Alex Wolff has done his fair share of emotionally-daunting films, coming off movies like “Hereditary” and “Pig.” But working with director M. Night Shyamalan on his laterst film “Old,” the actor says he learned something new from the man he calls his “hero.”
“I feel like a big thing I learned from him is to not bring your process into a movie necessarily, and instead to adapt to his process,” Wolff told TheWrap. “I felt my best performances in the movie, my best scenes, were when I completely committed to what he was looking to do. When he says do this, this, this, your first instinct as an actor is go, ‘OK, well, I want to understand why am I doing this?’ And sometimes if you just go, ‘OK, I’m going to do that without asking questions,’ usually your questions get more easily answered.”
Wolff said Shyamalan is both very hands-on and laid back on set.
“It’s very fascinating: He’s kind of the extremes of both,” Wolff said. “He is like, ‘No, you walk here, do this.’ You know, he’s really particular. But I would play scenes completely differently from take to take. And he would allow me to find it and explode and hold back. And he really let me emotionally just veer all over the place.”
“Old” stars Gael Garcia Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Thomasin McKenzie, Eliza Scanlen, Nikki-Amuka Bird, Ken Leung and Aaron Pierre, and follows a family on a tropical vacation, who discover a secluded beach that somehow causes them to age rapidly. Wolff plays the teenage version of the son of Krieps and Bernal’s characters.
Wolff called reading Shyamalan’s script, which he wrote based on the graphic novel “Sandcastle” by Pierre-Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters, for the first time an “outlandish experience.”
“It was one of the most visceral experiences I’ve ever had reading a script. That’s M. Night for you,” he said. “I really went the super standard route of, I just put myself on tape and send it out to the abyss of tapes. You know, you never know where they go. And I assumed I wouldn’t hear anything back because Night is one of my heroes and it seemed to be almost too perfect. There’d be no way I’d actually end up in the movie. And then I got this amazing phone call that he wanted to read with me and talk to me.”
Snap to production — Wolff filmed his scenes on a beautiful beach in the Dominican Republic, where the cast and crew got to swim in the ocean after work. But it wasn’t all fun and games; one scene was so physically taxing that Wolff actually passed out.
“There was a take that I think may have ended up in the movie, where I fell on the ground. I just passed out and Vicky caught me,” he said. “So that was pretty taxing physically, but it was an accident and it was just, we’re getting going and you’re breathing a lot and it’s really hot outside. I was so embarrassed. I always want to be the trooper, the one who was, like, to work ’til 7 a.m. That’s my thing. So that was pretty embarrassing.”
While “Old” is definitely a thriller, Wolff would not characterize it as a horror film. Rather, he says, it’s an existentialist film that lets the horrors we face in our daily lives speak for themselves.
“The movie is not a horror movie,” he said. “Maybe it has echoes of things that are scary in terms of conceptual ideas that’ll haunt you. But I feel that it’s on par with ‘Cries and Whispers.’ It’s scary in the way that it makes you really think about your life and how you’ve spent it, and how quickly we were just kids a second ago. And so in that way, it’s scary. But I felt while we were making it, it was this metaphorical kind of allegorical fantasy family drama. I just feel really lucky to been a part of it.”
On par with the film’s plot, Wolff joked: “I felt like I was on set for a lifetime — but it was all just one day.”
“Old” hits theaters on Friday.
Watch the full interview above.