Home Film Alex Wolff on Unlocking his Inner Child in ‘Old’ – Exclusive Interview

Alex Wolff on Unlocking his Inner Child in ‘Old’ – Exclusive Interview

by Nicolás Delgadillo
Alex Wolff looking to the sky with tears in his eyes as seen in the new M. Night Shyamalan Horror Thriller OLD.

Alex Wolff has been performing since he was a young kid, starting off a career with his brother Nat Wolff in music and television before moving on to establish himself as a gifted actor in his own right. While he made prominent appearances in films like Patriots Day, My Friend Dahmer, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, it wasn’t until he starred in Ari Aster’s 2018 game-changer Hereditary that he proved he was a force to be reckoned with. Wolff is capable of exploding onscreen in ways both heartbreaking and jarring in their intensity, and it’s led to the young actor quickly becoming one of the most sought-out talents of his generation, with major roles in HBO’s Bad Education, Castle in the Ground (which he received a Canadian Screen Award nomination for), and most recently, the critically-acclaimed Pig alongside Nicolas Cage.

Wolff’s most recent standout performance can be found in the latest from renowned filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan: Old. The story follows a family vacationing at a beautiful and luxurious resort, only to horrifically discover that all of them are rapidly aging at a shocking rate. With no easy way to escape the beach that they’ve found themselves trapped on, the family must decide whether to fight against their fate or use the most of what precious time they have left. Wolff plays Trent, the youngest son of the central family who arrives at the beach as a wide-eyed six year-old only to suddenly be thrust into the strange world of teenage angst and confusion, and eventually beyond.

Alex Wolff was gracious enough to give us some of his time while promoting Old. We cover his experience working with a visionary director like M. Night Shyamalan, how he prefers that people really feel and experience movies rather than over-analyze them, and even call back to his days with Ari Aster on Hereditary. Oh, and we also touch on what the proper size for wattles bottles should be.

I just watched Old today. Very affecting.

Alex Wolff: Yeah, totally. You should be in it! That’s how it should feel.

How much did you know going into this project? Was there a lot of secrecy involved?

Alex Wolff: Zero. It’s crazy. Zero secrecy. And weirdly enough, you don’t get that a lot. You get a lot of bullsh*t secrecy in our business, it’s really weird. Like, I hate these NDAs. It’s just like, who cares? And in the same breath, it causes people to try and dig more for spoilers and things at the end of movies. It’s so irritating. There’s got to be a middle ground where, you know, the actors really know what we’re doing. But also, people want to go experience a movie, which means you experience it from beginning to end and you don’t try and jump the gun.

One of the only benefits of the pandemic was I think it cut movie making into a fraction of what it was. So it’s actually kind of fun that you look into theaters, and there’s only like, five movies playing. Because it makes [Old] look like, god, this is the first thriller movie that is kind of deep and philosophical, and you know, it’s really about the acting and the performances.

Gael García Bernal, Alex Wolff, & Thomasin McKenzie in ‘Old’ courtesy of Universal
Can you talk about what it’s like to work with some like M. Night Shyamalan as opposed to someone like Ari Aster, and the different way that they approach horror?

Alex Wolff: Ari and I were very in tune with the fact that Hereditary is a full horror movie, it’s unabashedly a horror movie. It’s beautifully drawn and it’s really a drama for the first hour and a half, but then that last 30-40 minutes is horror – balls to the wall, terrifying, pagan, and all of that. And Old just isn’t a horror movie. I think that Old is a philosophical and allegorical drama that happens to hit on some themes that are terrifying, but I don’t think it’s a horror movie. I think that I’m reluctant to even categorize the movie at all, because it’s so bonkers and it’s so of its own ilk.

I feel that a lot of times when people change a genre or change the course of filmmaking, everybody’s scared in the beginning, and then suddenly, four years later, everyone’s doing that. You look back on it with a rose-colored lens, as if we all embraced that type of filmmaking when it came out, and it’s not true. I feel that this is just different. I made the analogy that it’s like those experiments in your brain where you try and look at something and you can’t see it, but then if you look away, you can see it out of the corner of your eye. That’s kind of what Old is.

Don’t try and tackle it, go and let the movie affect you and seep in. Don’t try and go “this is this kind of movie”, it’s a whole different style. Ari and M. Night are both geniuses, they’re just completely different, except that they’re both extremely precise and have a vision that’s very clear, and yet they let you be very open and they let you bring your own personal experience into the ring.

The role of Trent in particular is so heartbreaking. The film shows all these different facets of aging, and your character provides that loss of innocence and the feeling of growing up too fast. How much did you discuss this with M. Night? Is he an actor’s director?

Alex Wolff: Yeah, totally. But part of what makes a director an actor’s director is not trying to impose your own experience onto the actor and letting them bring their own pain and their own excitement and their own –

At this point he notices my oversized water bottle that I just took a sip out of

Very cool water bottle, by the way! Very cool and big and blue. It’s a little oversized. It’s a little big.

It is big. Apparently it’s how much I’m supposed to drink in a day.

Alex Wolff: It definitely doesn’t need to be that big. Even if it’s for the whole day, that looks enormous.

I do have trouble with it sometimes in vehicles. It does not fit in all cupholders.

Alex Wolff: Be honest. It fits in zero cupholders.

It fits in mine! That’s all that matters.

Alex Wolff: Do you have like, a truck? Do you drive an 18-wheeler? Honestly, it’s the bottom. It’s not the top. It’s the bottom, dude. It’s as big as your head! You should take a screenshot of that. They’re not supposed to be shaped like that. That was like, a mistake. That grew up too fast.

It was stuck on the island. Now I’ve lost my train of thought.

Alex Wolff: We both did! It was worth it for that little diverson.

With the way everything happens so quickly in the film, it feels like you’re just going right off the bat into emotion. With so much intensity in the majority of Old, nearly every scene, how do you get to that place so quickly?

Alex Wolff: That’s a good question. It’s like a sprint, you know? I think it’s when you zero into the joy of being a kid and you’re able to unlock those brighter colors that maybe have dulled over the years. When you’re able to unlock that, you’re able to unlock these other sort of feelings.

I saw a little clip and saw myself screaming and I got so embarrassed watching it because I felt like I was all goofy in the way I was moving. I’m like, “Oh yeah, it’s because I was really uninhibited.” I was really like a wild kid where everything is all over the place, and so it’s kind of embarrassing. I do feel that part of making this movie was trying to just like “unpeel” the layers that we’ve kind of created as adults.

Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie holding each other in fear inside a dark cave as Alex raises one bright lit match as seen in the new M. Night Shyamalan horror thriller OLD.
Thomasin McKenzie & Alex Wolff in ‘Old’ courtesy of Universal
With this being filmed last year with lockdown restrictions and everything, were you still able to talk to your co-stars Thomasin McKenzie and Eliza Scanlen about the journey that your characters were going through?

Alex Wolff: Yeah, but you know, I think one of the special things of doing a movie like this is not talking about it that much. I’m a fan of not over-talking about every single thing. I think it’s nice to talk about your experience or something, but really, at least for Trent, he’s all impulse and all insides on the outside. It was important for me to not intellectualize it too much because I think the more you start to intellectualize, the more you start to block your own connection to it. And instead you get some distorted, intellectual, bookish view of what the character is instead of having it be guttural and personal and private.

What store did you get that water bottle from? Was it Giants ‘R Us? That’s Thor’s water bottle.

I feel mighty when I have it.

Alex Wolff: It is mighty. Or you feel small. You know what’s funny, I watched you sip but you had to do a little wrist action because it was so heavy.

Yeah, I get a full workout.

Alex Wolff: Exactly, you raise your arm and it’s just enormous.

Finally, I wanted to say that I just watched Pig as well. Myself and the folks at DiscussingFilm loved it.

Alex Wolff: Oh, you did? I’m really proud of that movie. Say some nice things about me in the review. And then I’m going to write a review of your water bottle and it’s not good.

Our ★★★★ review of Old: One of M. Night Shyamalan’s Most Effectively Thrilling Works

Follow Senior Film Critic Nicolás Delgadillo on Twitter: @NickyD715

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