From director Adam Wingard and based on the famous Japanese manga written by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, Death Note follows high schooler Light (Nat Wolff), who comes across a supernatural notebook. Upon realizing that it holds a dangerous and scary power that allows its owner to write someone’s name in it while picturing their face, resulting in their death, Light quickly becomes caught up in the godlike ability, attracting the attention of his classmate Mia (Margaret Qualley), as well as the mysterious L (Lakeith Stanfield).
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Nat Wolff talked about why he wanted to get involved with Death Note, the appeal of this world, the intense relationship between Light and Mia, having to slap himself multiple times, how much he looked forward to shooting the diner scene between Light and L, and why he’d like to dig deeper into his character. He also talked about what gets him to sign on for a project, having a wide array of upcoming projects, and continuing to make music with his brother, Alex Wolff.
Collider: How did you get involved with Death Note?
NAT WOLFF: The script came my way and I loved (director) Adam Wingard, from You’re Next and The Guest. He has such a satirical edge that I read it with his voice in my head. And then, before I agreed to do it, I watched the anime, read the manga, and watched the Japanese versions, and I fell in love with the source material. The script seemed to honor it, but also have its own take, so it wasn’t just a copy of it, which would be boring and almost offensive.
Was this film your first introduction to this world?
WOLFF: I had heard of it, from my friend and my two little cousins being obsessed with it, but I hadn’t seen any of it. But by the time we did the movie, I was completely into it. I got excited about some things that didn’t make it into the movie, like when L and Light team up. If there’s a sequel, that’s somewhere that we could go.
The fact that this is a film where there is no clear hero to be rooting for makes the story much more interesting.
WOLFF: I think so, too, especially in a movie that’s got a big budget and all of this action-y stuff happening. Usually, you’ve got your hero who’s six foot four with blonde hair and blue eyes, and you’ve got your girl who’s a damsel in distress. But with this, you’ve got a bunch of weirdo anti-heroes, running around and making a bunch of mistakes.
You’ve said that this character is one of your favorite characters that you’ve ever played. Why is that?
WOLFF: I liked the idea of this kid who starts off as an outcast and an underdog tries to take control of what he sees as the injustices of the world into his own hands, and then he realizes that he’s become the thing that he’s trying to protect people from. He becomes the villain, and he starts to realize that himself. I thought that was really interesting.
Do you think that having the power of the Death Note changes him, or does it just bring out what’s already in him?
WOLFF: I think it brings out something that’s already in a lot of us. I think everybody has the desire and the wish fulfillment. It’s such a hit because everybody has this wish fulfillment. But if there was a real Death Note, I think we should probably hide it.
How do view the relationship between Light and Mia? What do you think it is that draws them to each other?
WOLFF: It’s opposites attract with them. They’re attracted to each other because of the Death Note. They flirt with it, and as the movie goes on, they try to one-up each other with it. It just seems like the way a nice, immature couple is in high school, that uses drinking or smoking pot, or something that the parents wouldn’t approve of, so that they can have this secret little world.
As Mia gets more and more into it, it seems like she falls out of love with Light and more in love with the power of it all.
Do you think that’s a fair assessment?
WOLFF: I think so, yeah.
The relationship between Light and Ryuk is one of the most fascinating aspects of the film. How did you work that out on set?
WOLFF: There was a guy in a big suit who played him. Willem Dafoe came in later to do the voice. The guy in the enormous suit would have to sit there all day, and not be able to move or go to the bathroom. We’d have to feed him his lunch. And then, Willem Dafoe came in later and put in that really haunting voice. I’ve been in a lot of scenes in movies where you just sit across the table from somebody and talk to them, but I’ve never really seen a nine-foot-tall demon god destroy a classroom, so that took some heavy imagination. I have respect for people who do these kinds of fantasy movies and play action heroes. I think they’re under-appreciated?
How many times did you have to slap yourself, in that scene where you first meet Ryuk?
WOLFF: That’s such a good question! Nobody has asked me that. I had to slap myself probably 20 times. My face was completely red, by the end of it. I had to hit myself hard, over and over again.
What was the most challenging aspect of making this? Was there anything you were really nervous about pulling off, or that you were most excited about getting to do?
WOLFF: I was honestly the most nervous about doing scenes where I’d have to talk to people that I’m not seeing. That was terrifying, but it was an exciting experience. I’ve had to do it on another movie since then, and it was so much easier.
The dynamic between Light and L is so layered. You don’t know what to make of L, and he’s a threat to Light. What did you most enjoy about playing that dynamic, and what was it like to have someone like Lakeith Stanfield to play off of?
WOLFF: He’s great. He’s such a good actor. We had a great time, going head to head. That scene was fun. It reminded me of the scene in Heat, where Pacino and De Niro are going head to head in the diner. We both were looking forward to doing that scene, the whole shoot.
Do you find yourself going back and forth between who to root for, or do you find yourself siding with your character?
WOLFF: Once I started, I was all about my character’s journey, but even Light isn’t on his own side. About half-way through it, he starts realizing he’s taking it too far.