Welcome to Collider’s first ever digital cover issue! We’re looking to go deeper than ever with our interviews and bring you premium entertainment content with the biggest names, up-and-comers, and taste-makers in the industry and it all kicks off here.
Our inaugural profile centers on Alex Wolff, the young actor from Patriot’s Day and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, who delivers a benchmark performance in A24’s blistering horror film Hereditary, in theaters this weekend. We dive deep with Wolff, from his childhood acting experience in The Naked Brothers Band to his music career, the creatives that inspire him, and his goals as a bourgeoning filmmaker.
If you haven’t already, don’t be surprised when you start noticing Alex Wolff everywhere. The 20-year-old actor has been in front of a camera since he was six, or “since the sonogram” as he likes to joke, but the past three years were busier than ever, and with the searing horror movie Hereditary headed to theaters, Wolff is about to unleash the boldest performance of his career.
The benefit of being in front of the camera since the sonogram is it makes you comfortable. Up there in the spotlight, Wolff couldn’t be more at home. Whether he’s trash talking before a competitive round of trivia – leaning right into a stranger’s face, “Look me in the eye, Cowboy” – or spouting off questionable accents during a photo shoot, Wolff is always putting on a show. It’s just what he does.
With the photographer snapping away and a video crew filming behind-the-scenes footage, Wolff alternates between posing for the photoshoot – small, subtle poses; kicking out a foot toward the camera or nipping the aglet of his hoodie’s drawstring between his teeth – and mugging it up for the video camera. In between, he picks up his phone and trains the camera on himself for a quiet Facetime chat. Cameras, cameras, cameras. Cameras all the way down.
A New York native, Wolff grew up in Manhattan; a city kid in a tight-knit showbiz family, who started earning fans at the age of six. Directed by his mother, Polly Draper of Thirtysomething fame, he appeared alongside his brother, Nat Wolff, in The Naked Brothers Band. The film launched a Nickelodeon series that ran for 42 episodes, starring the real-life bros as tween rock stars – they even wrote and performed the music themselves, an early showing of the multidisciplinary approach to creativity Wolff still embraces. He likes to reference a quote from Ethan Hawke; writing, acting, music… the arts are all “fingers on a fist,” stronger when they’re together. At this point, as a multihyphenate actor-musician, and soon, writer-director, Wolff’s “fist” is getting pretty strong.
The Naked Brothers Band was a long time ago, and the Brothers themselves have come a long way, carving out individual careers in the film industry, but that early experience made all the difference. Wolff credits it with teaching him how to be free and uninhibited on camera, “I learned everything super-early,” he says. “The first thing you learn is that this stuff is really lucky, and I feel lucky to be part of it, all the photoshoots and the red carpets and all this stuff, you’re really lucky to be able to do that.” A pause. “Whatever. But in a certain sense, it’s sort of a means to an end, and it’s not the thing that matters. Since I was young, what mattered was what was going on when you were acting, and what was going on when you were doing these amazing things on camera.”
For Wolff, it’s all about what’s happening on that camera, and it’s all about that freedom of performance. “I find that as I get older, all I try to do is unlearn whatever it is that I’ve learned in the past, and try and return to whatever it is that I had as a kid that was sort of unhinged and nuts.”
The only time Wolff doesn’t seem comfortable is just for a moment when we abscond to the green room for our interview. In the quiet, away from an audience, his demeanor changes a bit. He sits cross-legged on the far end of the couch, top foot tap-tap-tapping in the air at rapid fire. He draws symbols in the velvety fabric, distracted. Maybe it’s not so much nerves as it is a side-effect of trying to tamp down all that energy and redirect it, because it’s barely a matter of minutes before he loosens up again and leans in; engaged, attentive, and of course, entertaining.
Wolff has two immediately apparent qualities that you can’t teach an actor, no matter how talented: a game-for-anything willingness that allows him to dive head-first into whatever the day brings — the photoshoot, the trivia contest, the interview, viral videos, whatever — Wolff always goes all-in. But on the razor’s edge of that freewheeling energy, at the eye of the performative storm, there’s a pensive stillness and a streak of earnestness, which he often deflects with wit. Wit served so dry it should come with a lemon twist. Wolff isn’t exactly easy to laugh, but he’s eager to joke and prone toward repartee.
When I ask about his goals for the future, he quips, “World domination. Better be president.” But after a beat, he answers with a mix of optimism that exposes his youth and realism that belies it. “I want to be super happy,” he says, “I want to be able to look back on the years and be proud of 70% of what I did. Or the films I did, to like three or four scenes in each of those.” When I tell him that’s an admirably mature and reasonable goal (the kind of clear-headed ambition most of us could benefit from at such a young age), he quips again. “Also, three Academy Awards.”
Looking toward the future, Wolff is all about The Cat and the Moon. He wrote, directed and starred in the film, which follows a young man (played by Wolff) to New York City after the death of his father. He describes the movie as his baby. In that sense, he’s a young father. Wolff wrote the script when he was fifteen and spent the last five years refining it, evolving it, and maturing the writing in tandem with his own growth. “It’s a part of me,” he says about the film. “I love the story so much, and it means so much to me that no matter how many dead zones there were and people trying to tell me it would never happen, I never let it crush my ambition to make it.”
To play the role, Wolff shaved his head and put on twenty pounds. “It may be hard for the naked eye to notice my 20-pound weight gain because I’m such a thin guy,” he says, “but it was a huge change for me.” He spent hours in the gym, daily, eating twice as much as his regular diet. “I felt way tougher, I walked a little differently, and I felt way healthier, and like I had an outlet to unleash all of my stress of putting a movie together.” He says the physical change, the added size and physical presence, made him quieter. He imposed himself less, talked less (though he jokes we shouldn’t check that with his family or producers) and listened to others with more confidence.