Alex Wolff is a rising star in Hollywood, having acted in the horror movie Hereditary, and alongside Dwayne Johnson in the action movie Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Now he is playing a six-year-old trapped on a mysterious beach in M. Night Shyamalan’s upcoming film Old. One of three actors who play the role of Trent, a young boy who ends up imprisoned with his family on a beach that rapidly ages you, Wolff taps into his inner child to deliver a chilling performance in the thriller movie.
The star battles through sudden puberty, experiences heartbreak and love for the first time, and learns to deal with a lifetime’s worth of grief in the space of a few hours. During a roundtable, Wolff recalled how reading the emotionally charged script first made him feel. “It was kind of like it was a movie playing really fast in front of me, and I was outwardly screaming,” Wolff said. “I haven’t had that many scripts where I have had these loud external responses to it because it was so intense, and shocking and I was kind of emotional at the end, so I had a pretty intense loud reaction to it.”
The script propelled the star to do some in-depth preparation for the role. Wolff spent time journaling, and reading up on child psychology to get into the nitty-gritty of playing Trent, a boy who has adulthood thrust upon him by a supernatural force.
We sat down with the star, to talk more about his time working on the set of the thriller movie. In our interview, we hear first-hand how the actor felt about working with M.Night Shyamalan, what were some career-defining moments he experienced while filming the highly anticipated film, Old, and we accidentally terrify him with Zoom.
The Digital Fix: Hi, how are you?
Alex Wolff: Good thanks, this is very unique as I can’t see anything in your background; your image has blurred everything behind you.
Yeah, it is one of Zoom’s great features, keeping the mystery alive during interviews.
It’s terrifying, I feel like that is a horror movie, and you’re just going to see a scary shadowy figure come in the background. Haha, now you’re not going to be able to sleep tonight.
Ha, yeah, thanks for that; I’ll be looking over my shoulders now. Getting things back on topic, congrats on Old. I really enjoyed your performance as the six-year-old but teenage presenting Trent.
You are just one of the many actors who play that character, but you get to play him in a very tense time, arguably the most demanding and highest point for Trent’s personal journey in the entire movie. How do you deal as an actor with playing such emotionally taxing roles?
That’s a good question; I felt like part of my research, part of preparing for it, was going back in time, sort of tapping into all these things that maybe I softened or buried or muted from when I was a kid. And I think that one of them was that you are emotionally uncompromised, and you are unwavering in whichever emotion you are in.
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And it’s not like I was just throwing tantrums, but I’d be very exhilarated to the point of just complete hyperactivity where the whole day would be a blur of joy, and then something would go wrong, and then I’d be on the ground screaming and crying.
I was a particularly emotional kid, so I think that while it is emotionally taxing, I think that if you tap into that part of yourself, you know it’s like once you go more left, you can go more right. So if you close yourself off to joy, I think you’re also closing yourself off to sadness, and it goes the same way around.
I just remember my friend talking about losing a family member and saying, “it’s weird I haven’t cried about it”, and I was like yeah, but I also haven’t seen you having any fun at all, you know, and I think that you’re deciding to be in this middle place. When I first face-timed with Night, he was talking about how he is always very nervous about getting to that place, being in the middle, where I think that it is a very valid thing to worry about, but I have just been someone who has always been left or right—or just swinging back and forth between extreme joy and extreme emotion. I think this movie was like, hey kid, go ahead, you’re allowed to do it to the extreme. So it was kind of a relief.
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Ha, maybe not for the people around me, but it was a relief for me to be able to go there. So it was emotionally taxing, but in some ways, it was also emotionally lifting; it felt like I was alive, I was really alive. I was so excited to go swimming in the morning, I just let myself get so excited like a kid, and soaking it all up, we are all having so much fun, then going “oh my god” in complete despair, and just letting myself go there.
Speaking of fun moments, what was a moment on set that you’ll keep with you from this experience.
Wait, there is a shadowy figure behind you now!
Ha, there is, yes.
Who is that?
My partner has some emergency work, and his desk is behind mine. This is why I had the blur feature on in Zoom in case something like this happened ahah, just pretend he isn’t here.
I’m not going to pretend he isn’t there; he is scary! He walked in, and he walked in very ominously. Tell him to get out of here.
OK, I kicked him out. You know you acted in the horror movie Hereditary; I thought you were meant to be good with scares.
That was scary! Haha, OK, we are going to move on. I have no idea what your question was. What was it?
What was a fun moment for you on set?
A fun moment was when I was doing this great interview, and then this scary shadow figure all dressed in black came up behind you. Haha, no, I’d say the best moment in my whole career as an actor was, maybe my whole life was when me, Night, and basically the whole cast of the movie on day one of being on this beach all went swimming in this beautiful water.
It was like – I can’t even explain it – there were these beautiful mountains and rocks and greenery, it was like we were all in heaven, and we were all just swimming together in this beautiful warm salt water, it was just the most incredible thing ever.
What do you want people to get from this film? What do you think audiences will take away with them once they have seen your performance?
You know, I just hope that they enjoy it, and just think about it for days after. Hopefully, it’s something that they live with.
You’ve been mentioning Night quite a lot during this interview, shadowy distractions aside, and you can tell that you hold some sort of reverence for him as an artist; what draws you to him as a director?
Oh yeah! For one, there is the obvious thing, that he is an extreme risk-taker, he’s never once played it safe, I’d say he’s very considerate of an audience, and that we want to be entertained, and that we want to be swept away, but at the same time he is considerate, as in that every movie has underpinnings of something deeply emotional. I think that he is the first director to perfectly combine emotion and terror, and to really lump them together.
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I’d say that Signs is one of the most emotional dramas ever made. I’d say that The Village is like the most amazing allegory for the political climate with Bush and everything at that time that there has ever been. So I think that he is just very in tune. But I’d say the main thing is that he is completely sincere, and that he is reverse navel-gazing, he is never doing that ever, I think he is never pretentious.
You know he is always going from a place in his heart, and it always feels like he is exercising some demon in himself. And I think then when I feel that a filmmaker is really personal, and that they are working through something personal, regardless of whether people like it or don’t like it, that is some shit that I always respond to. I think that it was the reason that I really gravitate towards Peter Berg and Nic Cage, and Bergman, and Scorsese, and people I feel like really work through things personally.
Thanks so much. That is our time; it was really nice talking to you, even if you did scare me. I keep looking at my monitor now because of you.
Hahaha, you’re scared? But it spiced up the whole interview; it was so fun.
Old opens across cinemas in the UK and US on July 23. For more terror, be sure to check out our list of the best horror movies on Netflix.