Nat Wolff in Death Note
Nat Wolff stars as Light Turner in the original Netflix horror film, ‘Death Note,’ which was directed by Adam Wingard.
Photo Courtesy: Netflix

Setting off a bold and often heated debate over how to best approach controversial subjects publicly is often a powerful way to draw attention to an important cause. Netflix will once again stir up an important argument when it premieres the captivating new supernatural horror film, ‘Death Note,’ tomorrow. Like the streaming services’ previous movies and television series, the new enthralling film is sure to raise discussions amongst fans of the original ‘Death Note’ franchise.

The latest live-action adaptation of the ‘Death Note‘ franchise is based on writer Tsugumi Ohba and illustrator Takeshi Obata’s Japanese manga series of the same name, and directed by horror movie genre veteran, Adam Wingard. Actor Nat Wolff skillfully emphasizes the signature complexities of the franchise’s protagonist that appear in the previous entries, while also embracing the new material that the helmer envisioned for the updated film. As a result, the story’s seeming hero is stunningly presented as though he’s become completely intoxicated with his new godlike abilities, which allows him to kill those people he feels are unworthy of life. 

‘Death Note’ follows the radical transformation of Light Turner (Wolff), a smart high school student who avoids forming close bonds with his classmates and his widowed father, James (Shea Whigham), who works as a Seattle police detective. Following his mother’s tragic death, the adolescent has become increasingly defensive towards everyone in his life. After he’s once again targeted by one of the bullies at his school, Light seemingly finds the perfect way to avenge the tragedies that have fallen upon him.

As he sits in the courtyard at his school, a leather-bound antique notebook, which is titled Death Note, mysteriously falls at Light’s feet. Passages reveal that if the owner of the book writes a person’s full name and cause of death on the ancient parchment pages, and imagines their face while doing son, the target will die almost immediately in the way that’s described. The book’s power is also provided by the 8-foot-tall death spirit, Ryuk (Willem Dafoe), who only appears to whoever’s in current possession of the Death Note.

Light, who’s encouraged by Ryuk to utilize the Death Note’s power to his advantage, decides to use the book to help rid the world of evil. He begins killing international terrorists, for the greater good of humanity. He decides to adapt the pseudonym Kira, which stands for killer in Japanese, to conceal his identity, but he still attracts the attention of his fellow student, Mia (Margaret Qualley). After Light confides in the popular cheerleader, she encourages him to target more criminals.

As the number of Kira’s victims continues to climb, and he becomes a worldwide phenomenon, not everyone appreciates the fact that he’s taking justice into his own hands. He soon becomes one of the most-wanted individuals by law enforcement, including James and his department, which begins working with a spy who’s only known only as L (Lakeith Stanfield).

The mysterious L, who’s tasked to track down Kira and bring him to justice, almost immediately realizes that the person behind the vigilantism is in Seattle. When James is recruited to work for L’s investigative team, and Ryuk and Mia begin to encourage the seemingly courageous hero to truly embrace his vigilante campaign, Light suddenly realizes that his anonymity, as well as his life and freedom, are now in jeopardy.

Wolff generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Death Note’ during an exclusive interview at the Essex House Hotel in New York City. Among other things, the actor discussed how he was drawn to portray the seemingly noble and moral protagonist in the supernatural horror live-action movie, because it not only offers both unique and loyal perspectives on the magna series, but he also admires Wingard‘s work as a genre filmmaker. The performer also shared that he appreciates the fact that Netflix offered the movie’s cast and crew the creative freedom to make the action-driven thriller the way they had envisioned.

The conversation began with Wolff explaining why he decided to play Light in the new incarnation of ‘Death Note.’ “I first read the script because I love Adam’s work, especially (the 2014 mystery thriller,) ‘The Guest.’ I think he’s a really interesting filmmaker, and has this satirical edge to his movies,” the actor revealed.

“I then realized that I was already familiar with the ‘Death Note’ manga through my friend, Justice, and my two little cousins. Before I signed on to star in the film, I decided to watch the television series and the Japanese films” that are based on the ‘Death Note’ story, “and also read the manga. They were all very wonderful, but also different from the film that Adam wanted to make. The story he wanted to tell” within the universe “seemed like it hadn’t been made before,” Wolff also divulged.

The performer added that he felt having the magna, as well as the anime television series and films and previous live action movies, was helpful to his preparations for the new Netflix entry in the franchise. “But there are also clear differences between the source material and our film,” Wolff teased. “They had already made these beautiful versions of the film in Japan, so it would be boring to tell the same story in our movie,” with the only difference being that the story’s set in America. “I think Adam tried to turn the story on its head, and make our story a little bit more creative and weird.”

Further speaking of the fact that the Netflix version of ‘Death Note’ was directed by Wingard, the actor described his experience of working with the filmmaker on creating the character of Light, as well as the movie’s overall story, as “amazing. He’s a special director, who has a unique take on things. The way he sees the world is hilarious, odd and dark. I think he brings that vision to all of his films. There always seems to be a winking tone in his projects.”

Following up on the fact that there are comedic moments that are infused into his new version of ‘Death Note,’ Wolff noted that he enjoys that the story found a natural balances between the humor and darker horror elements. “I was cracking up during the screening at San Diego Comic-Con. The fans were all cracking up at the funny lines that they knew were coming up from the anime, which was exciting,” the performer shared.

Then delving into what the process of creating the physicality for Light, particularly once he becomes consumed with using the book to punish those people he feels deserve to be punished, was like, Wolff pointed out that he hasn’t done many stunts throughout his career so far. “I haven’t really been in any true action movies; I’ve mostly starred in movies where I talk to other the other actors across a table,” the actor explained.

So now that he has gained some experience performing stunts during the production of ‘Death Note,’ Wolff admitted that “I now have an even greater respect for action stars, and people who can react to things that aren’t there. I have an easy time relating to someone as we’re talking across a table, but I’ve never reacted to a demon god blowing up a classroom before!”

Ryuk was brought to the screen in the new live-action film version of ‘Death Note’ through a motion capture performance. Wolff then explained what the process was like for him to act alongside the CGI-created villainous demonic god of death. “There was an actor in a creature costume who I would act with on the set, and Willem Dafoe would add his voice later. It was fun working with the actor in the creature costume, because he had a big suit, and he was also a tall guy,” the performer divulged.

Wolff then explained what the process of shooting ‘Death Note’ on location, particularly in Canada, was like for him. He shared that he arrived in Vancouver, where most of the horror film was shot, before principal photography began. “So I really had the chance to see a lot of thing in the city,” he stated. The actor added that while making a bigger action-driven film like ‘Death Note,’ he “had a lot more time off to do other things besides work. I was able to really explore Vancouver, which was nice.”

During his free time on the set, Wolff was also able to work on music with his younger brother, Alex. Even though “we were far away from each other, we’d still send each other tracks.”

Further speaking of music, the performer revealed that “Adam gave me a lot of the tracks that the composer, Atticus Ross, was working on while we were making ‘Death Note.’ I found it helpful to be able to listen to the music that was going to be in the film. Light listens to a lot of power ’80s ballads in the movie, so we would listen to those types of songs on the set.”

Wolff also shared that he appreciates that Netflix “gives artists a lot of creative control. I haven’t really been a part of big studio action movies, but I hear about them from my friends who have been in them. A lot of times they’ll be asked, “Why are talking like that?,” or “Why are you wearing those pants?” So at a certain point, you start to feel like a robot who’s punching in.”

But while he was making ‘Death Note,’ the actor “felt like we were doing something special, and creating something new, everyday. I like the feeling of being able to come up with things myself.”

Once production on the horror film was completed, Wolff embraced the opportunity to bring it out to conventions like San Diego Comic-Con, like he mentioned earlier in the interview, and share it with audiences and fans of the franchise. “Hearing the fans all positively react to the movie, and know all the lines, takes a lot of the pressure off. It seems like people are excited to see what it is,” which the actor appreciates.

Now that ‘Death Note’ has finished its promotional run, and is set to premiere on Netflix, the performer hopes that he’ll be able to reprise his role of Light in future installments of the series. The ending of Wingard’s live-action re-imagining of the manga series perfectly sets up the potential to continue Light’s journey as Kira. Wolff happily declared that “I feel like L and Light would team up in a sequel!”

Photo ofNat Wolff
Nat Wolff
Job Title
Actor in the Netflix horror film, 'Death Note'

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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