You have to be impressed with what actor Nat Wolff has done with his career since debuting in 2005’s The Naked Brothers Band Movie, written and directed by his mother Polly Draper, which was then turned into a successful Nickelodeon series. It might be hard to believe but that movie was filmed 15 years ago, and Wolff has been taking on increasingly more mature and dramatic roles since. (Not only that, but Nat’s younger brother and Naked Brothers bandmate Alex has also been making inroads as an actor with films like Ari Aster’s Hereditary.)
Wolff actually plays a soldier in two very different movies out this month, Henry Alex Rubin’s Semper Fi and Dan Krauss’s The Kill Team. In the first film, he stars with Australian actor Jai Courtney as two brothers in the Marine Corps Reserve who have to make some tough decisions when Wolff’s character “Oyster” is sent to prison after a bar fight in which a man dies. In The Kill Team– based on a true story which Krauss covered in his documentary of the same name – Wolff stars opposite Alexander Skarsgård as a young soldier in Afghanistan who has witnessed the killing of innocent civilians by Skarsgård’s Sergeant and has to decide how to report him as others in his violent platoon become suspicious that one of their rank are conspiring against them.
What’s interesting is that both of these movies are directed by filmmakers who made their bones as documentary filmmakers but have created compelling stories that delve into the realms of action and straight-up military thriller.
The Beat got on the phone with Wolff earlier this week for the following interview, talking about these two very different filmsand other stuff he has coming up.
The Beat: I saw The Kill Team at Tribeca, so when I heard about this movie and that it also involved soldiers, I was interested to see whether you did the two movies pretty close together and which one you did first?
Nat Wolff: I did The Kill Team first, and it wasn’t that close to each other. It was just that random thing that’s happened a bunch, where I do two — or sometimes it’s happened where it was like three movies — in different times, but somehow they all come out in October. That’s happened to me, or they all come out in August or something. I guess the common thread between the two was… I mean, I already had an incredible respect and admiration for the Army and the Marines, but through doing these films I got even more respect because of just playing war like in Kill Team, which is .0000001 of what I’m guessing what it’s like to be in an actual war was pretty draining and exhausting. With Semper Fi, my character never even made it. I didn’t make it and I don’t think I would make it. I definitely wouldn’t. It takes a certain kind of thing.
The Beat: Did Henry know about that other film, or did you tell him about it when you met with him for Semper Fi?
Nat Wolff: I’m trying to remember. I was attached to Kill Team in 2015, so that movie’s been in the works for a long time and Henry knew about it because he’s good friends with [Alexander] Skarsgård. Even though from a logline perspective the two films are very similar, I think the characters are so drastically different and the arcs of the characters are so different that it never felt like a problem. I would say that during Kill Team I was struggling during the training, because it was so demanding, and then doing Semper Fi, I was more ready for it, even though my character had one battle, and I would just be in prison the whole time.
The Beat: It sounds like you didn’t get to do much training on this one, and I wondered if it was necessary to do any training at all?
Nat Wolff: Well, for me, a lot of the work for this movie was just to find the brother dynamic between Jai and me and to find the dynamics of the friend group with all of us. I would almost be reticent to call this a military movie even though I think it shows an incredible respect for the military. I would say that The Kill Team is definitely a war film. I think this movie is more about the relationship between brothers and friends, and the military world is an aspect of it. It’s a different kind of story.
The Beat: Did you get to spend a lot of time with Jai or did you know him from before? He told me that you had just one day to hang out and then two days later, you were filming.
Nat Wolff: I went to hang out with Jai in L.A., and it started off surface, actor talk. He picked me up, because I didn’t have a car at the time and drove me to a bowling alley, which is where one of the first scenes of their characters take place, and we got drunk and bowled. It started off as five minutes of surface, actor talk and then after that we got really deep and we realized that there were a lot of similarities between us and the way we grew up and our families. And we really shared a lot of private things to each other that I don’t share to some of my closest friends. It was one of those strange meetings. I still have this really deep vulnerable connection, brotherly connection with him.
The Beat: Did you ever find out why your character is called “Oyster”? I was wondering about that.
Nat Wolff: There’s this one shot where I’m putting a fried oyster on a burger and that’s supposed to be the key to the audience. I think there used to be a scene talking about it, but it got cut. But there was a scene where it was that I’d vomited up a bunch of oysters on my 16th birthday, so everybody called me on it.
The Beat: So it stuck. What was it like working with Henry? I know he comes from a documentary background but has done another narrative film, but was he bringing a lot of his documentary background to bring authenticity to this movie?
Nat Wolff: I auditioned for his other narrative movie Disconnect when I was 17, and he said he loved my audition and loved me asnd gave me a lot of support, but said I was too old for the part. I thought Disconnect was incredible. I think he’s such an underrated director. I’ve been tracking him and what he was doing since then, and constantly asking like, “What’s Henry Alex Rubin up to?” I mean, I loved Murderball, but I thought Disconnect was really beautiful, and then when this script came along, I jumped at the chance and I read it. It was kind of sent to me like, “Check out all these characters,” and I immediately responded to Oyster, because it felt like a real shadow side of myself.
The Beat: You’re kind of in the sweet spot age-wise where you can work a lot since there are a lot of roles out there for guys your age, so what have you been working on lately that you’re excited for people to see or for you to see after they’ve been edited?
Nat Wolff:I’m really excited about this movie I did with Gia Coppola. I was in her first movie, Palo Alto. It’s her follow-up movie, and it’s called Mainstream, and it’s about a street performer who becomes a social media star that Andrew Garfield plays, and then his descent into madness, and my character’s his moral compass.
The Beat: Palo Alto was a great film. The amount of talented actors in that movie who have broken out since then is a pretty amazing testament to her putting that cast together.
Nat Wolff: I think Gia is pretty incredible. I really, really love that movie, and she hasn’t done a movie since then, so this is her follow-up. I think it’s even more ambitious, and she did an amazing job. And then the other thing I’m about to work on is The Stand, which is a Stephen King adaptation. I’m going to get to work with Skarsgård again. I’m going to get work with Josh Boone again, who directed Fault in Our Stars andStuck in Love, which I was in and who I fucking love. He’s one of my closest friends. I met him when he was still working in a video store selling videos trying to make his first movie, so now he’s like a hot-shot, big director. The Stand is one of my favorite Stephen King books, and it’s obviously an honor to be part of that telling of the story.
The Beat: Did you already shoot Body Cam, the police thriller? I’ve been kind of tracking that one for some time.
Nat Wolff: Oh yeah, yeah. I shot that with Mary J. Blige, and I think that’s just being worked on now, so I’m curious to see it.
The Beat: It’s good talking to you. I really have enjoyed the work you’ve been doing lately.
Nat Wolff: It’s so great, and thank you, man. I think you’re a really great writer, so I really appreciate it.
Semper Fi is now playing in select theaters, on digital and Demand. The Kill Teamwill be in select theaters and On Demand starting October 25.