From the Vaults
Actor, musician, writer and director Alex Wolff is currently in Dresden, Germany, where he often escapes to see his girlfriend dance – something he says affords him the right amount of breathing space that sometimes isn’t available in his native New York. And can you blame him? In the last twelve months alone, he’s worked on six feature films, including My Friend Dahmer, Jumanji and the upcoming A24-produced film Hereditary. But despite his affinity for performance – both as an actor and musician – lately he’s found himself exploring his creativity through writing, developing and directing, with his first-ever self-made feature-length film beginning production this year.
Rachel Grace Almeida: You’re currently working on a film that you’ve written and directed, how long have you been working on that?
Alex Wolff: I wrote over such a long time – which is pretty ambitious and stupid – it’s something I’ve been developing for about five years. I started writing it when I was fifteen, and I’ve done bits with a bunch of different shorts, but it’s time for a full-length film of my own. I’m really excited about it.
RGA: Are you nervous about the reception because it’s directly on you?
AW: I’m more nervous about just viewing it. I mean, I’m nervous about my own reaction because I want to make a good movie. Being an artist, you need to have a creative denial and pretend there’s no audience. If you’re worrying about what people are going to think about you while you’re doing it, it pretty much squashes the creative process, I’ve found.
RGA: It’s interesting you say that, because I know you’ve previously mentioned that you relate to Michael Keaton’s character in Birdman, because of his relationship to his own self-doubt. How do you cope with that kind of insecurity?
AW: All of the elements of his character – not just insecurity – relate to his superego. He’s really insecure and he’s got this voice telling him he’s a loser, he’s this and he’s that, but then also simultaneously, he’s got something telling him he’s fucking awesome. What I relate to is the duality of those seemingly contradictory states of mind; doubting yourself and being super insecure, while also having a conviction that you need to be doing the things that you’re doing because you’re the greatest in the world. People deny that they don’t have that emotional battle in their head, but I think you go back and forth between those two states in order to make art. When you’re writing a script, I think you have to believe that it’s the most important script in the world. Then, after finishing it and re-reading it, you’re like, “Oh my god, this is the worst thing I’ve ever read,” and I think at some point you have to reach some kind of comfortable balance.
“What I relate to is the duality of those seemingly contradictory states of mind; doubting yourself and being super insecure, while also having a conviction that you need to be doing the things that you’re doing because you’re the greatest in the world.“
RGA: It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own shortcomings, or the shortcomings you perceive yourself to have, especially when you’re in the public eye.
AW: You don’t want to get wrapped up in your own narcissism and your own ego. I relate to Birdman, that’s why I love it, because it taps into the guilty part of myself that is like that. But I think for the most part I try and avoid that and really just focus on doing a really good job at whatever it is that I’m doing.
RGA: Do you find yourself relating to characters you play?
AW: I think the only way that you can play a character is if you have some level of connection with them. They could be the most evil, crazy person, but you have to connect the dots on certain levels, otherwise you’re doing a surface performance.
RGA: Which characters have you found yourself identifying with?
AW: That’s a tricky one, House of Tomorrow comes out in April, and in that movie I connected with my character on a lot of different levels, because he’s a musician, and I am too, and because there are a lot of things he’s overcompensating for, it made me really relate to this character. And I loved him. I mean, he’s fucking funny. The more things become serious and overwhelming and upsetting, the more he’s able to put a dark humorous twist on it, and I think that’s a good way of coping with stuff.
RGA: Do you ever find that there’s an intersection between music and acting for you?
AW: I like what Ethan Hawke says about this, as an artist he feels like all the different elements of you are fingers on a fist. I feel like music is one finger, acting is one finger, writing is one finger, directing is one finger, and so forth. It’s all sort of part of the same medium of expression, so I feel like they’re completely related but just different – they’re all completely trying to strive for the same clarity.
“If you try and strive for perfection, you’re never ever going be happy or satisfied because that will never come.“
RGA: I guess acting must feel like it’s an extension of yourself then,right? Almost like it feels more genuine than your actual life in some capacity.
AW: Definitely. I mean, hopefully my life is genuine, but I’d say in certain times, there’s more room to express certain things that maybe in real life you have to keep a hold on. It’s interesting because sometimes in movies I see people in a scene crying, or yelling, and you do think about it, like, “Alright, well in life is that really what happens, do you cry every day? Or is it that you want to cry but you can’t because your sister’s in the next room?” It’s good to keep in mind that you’re not always able to express certain things.
RGA: What would your ideal role be?
AW: I sort of wrote it in the film I made. I wrote something that I really wanted to play, but also I’ve gotten really lucky in the films that I’ve been able to act in. I don’t know if there is an ideal role; I just think there are different things that you want to try. If you try and strive for perfection, you’re never ever going be happy or satisfied because that will never come.