Alex Wolff took the dare for ‘Hereditary'
LOS ANGELES — Alex Wolff slides into a booth at his favorite Studio City deli, sets down his blackframed glasses and within minutes casually quotes Irish poet William Butler Yeats, whose “Cat and the Moon” provides the title for the 20-year-old actor’s recently wrapped directorial debut. He’s not your typical Valley dude.
Wolff grew up in New York City. At age 6, he starred with his brother Nat in the Nickelodeon series “The Naked Brothers Band,” created by their actress mom Polly Draper and featuring songs written by the two boys. More recently, he portrayed Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the Mark Wahlberg film “Patriot’s Day” and a serial killer’s high school mate in “My Friend Dahmer.”
Taking a break in LA before returning east to finish “Bad Education” opposite Hugh Jackman, the bicoastal Wolff cheerfully revisited the making of writer-director Ari Aster’s angst-ridden horror film “Hereditary.” In the summer release, Wolff played tormented teenager Peter, mired in a supernaturally charged family tragedy involving his ferociously unforgiving mother (Toni Collette), grieving father (Gabriel Byrne) and peculiar sister (Milly Shapiro). The following is an edited transcript.
Q: What was it like reading the “Hereditary” script for the first time?
A: The first 10 to 15 pages I’m thinking, “This script is well-written, I love the way the characters are — Oh, my God, what the … is going on!” Because you don’t see it coming, at all. I remember at the end, when all that crazy is going down, my mom walked into my room and I shrieked out loud because I was so overtaken by the intensity of the script.
Q: Toni Collette plays your mother Annie with such frightening intensity, especially when she's screaming at you. How did that feel?
A: It was a blast. The whole movie is a game of chicken where she’s daring me to explode, both of us are daring each other, like in the dinner scene where I go, “Is there something you want to say, Mom?” And throughout, Ari’s basically going “OK, explode. OK, explode. Tear yourself open and I’ll figure it out later.” That can be scary unless you’re ready to throw out your sanity. But it’s also really fun.
Q: So how did you research the occult aspects of the story?
A: I saw a documentary about this girl who’d been kidnapped by a satanic cult and watched this woman talking about how Paimon (a king of the underworld) was like a mischievous, nervous teenager. It fit in perfectly with what family means, what anxiety means, what tragedy means.
Q: What was your personal entry point for telling the “Hereditary” story?
A: I think what makes “Hereditary” sing is sadness, even more than the scary (stuff ). To me, it’s about a boy who wants his mom to love him after he messes up, but there’s a faulty screw in the relationship. That’s what makes it so heartbreaking.
“I think what makes ‘Hereditary’ sing is sadness.” — Actor Alex Wolff