Moviegoers might know 20-year-old Nat Wolff from turns in young-love stories like his recent Paper Towns—opposite Cara Delevingne—or The Fault in Our Stars. In his latest film, Ashby, Wolff plays Ed, another endearing, somewhat confused young man attempting to find some meaning in his life. But the relationship at the center of the funny, eccentric and endearing drama isn’t of the romantic sort—it’s between Ed and a whirlwind of a neighbor, the titular ex-CIA agent played by Mickey Rourke.
Here, Wolff talks to DuJour about working with his heroes, breaking and entering and why he works best when he’s absolutely terrified.
This movie drives the point home that you never really know what’s happening with your neighbors. What’s your own experience with that?
One of my best friends growing up was someone who lived on the 7th floor of our building. He was about 22 when my friend David and I were about 13, and we used to sneak up to his apartment—he still lived with his parents—and we’d break in and try to catch him with girls or shoot confetti into his apartment. We were just awful. That was my only real neighbor experience, but I grew up in an apartment building, so things were a little different.
So taking this role meant you could experience that kind of relationship for the first time! What else made Ed an interesting character for you?
I read the script, and I really loved it. I just liked how it explored being a man for my generation and for an older generation, and I liked my character. He’s kind of offbeat, and I always like characters that are a little left of center. I had also been a huge fan of Mickey Rourke growing up. I used to sneak into my parents’ DVD collection and watch Diner and Rumblefish and different movies that he was in.
I’m always nervous when I meet people whose work I really love, because what if there’s no chemistry? But it sounds like you guys clicked.
We did. I have the exact same feeling, and sometimes I don’t want to meet my heroes because I’m worried that they’re going to let me down, but this wasn’t just meeting my hero. I really got to go on a journey with him.
Did you guys pal around to build up that on-screen chemistry?
It was just kind of there. I had gotten over my nerves by the time we started shooting. My nervousness was really when I was outside his house. He has an enormous blue door, and I was so intimidated! I was thinking I should probably just head home. You know what I mean? I’m 6’1”, and I felt like I couldn’t reach the handle. It was like, this is going to be a disaster, but then it turned out not to be at all.
You said the character’s offbeat nature was appealing to you. Is that true for lots of roles you look for? Do you want to find these guys who are marching to the beat of their own drummer?
As an actor, I want to be challenged and really scared, because then I’ll be excited and I’ll put in the effort if I’m terrified. If I don’t, if the part is too easy, I think then my performances won’t be as exciting to me, so they won’t be as exciting to watch.
What was terrifying about this?
Ed was somebody for whom everything he was saying was the opposite of what he was feeling. He was a real people pleaser, and there are certain parts of Ed that I could really relate to and I really loved. At the same time there were things that I recognized that I have in myself that I don’t like. It’s always about finding how I am like the character and how I’m not like the character and then filling in that gap between.