,”  I’m supposed to be throwing eggs at a car, blind. And I just wanted to be able to sell it so I actually did it blind. But when I was actually on set for the movie I was supposed to have recently gone blind so I haven’t really mastered it anyway. So I put these blinding contacts in my eyes which made it so I actually couldn’t see. So I actually was a bumbling blind guy on set, like a newly blind guy. And that made it so I wouldn’t have to fake it. It made it much easier.

On the set of “Stars,” we were all laughing the whole time just because it was so
We really did love each other on this
movie and that doesn’t always happen. I think we tried to keep the set
atmosphere fun. But, yeah for the character I guess it was just how I
deal with my pain. Through humor a lot of the times. And I realized
through doing this movie that I don’t know—I used to think it was bad,
but I realized that I think it is healthy. It is a healthy way to
dealing with this stuff. My main concern with this part was that I
didn’t want Isaac to be the butt of the joke, not offensive. I just
wanted him to be a super funny person.

To me and my approach as an actor it’s not really that different being in an indie and a Hollywood movie. Besides the fact that you have a little more time when you literally have more days to shoot when you are on a bigger movie. On an independent movie sometimes you have a little more freedom to kind of do it your own way because you don’t have that many people that have to say yes to your ideas. In this movie, I was lucky because it was a creative big movie. There were no car chases or anybody turning into a zombie or something. It was all pretty realistic and human so I think the studio and everyone was more open to creative ideas.

I just want to be an actor that can’t be pinned down to a certain type. I just want to play different kinds of characters and suck up as many characters as I can while people want me in their movies. I just want to keep doing things that make me really scared in the beginning and kind of stretch myself because I feel like if I do the same thing I would get bored. 

My favorite actor in the world is Dustin Hoffman. I feel like he’s so honest and so transformative and so good. And also, I won a contest when I was in 8th grade and I got to have an acting lesson with him. Which is the coolest story that I have.

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