George Nash chats with Alex Wolff about his role in Marc Meyers’s drama Human Capital…
At just 22, Alex Wolff has already garnered the kind of eclectic filmography very few actors achieve in their entire career. From hit indie horrors to studio franchises to writing, directing and starring in his own movie, Wolff’s CV reads like it’s from someone twice his age.
His latest film, Human Capital—an English-language remake of Paolo Virzí’s 2013 adaptation of Stephen Amidon’s novel—sees him bolster that further, adding the likes of Liev Schreiber and Marisa Tomei to an already impressive list of screen collaborators. Despite not showing up until an hour in, Wolff’s performance as Ian—a troubled teenager plagued by past trauma—is no less intense or affecting, and one that once again showcases his seemingly innate ability to convey so much from very little.
Sitting down with Flickering Myth, Wolff discussed the issues faced by his character, as well as the emotional demands of undertaking such a project. And, naturally, the possibility of a shark themed movie starring Nicolas Cage…
In some ways, Ian and the character of Nick from your own film, The Cat and the Moon, share a similar backstory. Was that something that attracted you to the role?
Oh, interesting. How so?
In terms of their family situation. Specifically, the parental situation and whether that in any way influenced your decision to take the role.
I hadn’t really thought about the similarities like that. But certainly, what I did love was that Ian was someone who approached life with a bit of an iron fist. He’s pretty cynical. Pretty nihilistic. But he’s also fragile and approaches his rage with this sort of coy humour and this subversive distance. And I liked that when something really bad happens, he cracks open.
So, I think in a lot of ways, he’s actually the exact opposite of the character in my film. [Nick] to me is someone who wears his heart on his sleeve. Like an open book. He’s unbelievably sweet but, equally, when you look at him you see that there’s pain in his eyes. With Ian, he tends to put up this opaque barrier. And that was intriguing to me.
And he’s clearly a vulnerable soul struggling with some very difficult issues. Trauma and grief being just two of them. As much as this film explores wealth and class, it also comes at a time when conversations around mental health are at the forefront of social dialogue. Did you therefore feel an added level of responsibility when portraying such a character?
Yea, it’s an interesting question. I think Ian is struggling with a whole barrel of issues and so it’s not like I’m portraying someone with an assigned, specified illness. Instead, a large amount of his pain derives from trauma, which I feel a lot of people can really connect and relate to. But as an actor, whenever I’m working in these types of roles, I try not to assign any responsibility or put any rules on myself. I tend to leave it up to the director and those around me to help guide me, letting me know what’s ok, what’s crossing the line and what feels real.
And when you’re working on these projects where one imagines the emotional demands must be substantial, are there things you do to help cope with it — things to help relax yourself when you’re away from those intense environments?
With this film, more than any other I’ve been a part of, there was what felt like zero relaxation time. We were doing so many things. And often in the cold, too. Things were changing up a lot, and there was a lot of scheduling stuff. It was really kind of chaotic which was exciting in and of itself. I felt like I had to be ready on a dime to go somewhere really crazy with my character. You had to be ready to do a really emotional scene every day, so I guess I wasn’t really doing that much exhaling. And in that sense, it was both a very exciting and hugely challenging process.
Generally, though, when I’m working, I always tend to go back to things like Family Guy. I watch a lot of Family Guy. For me, it’s a great way to unplug. But what’s really funny about [Human Capital], is that I got really into sharks.
Well, that’s not something I expected you to say…
Yea, I got really obsessed with the idea that Ian was like a shark, in the sense that we all seem to misunderstand sharks. I found myself doing endless, endless research on sharks. It became like a passion for me. So much so that I actually started watching all the shark movies I could get my hands on. The good and the bad. And all these documentaries, too. So, really, any down time I had seemed to be Family Guy and then shark movies. Everything sharks. And for months my friends knew all they were going to hear about was sharks.
Sounds like my kind of binge watch.
And finally, I read that you are very good pals with a certain Nicolas Cage. You’ve already worked on a film together (Pig), but is there potential for a future collaboration? Maybe him starring in one of your films?
He better. I would love that. Honestly, I’d work with Nic on anything — in any capacity. I have no limits. I want to work with him however possible. Like, it doesn’t matter what it is: it could be at a child’s birthday party where we’re both clowns or something. I’d definitely do that. It literally doesn’t matter what we’re doing.
Maybe you and him could do a shark-themed movie of some sort?
Oh my God, that would be amazing. He would love it. He had to hear a lot about sharks from me. I mean, we bonded over that stuff. So, I’m betting he’d feel the same way.
I think I speak on behalf of many, many people when I say that that would be amazing. I don’t think you realise just how badly we would want to see that movie get the green light.
Thanks man. Let’s hope that it happens.
Many thanks to Alex Wolff for taking the time for this interview.
Human Capital was released in the US on 20th March.
George Nash is a freelance film journalist. Follow him on Twitter via @_Whatsthemotive for movie musings, puns and cereal chatter.