'Admission's Nat Wolff: From 'The Naked Brothers' to the Ivy League
Paul Rudd and Tina Fey supply most of the romantic-comedy in Admission, director Paul Weitz’s new movie about a by-the-book Princeton University admissions officer (Fey) who is thrown for a loop when a charming old classmate (Rudd) suggests one of his most talented college-bound students just might be the child she put up for adoption years ago. But younger audiences who grew up watching The Naked Brothers Band will be delighted to recognize that Rudd’s academic prodigy, Jeremiah, is none other than a taller, less shaggy Nat Wolff, the older sibling from Nickelodeon’s hit musical-comedy TV series that ran from 2007 to 2009. Now 18 — and bound for college himself — Wolff is jumping back into movies in a big way. Admission is just one of five films he’ll star in this year, highlighted by upcoming roles opposite Selena Gomez, Lily Collins, James Franco, and Girls‘ Zosia Mamet.
What about the Naked Brothers, you ask? Nat and Alex, now 15, are still making music together (though they are no longer Naked and just go by Nat & Alex Wolff). “Since December, I’ve just been playing shows with Alex,” says the native New Yorker. “We’re a duo, and we’re working on the next record. It’s difficult to balance [music and movies], but we’re always writing songs.”
Click below for an extensive interview with Wolff.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your character attends Paul Rudd’s free-thinking alternative school and might be the grown-up child Tina Fey’s Princeton admissions officer gave up for adoption years ago. But what was your take on Jeremiah?
NAT WOLFF: After I got the role, there was still something that I was missing [about the character] and this producer I work with described him by saying, “He has the honesty of someone who is truly intelligent.” And that really stuck with me: Jeremiah’s so smart that he doesn’t have to show anyone how smart he is. His grades in eighth and ninth grade, when he was at this more conservative high school, were bad, but he got 5s on all his SAT 2 tests, which is like genius level. So people are like, “He must have cheated.” But he’s an autodactic. He’s just intellectually curious.
You’re 18 and going through this whole college admission process yourself right now. Was it weird or surreal to be playing a character going through that same experience?
While I was reading the script, I was just starting to look at schools. The script made me so anxious so I knew that it must be good. It’s so hard to get into school these days. When we filmed at Princeton, all the adults on the crew who had kids were trying to be nice to the real admissions woman, and she was not having it at all. “Yeah, my kid’s 8 and does a lot of extra-curriculars out of school…” Not having it. It’s become a ridiculous business and I think Admission sheds some light on that.
What’s your character’s extra-curriculars?
He’s a ventriloquist. I had never even seen a ventriloquist act before, but I worked with this great guy, Jon Geffner, for a month, and we basically came up with these 30-minute acts. We had so much stuff, and it ended up being only 20 seconds of me and my René Descartes puppet [in the film], but it’s funny.
Tina’s a mom and she broke into movies writing Mean Girls, which starred a bunch of actresses your age. Did you get the sense she was looking out for you?
What do you mean: Was she worried I was going to turn into Lindsay Lohan?
Well, did you get a sense that she was more motherly towards you and the younger people on the set, or was it more of a peer relationship?
I think it was more of a peer thing. What I noticed about her is that she’s got a million things that she’s doing, but she makes sure that everybody feels at ease. It’s funny because my mom’s an actress and people would often come up to her on the subway and think she’s Tina Fey because they look a little alike. And apparently, Tina told my mom that she had had that happen [to her] when my mom was on thirtysomething — someone had come up to her and ask if she was Polly Draper. And then she ends up playing my mom. That’s kind of strange.
Paul has this amazing reputation in Hollywood: not only has he not aged in 20 years but his picture is in the dictionary next to “affable.” Tell me that he beats his dog or something.
He must, right? Paul Rudd is too perfect. He’s super talented, super nice and super calm. I just think he’s a robot.
When I look back at his career, I find his comic DNA sprinkled on so many different funny things that I love, from Wet Hot American Summer to Friends to Anchorman to The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
What I love about him in this movie is he’s cool in this movie. Because sometimes he’s a dork. Girls love him because he’s cute and a dork. But in this movie he’s kind of bad-ass.
After starring in The Naked Brothers Band with your brother for three seasons on Nickelodeon, you seemed to take a little time off in front of the camera.
There was a gap there where I focused on music and I toured with my brother. We did two tours and we made an album. I think there’s an age sometime in the teenage years that is awkward for actors — you’re not really cute any more but you’re not [yet grown]. I feel like all the parts are seniors in high school and seventh graders, and I think I kinda skipped that awkward stage by not working those years.
Was that just by circumstance or calculation?
It all just sort of happened that way. I’ve been kind of lucky. I’ve always just kind of followed whatever my passion was, and that seems to have led me to better places than if I had followed some career trajectory, which I wouldn’t even know how to start.
Well, you’re making up for any lost time. Admission is the beginning of a nice stretch of work, including April’s Stuck in Love and Behaving Badly with Selena Gomez.
What’s interesting is that in this last year, nobody had really seen me in any movies, so I did four movies back to back, all completely different parts. It was impossible to typecast me because nobody knew really what I was, so I sort of took advantage of that. My role [in Behaving Badly] is more of a romantic lead. They made me look handsome, did my hair nice and stuff.
And you also did Palo Alto with James Franco, based on some of his short stories.
I play a really crazy disheveled psychopath in that movie. The difference between my characters in Admission and Palo Alto are a 180.
What was your James Franco experience like?
He produced the movie and he played the part of the charming but creepy gym teacher. I got to do one scene with him, and we got to hang that whole day. I had heard all these crazy stories about him — just like everyone has — but he was unbelievably cool. I asked him about the movie because the story focuses on these two best friends, and I always thought that the other kid was “James Franco” when he was younger. But he said, “Both of them were me when I was younger; it’s just the Devil and the Angel.”
When do you expect to decide what college you’ll be heading to?
I’ve applied to a couple schools in New York and a couple schools in L.A., and I’ll find out in April. Let’s hope I get in — for my parents’ sake.
Your mom went to Yale, correct?
Yeah, but they weren’t adamant about me getting into an Ivy League school. They don’t really care about that as long as I’m in a place where I’m supposed to be. Right now, I feel like it’s out of my hands, so I can’t really stress anymore. But I think I had a lot of practice for this kind of stress and anticipation because being an actor, you have to wait to hear if you’re going to get a part. It just makes you so anxious.
You know, if you pick the right school, maybe you can take one of Prof. Franco’s classes.
Actually when we were working together, he said, “If you’re ever doing an outside-school study, I’ll be your professor.” I said, “I’m going to hold you to that, James”