“They have me running around. There’s the two movies at Tribeca –one (‘Grandma’) I’m only in a scene in- and then also ‘Paper Towns’ press, and then also I just had a meeting about another movie and I also play music with my brother. Sometimes I’m just sitting around and I have nothing to do and then other times it’s ten-thousand things at once.”
Nat Wolff is a difficult man to wrangle these days. After making his name on Nickelodeon’s kids series “The Naked Brothers Band,” along with his brother Alex, he’s found his career steadily gaining traction since his role as Ansel Elgort’s blind best friend in last year’s smash John Green adaptation The Fault in Our Stars. He has two big leading roles this year, including Ashby (just picked up for distribution today by Paramount), playing a nerdy teen opposite Mickey Rourke’s retired hitman, and Paper Towns, another Green adaptation in which Cara Delevingne plays his unlikely love interest.
Wolff also has a co-starring role in Nancy Meyers’ The Intern opposite Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro, and there’s also those rumors that he’s on the shortlist to play Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While that last rumor broke after our interview during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, we got to chat with Wolff about teasing Mickey Rourke, his current career trajectory and being the next John Cusack.
ComingSoon: There have actually been other actors who have quit films because they were too intimidated by Mickey. What was your full Mickey Rourke experience like?
Nat Wolff: Holy sh*t, really? Part of the reason I did the movie was because I wanted to work with Mickey. He’s been one of my favorite actors since I was twelve and saw “Diner” and thought, “That’s what I want to do.” Between “Diner” and then a bunch of Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson movies, I was like, “These are the motherf**kers,” you know? Also just from the script. What I responded to was the stuff about being a man. I’ve dealt with a lot of issues with that in my life and can relate to that in different ways.
CS: “Diner” is amazing. Gotta love that scene where he just guzzles sugar straight from the dispenser.
Wolff: Yeah, when he puts it in his mouth! So f**king good, and I love the scene where she touches his penis in the movie theater and he gives that hilarious speech to her. “You know, it just kinda popped through.” Yeah, he’s so f**king great in that movie, and “The Pope of Greenwich Village.” He’s a great actor and I’m not intimidated by working with people. I like to work with tough people, and he’s tough, but he’s worth it.
CS: With Ashby he’s playing a surprisingly sensitive character -for a hitman- even though the tone of the script can be very snarky and sarcastic and post-modern at times. What was it like keeping that balance of snark and sincerity?
Wolff: You mean like finding the tone? The movie has a lot of different tones and that is always exciting. It’s super original, but that makes it hard too. What I tried to do was really map out Ed’s journey from being this sort of cowardly people-pleaser to becoming more of a man in a way that’s good, not fake. I also mapped out Ashby’s journey because we all want them to be parallel, but I wanted as an actor to understand his journey as well. I don’t care what the other character’s arc is on every movie, but for some reason I thought their journeys were so similar that it helped me to understand his as well. Then it’s just about being loose and trying to play it as real as possible and let the comedy come from there, not trying to push it on through tacked-on jokes. There’s already enough jokes in the script, and it’s about almost playing against that.
CS: That ties into my favorite moment in the film, which is when he’s leaving the car and you just kind of non-chalantly shout out “I love you.” It’s done as a joke, but there’s also some truth to it!
Wolff: (laughs) Yeah, that was also because Tony [McNamara] let us be loose. I think that was an improv, and I also in real life like to tease Mickey a lot, and that was an example of me teasing him that got into the movie. And he likes it. When you say that actors quit and stuff, Mickey really liked me because I’m not afraid of him at all and I like to tease him, and then he’s really fun.
CS: Your characters in “Ashby” and “Paper Towns” are similar in that they both have to kind of man up in order to get what they want.
Wolff: Yeah! I don’t know if that’s very unique to me or my career as much as it is to that age. That stage at the end of high school is what it’s about. I loved coming of age in the last couple of movies, but now I’m gonna have to be “of age” at some point. (laughs) I’ve come of age enough, but what’s fun about those parts is it’s more fun to play a character that has to change than a stagnant character, at least for me. As a young guy the parts with the biggest arcs are “boys to men.” You know, when I played one of the guys from Boyz II Men? (laughs)
CS: It feels like you’re getting to play a lot of the same roles that John Cusack was getting in the ’80s, the sensitive-but-determined teenager.
Wolff: I LOVE John Cusack, I think he’s such a f**king great actor, so I take that as a big compliment.
CS: Where would you like to see your career branch out? Do you want to continue to do character pieces? Franchise roles?
Wolff: I think I’ve been really lucky because I haven’t just played that part, you know what I mean? I loved playing that part in “Ashby,” but that and the part in “Paper Towns” are, to me, similar but completely different so it kept it exciting for me. I just want to keep playing different roles. I think I got really lucky that I did “Palo Alto” with Gia Coppola because it was so f**king different from anything that I’d done. I got a lot of respect from actors from that movie because that really did open my career up to be more of a character actor. A character actor who’s lucky enough to be the star of certain movies, you know? Not just be a bland leading man, I haven’t played any of those parts. I’m also lucky that I don’t look like some blonde, blue-eyed six-four guy so people aren’t banging down my door to be on the horse with the sword. All I’m saying is now I want to look for parts that are different, and also work with really good people. I don’t have a grand career trajectory.
CS: Could you see yourself holding a machine gun or going up against Jason Statham, something like that?
Wolff: (laughs) That’d be cool. I love action movies. Honestly I love being in good movies, so if there’s a really good movie where I’d be holding a machine gun I would sign up tomorrow. It really doesn’t matter the genre as long as it’s a good movie, a good part, good people. I want to be proud.
20th Century Fox will open Paper Towns in theaters on July 24, while Paramount Home Media Distribution will give Ashby a day-and-date theatrical and VOD release in the U.S. tentatively scheduled for this fall.
(Photo Credit: WENN)