From Palo Alto to the East Village
Actor Nat Wolff on Washington Square Park, not having a driver's license, and playing a blind cancer survivor
Nat Wolff is sought after in Hollywood, but still remains loyal to his New York City roots. Having grown up near Washington Square Park, he appreciates the tight-knit neighborhoods that make up the city. "In a way, living in New York is actually more like a small town than a lot of other cities because it's packed in close," he said.
The 19-year-old, who just got an apartment in the East Village, manages to stay humble, despite the fact that he is tackling some of the most challenging teenage roles in the industry. In "Palo Alto," part of the Tribeca Film Festival, he takes on the part of a troubled high school student so honestly, that the audience can't help but develop an affection for him. "He's a hard character to love, but something about him was weirdly sympathetic to me and oddly charming," he said.
In June, he will be on-screen again, this time as a blind cancer survivor in "The Fault in Our Stars," a movie adaption of the John Green novel. To prepare for that role, he visited a cancer center and met with their teenage patients. "I was really nervous to do that, but once I did, I had fun with them. They were a bunch of really cool kids," he said.
You grew up in the city. Which area?
Downtown, near Washington Square Park. I actually just moved out of my parents' apartment and got my own in the East Village. [Points] It's from that table to this couch, it's that big, but it's a really great view and a good area.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Friends Seminary, but then it was getting really hard with acting and my music and stuff. Then I went to the Professional Children's School.
Where are your favorite places in your neighborhood?
I love Washington Square Park; it means a lot to me. I love the local, neighborhood restaurants. One of my favorite places ever, the place that I kind of grew up going to, closed last year, University Restaurant, on University and 12th. That was cool just because every single day I would have at least one meal there since I was eight with all my friends. We'd come- twelve people and they'd know exactly what we wanted.
What did you think when you first read the "Palo Alto" script?
I was just blown away by the powerful ending and how honest it was. I loved the character of Fred. He was one of those characters who I really didn't want somebody else to mess up.
You're a city kid, so never got your driver's license. I thought it was funny that you drove so much in the movie.
They basically taught me to drive on the set. My character was supposed to be drunk driving all the time. And I was like, "Believe me, if I try to drive well, I will look like I'm driving drunk." But a lot of it was fake, on a truck where they pull me. But they do that anyway, even if you have your license.
You have a band with your brother, Alex. You just performed on the Lower East Side.
We played at Nuyorican Poets Café. We just had two new songs come out, so it was celebrating that. And New York is our home base, so we have super-dedicated fans here.
You were in first grade at the time of September 11th. I read that you wrote a song to raise money for the firefighters.
It was a really scary time. I just remember kind of a lull over the city. People giving each other hugs. I was really scared, and I had a band with my friends and said, "We should do something for this." So we put on a concert at our house and actually raised 48,000 dollars.
Your dad is a jazz pianist and your mom is an actress. Did they want you to follow in their footsteps?
They had persuaded me not to be an actor or a musician. They said that if you want to do it, you have to fight for it because it can be a really disappointing, self-confidence-destroying profession. But once I proved to them that I loved it enough, my mom created a show for us. ["The Naked Brothers Band"] They really loved our band, but were just scared. They'd been through ups and downs in their career and said, "If you're going to do it, you have to love playing music or acting. Because if it becomes about wanting to be the biggest star or the money, than it's not worth it."
Do you get more girls as an actor or as a musician?
[Laughs] Musician. I just feel like the acting thing- I don't think it really does much. The music thing- girls somehow think if you play an instrument, you're cooler than if you don't.
Tell us about your research for your role in "The Fault in Our Stars."
My character gets dumped and goes blind at the same time. And I met with a guy who actually had exactly the same thing happen to him. He helped me out a lot technically and emotionally. Then I met with cancer patients. I went in there thinking about a lot of medical questions I could ask and not wanting to make them feel like they were being used, but they were so open. And then they just wanted to talk about music and movies like any other teenager.
How did you get cast in that? Did the author have a say?
I don't know. I don't think he wanted to, really. I think he wanted to be a fan of the movie. He was there every day. I got a lot from just watching him because there's a lot of him in all his characters. I gave the script to Josh Boone, the director. I like going on record saying that. I said, "You've got to direct this." And I think just to be nice, he gave me the part of Isaac. [Laughs]
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