CS Interview: Alex Wolff on timely drama Castle in the Ground
Just in time for the film’s digital debut, ComingSoon.net got the opportunity to talk with Alex Wolff (Hereditary, Bad Education) to talk about the timely drama Castle in the Ground, in which he stars as a teenager dipping his toes into opioid addiction following the death of his mother. Click here to rent or own Castle in the Ground!
In looking back on getting the script and choosing to sign on for the film, Wolff recalling falling in love with the story and its “style of storytelling,” pointing out the perfect analogy between the themes and the film’s setting while also comparing it to similarly-subjected classics Panic in Needle Park and Midnight Cowboy.
“I was just talking about how it was a really good metaphor of being in Canada, and how it was so freezing outside, like you could barely feel your toes or anything, but it wasn’t super windy and bleak. It was kind of sunny,” Wolff described. “So every day it was really beautiful outside, but it was so freezing, and I felt like that’s what the script was. It was like you were freezing and there’s a lot of horrible, dark stuff going on, but it’s kind of through the viewpoint of a young boy who’s kind of naïve and open to the world. So the movie has a lot of lightness and a lot of fun and a lot of sunniness and sweetness. It’s just you know, under the blanket of this horrible world of addiction and bad influences and friends that he shouldn’t be involved with. But that’s unique storytelling that really was told more consistently in the ’70s. But I felt this did it in a way that was kind of both unique and new, but also really kind of retro and nostalgic for movies that were less plot oriented and more character-driven.”
The cast for the film features a small ensemble roster that includes Keir Gilchrist (It Follows) and Imogen Poots (Vivarium), who Wolff described as a “force of nature” and found incredible to watch “her spontaneity” and how she “really goes for it as an actress,” which he has “always valued,” even likening her to a couple of Hollywood’s most chameleon-like performers.
“Nic Cage and John Malkovich and she’s one of those people that really has that as well, and I’ve just always really admired that about her and her work, and I feel this is my favorite of her performances, because I feel like it both takes risks, and she’s charismatic and wild and fun, but she’s also really grounded and a deep sadness, and kind of an opaque loneliness,” Wolff explained. “I just feel like she’s really one of the most gifted people I’ve gotten to work with.”
In order to help properly prepare to deal with the subject of the film, Wolff found he “had to dive deep” into research of opioid addiction and the epidemic affecting much of North America, feeling he “had to learn everything about this addiction and watch every documentary I could get my hands on.”
“Through that, I realized that it’s just so easy, man. It’s just so easy to become an addict,” Wolff opined. “And it’s not a certain type of person, really. This drug can take a hold of anybody, anybody you see. And I think it’s time that this movie really shows how if someone is fragile and someone needs something and is grieving, if they have, under the right circumstances, we all could fall victim to this, and we have to stop looking at the world as an addict versus the people who choose not to do drugs. It just doesn’t work like that.”
Though he truly enjoyed his time diving into the research and learning about the crisis and getting to work alongside Poots, Wolff did note that stepping into the story was “so fucking hard” while also being “really fun in equal measure.”
“A lot of movies are just hard or just fun and wow, but this is kind of both, like I had a lot of fun, a lot of days we were just goofing around, but yeah, it was tough,” Wolff recalled. “It was just a tough thing all around, and to make sure to never go into “addict” acting. He’s not an addict yet. It’s the first three days where he’s turning into his decline. So I had to kind of show the beginning stages of an addict, which we don’t see that much on camera, just the curiosity, the resistance of not wanting to fall victim to it and being a smart kid with his head on his shoulders, and then also drifting into it. I like that this movie is all about how you kind of start just dipping your toe into the pool of these things and it’s like a monster that just pulls you underwater and there’s nothing you can really do about it. I think it’s just important to see a movie that takes isolation and loneliness and grief seriously when we’re going through such a time of isolation, loneliness and grief.”
Wolff found one of the biggest levels of comfort in the production came in co-star Neve Campbell, who stars as his ailing mother in the film, recalling how “she became like my mother” as she helped him through the “suffering” he physically endured through the movie.
“I was almost like, decrepit. I was just like, so skinny and so malnourished, I was kind of hyper and also hyper emotional, so I think it was easy for me to like, feel really bad or very negative because I was just so charged up with this energy, this gaseous energy sometimes,” Wolff said. “She was so kind and so gracious, and I think it’s one of her best performances. I think it’s like a tour de force for her. I think Neve has been in a lot of serious work. I mean, I think if you look at Wild Things and Matt Dillon, and I think she at certain times hasn’t gotten the chance to do the type of work that maybe she wants to do, but I think that she absolutely kind of has already proved herself far and away as an actor. But I think that she just hit it out of the park.”
After making its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival late last year, the film was originally planned to hit theaters before the global shutdown and is now coming out strictly on digital platforms. In a time where many audiences may be looking for something on the brighter side, Wolff does “hope they take a risk on it because I feel that right now as a species, we’re a little bit inclined to do the bottom shelf, low-hanging fruit things to ease our minds” and that much like horror movies, this is a film just as important to experience now more than ever.
“Why horror movies do so well, I think it’s because we want to feel some type of danger, it’s just that when it has too much reality and to do with our lives, we get scared,” Wolff explained. “But I think it’s actually important to see it all in a movie, so we can put it more into perspective in life. And I think it’s a healthy way to work through grief and work through maybe some of the more tragic elements of real life through fiction. I think it’s the only way we can. And I think that the movie happens to be super entertaining and kind of delectable and dreamy and funny and all those things, but it also happens to be dealing with something super serious. So I don’t want people to think this is like an issue movie or that it’s bleak. I don’t feel it’s bleak. I don’t feel it’s depressing. I feel it’s in some ways hopeful, it just doesn’t go the way we hope it could’ve gone for this character.”
A grieving teenager (Wolff) befriends his charismatic but troubled next-door neighbor (Poots), only to become ensnared in a world of addiction and violence as the opioid epidemic takes hold of their small town.
The movie also stars Keir Gilchrist (It Follows), and Tom Cullen (Weekend). Castle in the Ground was written and directed by Joey Klein (The Other Half).
Castle in the Ground is available on demand now!