There are few in the entertainment industry today quite like Alex Wolff. A child actor turned multi-hyphenate star, Wolff consistently produces emotionally resonate performances — portrayals that showcase not only a depth of understanding, but a limitless curiosity that encourages him to dig deeper and go further in every role.
Sometimes, this causes uncomfortable internal reflection; the actor tells Schön! that his character in Pig, an arrogant young man trying desperately to please his emotionally distant father, is rooted partially in an element of himself that he tries to keep buried. “I think if you drill deep enough, you can find that in all of us,” he shares. But all this effort is in service of putting out the best work possible — something Wolff consistently does.
Now, as his other film Old, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, hits cinemas around the world, Schön! spoke with Wolff about acting, music, what he’s been reading lately and more.
Hey Alex! So I’ve just seen Pig, and that movie is so, so good.
I love that movie, too — and Nic is just out of this world in it.
Oh, it’s great. Nic was amazing, and you were also incredible. How was it working with Nicolas Cage?
It was the absolute greatest experience I’ve ever had. By far. I feel that nothing, for me, has come close to it in my own personal life or my professional life. It was so personally rewarding, because we were both kind of going through similar things emotionally when we filmed it. And then just professionally, as an actor, watching this guy work was like — I mean, I felt like I was watching a magician do magic tricks right in front of me and I couldn’t figure out how he did it. I feel like he is another being, like he’s not a human. When he starts acting, he becomes this transcendent force, and I feel like any good moments of mine are all thanks to him lifting me up.
When that movie was first pitched to you, what about the project drew you to it?
Well, everything about it. One, it was Nic — even if it was a terrible script, I would have done it. He’s part of the whole reason I even got into acting. And then it happened to be that I understood this character on a profound, and maybe embarrassing, level. I felt that he hadn’t been portrayed in the exact way that I wanted him to in other films — you know, I’ve never really seen that character before, and yet I know that person so well.
And more than that, I think embarrassingly enough I am that person, and I’ve tried, maybe repressed, those parts of myself, or separated myself from that sleazy, ‘always-trying-to-get-ahead’, opportunistic side. I try to distance myself from that as much as humanly possible, but I think if you drill deep enough, you can find that in all of us.
I found that for me, I could connect to a feeling of really wanting to please a family member and wanting to be accepted. I think that was the main thing. It’s this person who is trying so desperately to be accepted and trying so hard to be above everybody else, and yet feels so below everyone. I don’t know. I found that contradiction to be endlessly fascinating. It was a well of material for me.
Let’s talk about Old. You knew M. Night Shyamalan was connected from day one, right? What was the process of getting the role like?
I had to just audition. I just got on tape and auditioned for this a few times, and then I was lucky enough that he liked me and we had a fantastic meeting and read together. In the first meeting, we discussed Buñuel, we discussed Bergman and all these people I thought influenced this movie… As we got to talking, I think Persona, The Exterminating Angel and films like that actually were heavy influences on this — this kind of avant-garde, hilarious, fun, terrifying, dark experiment of a movie. I just couldn’t have been more like, let’s fucking go.
How was shooting in the Dominican Republic?
Oh my God, so fun. It was amazing. Yeah, we were shooting on a beach and got to just swim around — oh my God, it was like a dream.
Understandable. I ask because I know shooting on a beach can be a mixed experience — it can go from fun to hellish fast.
I mean, I guess it was hellish for [M.] Night… The set kept washing away, and there were lots of weather disasters — it would rain like four times a day, and then there would be just burning sunshine. But for me, it was just playing in paradise. It was amazing.
From the trailer, it looks like Old is not only a horror thriller, but a body horror film — something along the lines of Cronenberg. Are you a horror fan, and a body horror fan specifically?
That’s interesting. Cronenberg is an interesting comparison. I do think that it actually falls in a category of some similarities to Cronenberg, but I think it’s very much not really a horror movie. I think people will be more excited to go in and know that it’s not a horror movie. It’s more of an avant-garde existential experiment, and it will scare you much more than a horror movie. It will linger with you. The ideas in this movie, I think, will haunt you… I think you’ll think about them for months and months and months — what does it mean to get older, what is time, you know, these kinds of larger, scary questions that I think a normal horror movie maybe wouldn’t ask with this kind of precision and depth.
Do you get nervous before a film of yours comes out?
Does that resolve itself when it actually comes out, or are you checking reviews, following the release, etc.?
No, I don’t read any reviews… That’s poison — and no, it never goes away. Maybe I’d say the nerves go away whenever you’re going to do the next thing. I think you throw yourself in that and get so nervous about that next thing that you can’t really be nervous about the past anymore. But I think that I’m always nervous about something. I feel like it keeps me alive.
How was dealing with those nerves for The Cat and the Moon? I know that was a project that was pretty close to you.
Yeah. I don’t know. I think it’s kind of underrated to be really nervous… It depends how you use your nervousness. I felt I used it as sort of a compass, you know? I felt like it helped point me in certain good directions, and I could funnel it all into excitement and adrenaline and focus rather than letting it cave me in and crumble. I think there are two ways to be nervous: you can be just cripplingly nervous, but you can also be exhilaratingly nervous.
With The Cat and the Moon, I didn’t know how the hell I was going to do it, to write and direct. I just didn’t know. Every day I didn’t know. So, I just let it be like, okay, every day I’m going to be really nervous to do something, and I’m just going to go ahead and do it. and we’re going to see how it unfolds. And it seemed that that really not only worked for me, but it for the other actors, too. I think it made them feel good that the director was also thinking like, ‘okay, let’s see what happens,’ rather than feeling like they had to hit the director’s exact ‘thing’ they wanted… I was like, ‘let’s find this together. Let’s figure this out.’ I wish more movies were made like that, personally. I think it’s why the performances in the film are all incredibly raw and honest.
Do you have anything else in the works from a writer-director perspective?
I have another movie I’m doing next spring. I’m really, really, really excited. And it has a terrific actress who you will know very well, but I can’t say who it is yet. She’s starring in it with me and it’s going to be, I think, a really good one.
I actually interviewed your brother Nat earlier this year, and he said that you were working on an album in March. What’s the update on that, if you can share?
Finishing the mixes now. It’s pretty much done. I mean, it’s kind of scary. It’s pretty much done, so we’re going to just figure out what the hell we’re going to do with it now.
Do you find that you’re still inspired musically?
I find that I’m always inspired musically… When you’re doing a movie and you’re focused, focused, focused, usually there are songs coming out along the way. They kind of slip through the cracks. It feels like the inspiration just kind of pops up.
Have you read anything interesting lately?
That’s interesting. I read a bunch of stuff right before I did Old that were really fascinating books. I’m reading The Untethered Soul right now, which I’m a little embarrassed about, but it’s really good. It’s a book on meditation and stuff, and I think it’s a good thing to read while you’re going through a lot of press and a lot of attention, which can feel a little unsavory at times. But I read a lot of stuff when I was going into Old about child psychology. I read a bunch about Jean Piaget and I read a book called A Piaget Primer, which kind of broke down all the Piaget concepts, and that was really spectacular for me to read. It broke down what it means to be a kid in kind of a palatable, beautiful way. And then with that I read another book by Bruno Bettelheim, [The Uses of Enchantment]… It was about fairytales, and it was pretty incredible reading how allegorical they are and what an effect fairytales have on us as kids. It got me ready to do Old, which I think is sort of a fairy tale in its own right. It’s a nightmare fairytale.
Old is in cinemas now.
Pig is available on VOD starting 3 August.
photography. Camraface @ Early Morning Riot
fashion. Adam Ballheim
talent. Alex Wolff
grooming. Joanna Pensinger Ford
photography assistant. Arta Gee
fashion assistants. Elisa Jane + Ian Elmowitz
words. Braden Bjella