At just 21 years old, Alex Wolff has already made a name for himself as an actor in the entertainment industry, receiving critical acclaim for his role in A24’s Hereditary. Now also taking on the role of director and writer, Alex Wolff is ready to release his most personal project to date: The Cat and the Moon. The film follows Nick, a high school boy, as he moves to New York City to live with a family friend while his mom is in rehab. Capturing the pulse of New York City and the freedom that comes with growing up, The Cat and the Moon follows the journey of a high schooler through its highs and lows. Wolff chats with us about the process of creating the film ahead of its release in theatres on October 25th.
Let’s start off with the basics. Tell me a bit about yourself, where you’re from, your family, how you got into acting…
Well, I grew up in New York, I am pretty much a New York baby. I got into acting through watching all of these Beatles movies when I was a kid. I was Beatles-obsessed! I watched Help! and A Hard Day’s Night—it looked so fun and great. The real trigger for me was when I watched Stand by Me. I remember [River Phoenix] was in that, and I found him to be so cool. Then it sort of just happened. My mom was an actress and a writer/director and my dad was a jazz musician, so I combined their two paths to make mine. The joke in my family is that we have to fight to be the doctor, we’re a bunch of people who championed the arts since we’re musicians and actors. The only thing we don’t do is draw because I’m terrible at it.
The Naked Brothers Band was one of my favorite shows. How do you think your Nickelodeon beginnings have shaped your career?
When I was doing it, I loved it so much; I still look back and remember just loving it. It was such a special time in my life because I was with all of my friends, my brother, and with my family, and it was almost like summer camp. Every summer doing that show, we all get together and we do it in Brooklyn. I remember when we first went to the Kids’ Choice Awards it felt like we were going to the Oscars! I still think that’s the most excited I’ve ever been to do anything. I’ve said this a bunch, but there’s a part of me that’s always chasing that. That energy that I had when I was a kid. There is nothing self-conscious about what you’re doing, you’re just doing what you like. Hopefully, I’m still that way now, I think getting in touch with my childish ways can be very helpful as an adult.
I’ve said this a bunch, but there’s a part of me that’s always chasing that. That energy that I had when I was a kid. There is nothing self-conscious about what you’re doing, you’re just doing what you like.
What has being in the industry for this long taught you?
I think it’s important to not let it get too professional, don’t ever let it feel like work. I don’t like people who are doing movies like work. When I was a kid it really wasn’t work, it was play. And so I think it’s really important that everything should be loose and fun.
Let’s talk about your upcoming film The Cat and the Moon. What inspired you to write The Cat and the Moon ? What was the process of writing the film like?
I started writing it during my freshman year of high school, and I really wrote it as a distraction from studying for my finals. I started writing basically what was going on outside of school. I was hanging out with this group of kids in the city and traveling around, basically being taken under the wing of this group of kids who were kind of wild and rambunctious. I found this interesting dichotomy between my home life and school life. I think everyone struggles with communicating at home at the beginning of high school. You go out with this group of kids who are taking you to the city and taking you to hotel parties. It was a whole new world for me. So I guess I found that the dichotomy of the same person at the same time having a totally different environment really interesting. Also, I just needed a distraction from school, so I wrote The Cat and the Moon and it slowly took over my life. It took about five years to make it readable at all. Eventually, it became a story of this boy, Nick, and he sort of developed as a part of me and elements of a kid I was growing up with.
I really like how the film represents teenage relationships. They all seem believable, specifically how you represent male friendships. The relationship between Seamus, Russell, and Nick. The friendship seems to be effortless from the get-go and they relate to each other with partying and acting out in class. Is this representative of the relationship in your own life? What are you trying to reveal about society through these characters?
You know, I didn’t do it consciously, I was just writing what was happening to me and that was the truth of what was happening. There was a lot of stuff going on between these characters. And the thing is that they are talking about it, just in a really odd way. My favorite scene in the movie is when they are all on the roof getting high together and Nick starts talking about his dad, but in such an uncomfortable way, and he brushes it off. He is kind of like, “Yeah, it is not my favorite thing to talk about.” One of his friends responds, like, “Oh no, man, that really sucks,” and Seamus in that scene is overshooting his sympathy, but Nick is underplaying it. It is very embarrassing to watch. My experience was that it was really hard to talk about serious stuff. A lot of serious stuff was going on between us, but it’s so corny. Our love language was being wild, funny, and perverse. That was sort of the way that we communicated. Also, through fighting and aggression. Especially in high school when you are just adjusting to these weird changes in your body. You’re bigger now, you start to become a man, and that’s kind of how you’re expressing your aggression and expressing your fun and your independence. I think in New York it starts developing at an early age. You’re traveling around alone; by the time you’re 15, you’re on the subway by yourself or with friends. I like how Nick opens up to women a little easier. That was something I experienced for sure in high school. I found that I could open up to girls a little easier. You just have a different relationship with women and men in high school. It’s like a totally different species.
I particularly liked how towards the end of the film you can finally see Nick opening up about his struggles with his friends and the adults in his life. He seems to have otherwise kept these things to himself. You see it with Eliza and with Cal. Do you think that young men have spaces to openly express their emotions or struggles? How do you think we can help young men feel comfortable to express themselves?
I don’t know. I sure wish someone helped me in high school feel like I could open up. Hopefully, this movie is sensitive in that way. I think music and movies are really important. For me, music, specifically hip hop and rap, really helped me get in touch with a certain rage inside of me. I wish young men felt like they could open up. I think parents have to stop enforcing in their children the idea that pink is a girly color, kids grow up with this anxiety of being girly. Parents should encourage crying and being expressive because, I think, unfortunately, young men end up expressing their emotions in very violent ways. I think Nick is an example of someone who has not allowed himself to express his emotions well. He’s kind of been programmed to be really socially capable. I also found it interesting, I found that a lot of the high school movies I was watching centered around a lead character who was very socially inept. That’s fine, but I found it more interesting to have a lead who is socially capable, who has a group of friends, but then there’s all this stuff going on underneath. I feel like there’s another version of this movie where Nick walks into the bathroom on his first day and the kids punch him and taunt him, but instead, I thought it would be more interesting for them to take him under his wing. Seeing the complications and drama that comes with that was a new look for me.
The film has some really intense scenes. How did you decide to add these to the film? What was your intention with where it was placed?
The structure of the story is the same as when I first wrote it. My intention with those really intense scenes is to show that you can have all this fun and see where that pushes itself to the edge. When does all the troublemaking and fun push into danger? I think you should watch the movie and laugh at some parts and then go “oh” at others. It is fun, fun, fun, and then danger. I think that my life was like that with this group of kids. We don’t give a shit about people who just live in danger, danger, danger, we tune that out. And people who just live in fun, fun, fun are not believable. So I think it’s important to mix those up.
What was it like to produce, direct and act in the film? How did you manage all of those different hats on set?
I literally don’t know. I mean, I don’t know! I feel like I had a huge crew helping me all of the time, so it was much, much, much easier than I thought it was going to be because I had so many people helping me. Anyone who makes you feel like they don’t have a bunch of help from everybody is lying. I found it to be much easier than I expected, the directing portion of it, because I had so many people helping me. I feel like acting is always really hard because you’re kind of stranded, you’re kind of doing it alone. But in terms of making the entire movie, I had so many people helping me.
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