When you see Alex Wolff, you’ll recognize him from A24’s Hereditary, but Wolff has been acting for years. He starred in Nickelodeon’s The Naked Brothers Band, Patriot’s Day and My Friend Dahmer.
Working alongside Peter Berg and being fortunate to live in the same building as Noah Baumbach inspired Wolff as he worked on The Cat and The Moon. Baumbach read the script and provided notes. Berg’s directing style was one of many that inspired Wolff as he stepped behind the camera for his directorial debut.
The Cat and the Moon follows Nick (Wolff) as he moves to New York to live with a jazz musician. Along the way, Nick meets friends who show him what the city that never sleeps has to offer. Serving the perfect escape from his life that involves taking care of his mother who is in rehab. It’s a gritty tale where the characters are well layered and complex. It’s Wolff’s most personal work to date. I caught up with Wolff to talk transformation and wearing all the hats for The Cat and The Moon.
We’ve talked about Jeffrey Dahmer, Patriot’s Day and now this, but this is special because it’s been with you for a long time.
I started writing it when I was 15-years-old, and I was writing it to avoid studying for the finals. I was writing it fully to distract myself from that, and at the same time using it as a therapy to get through a peculiar time in my life. I was also taking in a lot of the people around me and what my friends were going through. They were going through a lot of interesting things. I followed this lighting bug of this story and wanted to let it dictate where it was going to go and not stop the stream of ideas.
I spent five years making it a readable document. In the end, to see it as a full movie and a poster is just mind-boggling.
You said you wrote it when you were fifteen, and how did aging and experience change with the script?
I think I definitely got more perspective on the characters. In the beginning, it was all from boots on the ground level, which is good to get that out, but then, I had to grow a little bit older and get out of high school in order to see the perspective on when some of the things they were doing were right, and when some of these things they were doing were wrong. By then, I had a more objective distance to the characters, and having both, felt like I was having a relationship with them. I felt I had seen all the different sides and explored that. I guess that’s what was really interesting figuring out how not to judge the characters, but as I get older, take more responsibility for them.
I loved your character. You’re watching everything he’s going through, but then the evolution of grief, the caring for the mother and this burning rage he has. There’s so much authenticity to Nick, what was it like writing him and then stepping into his shoes?
I think it was all part of the same muscle. I mean playing Nick wasn’t different from delivering as a director. I felt that in some ways, Nick is an observer of what’s going on, but is not just an observer. He has his own point of view and opinions of what’s going on, and it’s not always his job to express it. In filmmaking, we feel what Nick is feeling in certain situations through the way I was shooting it and the way I had to deliver it.
Some of my favorite films like Two Days One Night, or The Kid With The Bike, or Scenes From A Marriage or films like that feel like they’re presenting a situation. They have a point of view, and they keep it close to the vest. At times, we feel we’re seeing things through a person’s point of view. The way why we stay on a shot with the drug dealer and the gun in Russell’s mouth and then goes to his face is how Nick feels at that moment. I guess I had to think about how could I deliver cinematically what was going on within my lead character and to always look at it through that perspective.
You went through a physical transformation.
I gained about 30 pounds, maybe more by the time we started. I got all these tattoos, pierced my ears and shaved my head. This character spoke to me, and I had to let these clothes and the spirit of this young boy from Detriot speaks to me. I loved it.
I’ve just lost a bunch of weight for this new movie, and that was awful. It was brutal. So, gaining weight and going to the gym made me feel healthy. For the first time in my life, I was a big muscle guy.
Wow. It was such a transformation. We’ve spoken so much so I noticed it.
You’re also directing. You’ve worked with Peter Berg, how did his technique influence you?
He really did. He helped to produce the movie. He was a huge influence in the way he works with actors and gets this huge kinetic performance out of his characters. I felt like I was a criminal, I was stealing the way he works with actors and the way he gets these performances out. He goes off of adrenalin a lot.
I stole from Berman, The Dardenne brothers and early Scorsese, as well as Truffaut. Noah Baumbach, who is thanked at the end of the film, has lived in the same building as me, my brother and parents since I was a kid. I’ve loved his films so much growing up that I left my script downstairs for him to read with a little note. He read it and went through the whole thing with me. So, he and Peter were a perfect influence on me on how to make a movie for no money.
I loved the score – the New York Jazz, the dance, the rap and that New York vibe to it. Didn’t you compose some of the music too?
The song we write in the film was composed by me. I also used a lot of my dad’s music because he’s a Jazz musician. I didn’t want it to feel like a score, but more that the music was happening. It wasn’t like I was using score, but that it was happening to the movie. It’s playing in the cab or in the party. I wanted stuff that wouldn’t take us out of it.
You’re wearing all three hats, the writing, directing and acting. What was that like for you?
It’s a lot of hats. It’s a little like what it would be like to wear three hats at the same time. It’s like not completely comfortable. You’re always worried about one falling off, but if you really tighten those hats on your head, they’ll stay there. It might look ridiculous, but you can still wear all three hats.