In writer-director Ari Aster’s just-released film Hereditary, a family of four (played by Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, and Milly Shapiro) is visited, and torn asunder, by an escalating array of horrors.
“I like to describe it as a family drama that smokes crack halfway through and becomes an insane nightmare,” says Wolff, 20, whose acting previous credits include Jumanji, Patriots Day, and My Friend Dahmer.
EW caught up with Wolff to discuss the film, which critic Chris Nashawaty called “terrifying” in his movie review.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In Hereditary, you play the family’s son, Peter. What can you tell us about him?
ALEX WOLFF: Peter is a kid who’s living with this immense grief. He has all this pent-up anxiety and rage towards his mother (played by Toni Collette), and this horrible thing happens. A big part of the film is watching a young man deal with grief in a very realistic, visceral way and watching his entire soul and essence just disappear and crumble.
Is it true you drank vinegar during the shoot?
I did. I always worry about sounding like a pretentious actor because I don’t really think that anything you do for preparation is impressive. But I was obsessed with self-laceration while I was making it, and I wanted to feel physically ill. So, yeah, I was doing that some days. [Laughs]
You worked with your brother, Nat, and both your parents on Nickelodeon show The Naked Brothers Band and will be costarring again with your sibling in the new film, Stella’s Last Weekend, which is directed by your mother, Polly Draper. Presumably, your real-life family has the opposite dynamic to the one depicted in Hereditary.
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I f—ing hope so. I mean, I wouldn’t call it opposite. You can always dig stuff up. Hereditary, I think everyone can see a little bit of their own family in that movie, if they’re being honest with themselves. Stella is sort of an ode to our family, and me and my brother’s dynamic, and it was just a blast. I said to my Mom, “You are a really great mother, but you are definitely a better director, for sure.” I love you as a mother, and you’re fantastic as a mother, but you are much better as a director.
In Jumanji, you played a character who gets sucked into a video game and is transformed into an avatar portrayed by the Rock. Did you get to spend much time with him?
About a month before the start of shooting, they flew me to Hawaii for us to just kind of connect. He’s just so cool. He’s just this royal figure. He’s also just so positive, he’s so fired up. I love that guy.
Are you going to be in the sequel?
I’d better, or I’ll hunt down Jake Kasdan (Jumanji director) and I’ll murder him in cold blood.
What are you doing right now?
I’m in the editing room, staring at about four big images of my face right now, because I’m editing my film (Wolff’s directorial debut, The Cat and the Moon), and I’m looking at a giant screen and looking at three computers with my face on every one of them.
What’s that like?
Um, it’s similar to, if you take a razor blade, and you cut up your right leg, and you just let yourself bleed out of your right leg. I think that’s what it feels like to stare at yourself all day.
What is the film about?
[It’s] about a young kid (played by Wolff) who’s 17, and he travels to New York to live with this older jazz musician who used to play with his late father. He has to travel to New York because his mom is checking into a rehab facility, and, while he’s in New York, he meets these group of kids, these teenagers, who take him around New York and show him around the city. He’s staying in the house with the jazz musician, and that house is the house that his dad actually died in. So, it’s about this young boy’s journey to accepting the crazy and traumatic nature of his dad’s death.
You have an extremely varied resume. When people see you in the street, what do they most often recognize you from?
It’s usually Patriot’s Day or Jumanji. I don’t know. It’s kind of always different. A lot of people now are saying Hereditary. Joel Edgerton is actually editing his movie right by mine, and we were in the bathroom together and washing our hands, and both of us were just looking [as] disgusting and “editing room” as possible, and both of us just had these big gross beards, and we’re just in our own worlds, figuring out how to fix our movies. We were there, we washed our hands, and I just looked up. I was like, “Yo!” And he was like, “Yo! I just saw the trailer for Hereditary!” I was like, “Dude, you’re Joel Edgerton! That’s so cool!”
Watch the trailer for Hereditary, above.