You may know Alex Wolff from his younger days on the TV series The Naked Brothers Band and In Treatment; more recently he’s turned up in the Jumanji sequels as withdrawn teen Spencer, forced to confront his anxiety and become a hero when he’s sucked into a video game (and transformed into Dwayne Johnson).
The American actor has also been building a sideline in darker material, chasing indie films like Hereditary and Castle In The Ground. And this week, he can be seen in two very different modes: Michael Sarnoski’s Pig casts Wolff as Amir, a hustler who steers Nicolas Cage’s reclusive truffle digger through the Portland underworld, while M. Night Shyalaman’s thriller Old uses him in a very different manner.
Making Pig was a no-brainer for Wolff, who says he signed onto the project for two reasons: “The amazing script written by Michael, and the amazing beast that is Nic Cage. He’d been my guiding light since I was a child, someone I saw as a true artist from the very beginning.”
Wolff can’t offer enough praise for his co-star, even jumping into a fairly physical Cage impersonation at the mere mention of Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans. “He’s like a creature from the sky,” he says. “He’s not even human… he’s, like, the only flower of his kind in the whole forest. Just his own thing. I feel like I won more than a lottery; I won an existential prize, getting to work with him.”
Unglamorous and a little gross
Wolff blanches at my suggestion that directors are attracted to his ability to intimate a certain darkness underneath his vulnerable persona – “there’s probably something within my eyes and my spirit that translates as vulnerability, but I very much resist any type of type, and I dread the idea that anything’s been repetitive or similar” – but eventually acknowledges that he might have a certain quality that appeals.
“I’m less afraid to maybe go to places that other people find… ‘unattractive’ is probably one word, but it’s more ‘unglamorous’ and maybe a little gross,” he says. “Icky. I think it’s icky to find this other side of yourself, and if there’s any through-line in my career, it’s definitely that I like characters who have something buried that they’re trying to maybe repress or fight. A lot of my favorite performances have that. But honestly, I have such a hard time watching myself in anything I’m in that I have no idea what’s coming out. I just know that I’m trying to follow my own instincts for the thing that I’m doing at the time.”
And then there’s Old, which requires him to inhabit a far more innocent character than he usually gets to play. We can’t really talk about it without spoilers, but he’s already figured out a way to deflect any questions about his performance.
“I invested in an amazing time machine,” he declares. “I got a real time machine and went back to being a child and it really helped. It shocked me, just going back and being a kid. You learn a lot of things by yourself with a time machine.”
You can’t look at yourself in movies, I say, but I couldn’t watch myself as a child. It’d be unbearable.
“It was hard,” Wolff laughs. “It was very hard. But the time machine technology made it a lot easier.”