Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” is the art-house horror sensation of the summer. Of course, it opened wide in over 2,900 theaters this past weekend, but the critically acclaimed A24 release is much more of a prestige play than “The First Purge” releasing next month. Thanks to Aster’s inspired direction and an impressive ensemble led by the incredible Toni Collette it’s an anxiety-inducing experience that leaves many, for lack of a better word, shook.
One of the film’s less heralded performances is by the actor who plays Collette’s teenage son Peter in the film, Alex Wolff. The 20-year-old first gained notoriety on Nickelodeon alongside his brother Nat Wolff (“Paper Towns“) but has made a name for himself with roles in “Patriot’s Day,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” and”Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” It’s something of an understatement to say he takes his acting skills to another level in “Hereditary.”
Wolff jumped on the phone yesterday to talk about the reaction to “Hereditary,” his experience making it, and whether he’d ever consider a sequel.
Please note: There are major spoilers in the context of this interview. Do not read further if you’re going to be frustrated over discovering a major plot point for the film.
You’ve been warned.
Gregory Ellwood: Let’s talk about this movie! You had the premiere at Sundance. You’ve been waiting all this time for it to come out in theaters. Now that it’s been released have you been going on social media wanting to see what people think?
Alex Wolff: You know, I try and avoid that as much as possible. I’ve been posting my own social media and I’ve been basically getting texts from friends and messages from family and from basically everybody. So, that’s a good sign. People that I really respect just saying, “Hey man, ‘Hereditary.'” A lot of times you can pour your heart out to something and either it doesn’t turn out the way you want it to or nobody sees it. And so then to have a movie that a lot of people are seeing and you’re really proud of it it’s kind of like a double whammy. It’s pretty special. So I’m not unappreciative of how unique this whole experience has been.
What’s the number one question people ask you about the movie?
They go, “Jesus Christ, what the hell’s your problem, man.” That’s usually what they say.
You mean about your character?
No, they just say that to me afterwards because I put them through such a traumatic experience that they’re angry at me personally. I’m like, “Guys, I’m sorry!” One of the questions people have is they’re just like, “What did you do to get yourself there? That’s just nuts.” But the good thing is mostly people seem to be getting exactly what it is. I thought people would be much more divided on it. But mostly people have just been telling me that it’s special and they’ve been waiting for a movie to both scare the shit out of them but then also to move them in the way I think this movie does.
Did you audition for the role?
Yeah, I auditioned twice. I read the script and I loved it. And then about almost a year later I read the script. I didn’t really hear anything. I just knew it was really special. And then about a year later, almost a year later when I was doing this play here in New York, I got this audition for it. And I re-read the script and I went in and then had to just break down sobbing and I did that which I don’t know if that’s a good sign for my mental health. But it’s a good sign for getting the part. But just kidding. I hope there’s a lot of irony in that. But yeah, I auditioned and then he told me I got it and I freaked out and bought a Cadillac. Just kidding.*
*He didn’t buy a Cadillac
Working with Ari how did you discuss Peter’s emotional state. And by the way this will be another spoiler alert but after the death of his sister he sort of goes into…
Oh boy, that is a spoiler alert.
A big spoiler alert. (Laughs.). How did you guys map that out about where he would be emotionally in every scene?
Well, what’s great about Ari I think it was already pretty mapped out in the script. When you have a movie that’s this volatile and this explosive and this traumatic I think that it would be destructive to the performance to try to control where they go too much. So, instead, I think he put us in positions where we could be as raw and vulnerable and respond within those moments as we were gonna be. I really think Ari’s a genius…when he was looking over the whole thing. But for us, for me, it was really about putting me in positions where I could break down or just feel these things and things he would tell me and I wasn’t really thinking about it as holistically. I [was trying to] stay as raw and vulnerable and in the moment as [much as] we could which sounds easier than it is.