You may know Nat Wolff for his work in Nickelodeon’s “The Naked Brothers Band” and his flourishing music career with his younger brother, Alex, but Wolff is also hitting it big within the film industry and, with a number of projects in post-production, the upcoming release, “Admission,” could mark the start of a strong, extensive run on the big screen.
Wolff stars alongside Tina Fey and Paul Rudd as Jeremiah Balakian, a kid adopted by loving parents, but ones that didn’t breed him for Ivy League college competition. When the time comes for Jeremiah to think beyond his alternative high school, New Quest, he’s totally unprepared with abysmal grades from his run at a more traditional school and zero extracurricular activities. However, thanks to the head of New Quest, John Pressman (Rudd), Jeremiah gets the opportunity to meet Princeton admissions officer Portia Nathan (Fey) and even though he’s not traditional Princeton material, Jeremiah makes a strong enough impression to entice her to reassess her school’s sky-high, ultra rigid standards.
While Wolff delivers a notably natural performance as the eccentric yet lovable Jeremiah, behind the scenes, Wolff is a particularly intense performer, doing everything and anything he can to prepare for a role so he can let loose when he hits the set. Check out what Wolff had to say about his preparation methods, the pressure of making a movie about getting into college while going through the process himself and more in the interview below, and catch him in action when “Admission” arrives in theaters on Friday, March 22nd.
How’d you get involved with this one?
Nat Wolff: I read the script. I got it sent to me and I found out that Paul Weitz was attached, who I think is an amazing director. And the script was great because it made me really uncomfortable because I was going through the college experience and it made me anxious, so I knew it was doing a good job of shedding light on something that I was going through. And there’s not many times that you get to do a movie where you’re playing something that you’re going through in real life at the time you’re making it. And also that Tina Fey and Paul Rudd are in it; it’s so exciting.
I was doing another movie in North Carolina called “Stuck in Love” and I put myself on tape with the most ghetto self-tape that’s ever existed. I was out in a hallway of a hotel and all the other cast members of the movie were helping me tape it. I don’t know how I got cast off that tape [laughs], but Paul Weitz saw something that he liked and brought me in and I got to read with Tina and then we just all kind of clicked.
How was it going through the college process while reading the script? Did the script itself freak you out at all?
Yeah, the script made me a little anxious, but I knew that was a good sign because the college process makes me anxious because I think it’s turned into a business. The whole college situation is a little strange and I was just figuring it out when I read the script. The character’s different from me, but the aspect of everybody being so obsessed with getting into college and I didn’t prep my whole life to go to an Ivy League school. My mom went to one and encouraged me not to kill myself to go to one because she didn’t have a good experience. I felt kind of like an outsider and Jeremiah’s kind of an outsider to that obsessive need to get in until Portia comes into his life and it’s kind of debatable whether that’s a good thing or not.
How’d you end up choosing where to apply?
I did it based on New York or LA so I could keep playing music with my brother and keep working, and school that was good for English and history because I didn’t really want to go to a conservatory. I’ve studied acting and music and I’ll continue to study, but I don’t think I want to study it in college. I think I’d rather be a history major, an English major and I think I’d get just as much out of that.
What was your college essay about?
My college essay was about [laughs] – it’s kind of dorky. It’s funny because while I was thinking about writing it, I was doing this movie and so I was asking a lot of people about their college essays and one girl said, ‘Oh, I’ll help you write it! I got into every school I wanted to.’ I said, ‘Oh, what was your essay about?’ She goes, ‘Elephant funerals.’ I was like, ‘Okay.’ So my college essay was about different moments in my life that I’ve had, just really great creative moments, where I felt like I achieved something really great creatively and also a couple of moments of other people’s art, like songs and different movies, that really affected me.
When you weren’t working on your application, how was it being on set for the film? Is working with Tina and Paul intimidating at all?
Yeah, I was super nervous. We did a rehearsal about a month before we started shooting and I came into that rehearsal kind of panicked because this is the first, big studio movie that I’d done with a big part. I had a couple of lines in “New Year’s Eve,” but that was just kind of silly.
[Laughs] Exactly. I was one of 10,000. But this was a big part and working with these comedy geniuses who turn out to be not only great all-around actors, but also really supportive and nice to me and made me feel comfortable.
How about Paul Weitz? What kind of environment does he create on set?
Really calm, which I didn’t expect with a big movie. It’s a big crew and a big budget so I expected some over-the-top Hollywood thing, but he’s a really calm guy and he projects calmness to everybody. It’s top down and everybody on the set is really affected by the mood of the director I’ve noticed, and he had a great mood and makes everybody feel comfortable.
I get the impression that you don’t take any of this lightly. You take your work very seriously.
Yeah, I take everything seriously.
On screen in this, you’re so natural though! What does it take for you to go from one point to the other?
That’s a really interesting question. I guess, for me, I have to concentrate and take it really seriously, do a ton of research and kill myself to get to a point where I can just be free and not care. In the moment I try to be as loose and as open as possible. I guess maybe if you’re not an actor that sounds pretentious, but I’ve been comparing it to my dad, he’s a jazz musician, and he studied everything about music and he’s really good at music theory, he knows how to play classical, he knows how to play everything right, but when he plays on stage and he’s improvising and playing with other players, he just listens and plays. He plays the way he feels and listens, and I think if I do all the preparation and take it really seriously that when I get in the moment, I’ll have enough of a safety net that I can just listen and be open.
What kinds of things are you doing to form that safety net?
In this script there was a lot of things that I am just not smart enough to know. [Jeremiah] talks a lot about the stars, so I learned all about the constellations and the stars. All this different stuff that he was really excited about, I studied and I made myself as excited about these things that I wasn’t naturally because the way I saw it is, the way that I get when I’m talking about music or about movies is the way he got talking about the stars and Shakespeare. I could kind of relate to the intensity, I just pushed in the other information.
Is there any scene in particular here that you’re most proud of?
My brother doesn’t really cry in movies that much, but when we did the scene where she tells me – I don’t want to ruin it – but the big emotional scene at the end, my brother started to tear up and I thought that was a kind of a success. I hate watching myself so I can’t really tell.
To wrap up, what’s coming up next for you? More film?
I’m still doing music with my brother and we’re touring a little bit now because I’m not working on anything and I did four movies in a row so I’m kind of beat. I have a movie called “Stuck in Love” coming out in June and then “Behaving Badly,” which I did with Selena Gomez and then “Paolo Alto,” which is based on James Franco’s short stories. I’ve been really lucky because it’s impossible to typecast me because nobody really knows me yet, so I’ve tried to do as many different characters as possible, so I’ve gotten so many different characters out there that hopefully I can’t be typecast. I’ve done a sort of cool guy and then I did this guy and then I did some crazy guy.
Is there a certain type of character you’re hoping to play one day?
I have a couple of things that I’ve read that I really want to do. I think I just want to keep doing different stuff that challenges me. I think I’d get bored doing the same thing, which I guess is why everyone talks about typecasting. It’s awesome to be in movies even if you’re being typecast, but I think I would get kind of bored if I had to do the same thing. I want to do something that I get really scared about and work really hard at.