Actor/musician Nat Wolff was born to be in show business. The son of jazz musician Michael Wolff and Thirtysomething actress Polly Draper, he got his start at age 11, co-starring with his brother Alex Wolff in The Naked Brothers Band movie, written and directed by his mom. This led to a spin-off series on Nickelodeon and child stardom. But now Nat's 18 and looking to make that tricky move to more mature roles. And he's off to a great start, appearing opposite Tina Fey and Paul Rudd in the Paul Weitz comedy Admission.
Here the teen dreamboat plays Jeremiah Balakian, a gawky, autodidactic (self-taught) boy genius who Paul Rudd's caring high school teacher is urging to apply to Princeton. As a Princeton admissions officer, Fey's character becomes ensnared in this unusual but undeniably bright boy's big dream of an Ivy League education. And the quest to get him accepted changes everything.
It was snowy day in New York City when Wolff walked into a roundtable interview packed to the gills with reporters, and he was all sunshine and easy charm. He chatted with the lot of us about playing a character far smarter than himself (or most people for that matter), working with a director he admired, a comedienne he idolized, and how his work on the movie has impacted his own college admissions process and eating habits.
You're currently in the admissions process for college yourself, aren't you?
I actually was going through the process while making the movie [last summer], so the movie was kind of freaking me out. But it's going okay. I was checking out schools when I was making the movie, but I was seeing it more as character research than caring about going to college because I definitely want to keep up with acting and playing music with my brother. But I applied to schools. My parents made sure I applied. So, I applied to a bunch of schools, we'll see if I got into any.
How autodidactic are you?
Not very autodidactic. But I have a couple of friends who reminded me of the character [I play here]. Somebody was describing my friend as "he has the openness of someone whose truly intelligent," and it was right before I made the movie. I was kind of struggling with the character a little bit, and that really opened up a door. I don't really know exactly why. But with Jeremiah he was just so intelligent that he was able to be open. I think with a lot of people who are trying to show their intelligence are insecure about it, and he's just confident in himself.
Having an actor as a mother and a father as a musician, did you have choice going into show business?
Actually, they discouraged me from going into show business because they know there's a lot of rejection and that it's hard. But I was really, really so passionate about it. I'm glad that they discouraged me because I had to prove to myself how much I wanted it. Then my mom wrote a movie for me to star in (The Naked Brothers Band: The Movie) so she didn't help the discouragement that much. (Chuckles.) But they are really supportive and super talented so I think I got really lucky.
Did your experience with the audition process make the admissions process for college seem easier to deal with, considering all the potential rejection you've already faced?
Actually, yeah! Less on going to the auditions, more on just waiting to hear. Some kids are just like 'I have to deal with this much anticipation.' Every single movie I go up for I'm just checking the phone to see if the e-mail's come in, to see if I got the part yet, which makes me more anxious. So, I was used to that feeling.
When accepted, what will you study in college?
I'm glad that you think I'll be accepted! I've gotten a lot of acting training and worked with good teachers, and musical training I worked with good teachers. I think I'll probably study history or English or something like that.
Had you seen About a Boy? Did About a Boy have a big impact on you?
Yeah, even before I knew I was going to working with Paul Weitz, that movie had a big impact on me. So did In Good Company. I think Paul Weitz is a really amazing director, obviously with tons of acclaim and stuff but I still think he is underrated. And I think he's amazing to work with so I was super lucky. When I saw his name on the script I got so excited because I was a fan of both those movies.
What surprised you about working with Tina Fey?
I guess just that she's so cool and down to earth. It didn't really surprise me. I sort of expected it because I'd only heard good things about her. All I'm worried about is just playing this character in this movie. I have 1/3 the amount of scenes she has and she's writing 30 Rock episodes on set and dealing with her kids and being the star of this movie. What also surprised me was—I knew she was a great comedienne and awesome on her show and stuff—but I think she's really amazing in this movie. She clearly proves that she's just a really great actress in any category.
But you weren't quoting 30 Rock around her?
I tried not to. I asked her a lot about Tracy Morgan and Alec Baldwin and all the crazy people on her show.
Did she inspire you to someday write as well?
I kind of talked to her about how I was interested in writing, but somebody like her is just on such a different level. She's just a genius in some ways. That show is so clever. Yeah, so that's inspiring.
With so many big character actors and great people in this movie, what was the tone like on set?
Really relaxed actually. I didn’t know how it would be because I had like five lines in New Year's Eve but I hadn't really had a part in a big studio movie [before]. I thought it might be this big scary thing, but it was just this community. Like Wally Shawn is so great. I saw the movie with him, and he was really complimentary and it meant a lot to me.
Your character is pretty close to Paul Rudd's in the movie, did that mentor bond rub off in real life?
Yeah. We were always on set at the same time, so we were always hanging out. He got me really into Tom Waits because I had never really been a big Tom Waits fan. I liked Rain Dogs but I didn't know that much and now because of him I'm a Tom Waits believer. But [Paul]'s a really great guy, so relaxed. We spent a lot of time at craft services talking about music and movies. He's another person that I think is an amazing actor and so good in the movie. I was really impressed.
How did your own admissions process parallel the movie?
I applied to a bunch of schools last minute because I was working on another movie in LA. And I got home and I was really busy. I didn't get to apply to as many schools as I wanted… But I went to this college fair right before shooting the movie, there were all these schools, but I didn't see any that I knew about or wanted to go to—they were all in the wrong part of the country or something. So I decided to take it as character work. I went in as my character. And I talked to this MIT guy about all "my" math and science achievements, and I'm horrible at math and science. I started talking to him and we really bonded, and MIT still calls me twice a week or something like that. I just had to tell them, like "Guys, I'm not really good at [this stuff]. You don't want to be calling me. You don't want me at your school."
You should just take them up on it.
Yeah, "I'm coming!" I'd last (shrugs) six hours.
What's on the coming up after this?
I did four movies back to back, so I'm kind of exhausted. But I did Stuck in Love right before I did Admission, that's coming out in June. That turned out to be a good movie; I got to see that. The other two I haven't seen yet but were fun experiences. I did one that's a dark, really dark comedy with Selena Gomez called Behaving Badly. And then Palo Alto which is based on James Franco's story, and he's in it. I play just this really crazy jerk.
You know the saying about children and animals, how was it working with a cow?
That's a really good question. I forgot I wanted to be telling people about that. We worked with this baby calf, and I've been a big hamburger eater my whole life. And I bonded up with this baby calf. I'm serious bonded up with calf all day. Paul and I were supposed to be petting this calf and a production assistant comes up to me at lunch and says, "What should I get you for lunch, a hamburger or something?" And I was like, "You got to be kidding me! Really?" So I gave up red meat. So I don't eat beef anymore.
How long has that been going on?
Too long. I'm starting to go back on it. I'm sorry, baby calf, but I broke it a couple of times.