Out on the 23rd of February in the UK, Patriots Day has been hailed a triumph of a film and our cover star, Alex Wolff plays one of the titular characters.
Working alongside Hollywood names including Mark Wahlberg and Kevin Bacon, Alex plays the protagonist in Patriots Day, tackling the challenging task of playing the part of young terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in the film about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
What’s it like working with Hollywood A-listers? How does style factor into character development? Is being an acrobat or a foot model on the cards sometime in the future? We find out in a very candid interview.
Can you tell us about your acting career? Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?
I started acting when I was very young. I did an independent movie with my brother [Nat Wolff] and our friend. My mom was the creative behind it as she directed it and my dad, along with a number of family and friends were also in the movie. So that’s how I started, and so my introduction to acting was in this very free and warm family environment.
There were many times when I could have gone down the path of being a child star, which I know can be bad; I think especially in LA it’s easy to get caught up in that life.
Being in New York really helped ground me, cos you go on the subway and people will just tell you to get out the way when it’s crowded; and I think that’s a good thing.
Tell us about the character you play in Patriot’s Day?
I’m playing Dzhokhar in the film, and he was a guy who became a radical Islamist and was involved in the Boston bombings in 2013. He was born in Russia and moved around as a kid and then moved to Boston; he grew up in a very poor ghetto area of Cambridge. What I found both interesting and terrifying about this person was that he was so seemingly not just normal but charming, and seemingly not who you would expect to be such a vicious, horrible human being. Everyone seemed to really love this guy, girls liked him, he had lots of friends and he loved hip-hop. A lot of people really loved him and gravitated toward him; and it’s so interesting that then through influences from his brother and others and a deep darkness inside himself, that someone like that who can appear to be so together is actually one of the sickest, evil people.
I also got to work with such great people who really took care of me, like Mark Wahlberg. It was definitely quite tiring at points to always be in that dark character, but people told me I would be part of history in documenting that event in this film. And in that respect it was very cool. It was interesting to look at a character that I could never be, but ultimately does exist in this world.
How did you find it working with such big Hollywood names?
It was great; I actually only had one scene with Mark Wahlberg and one with Kevin Bacon; so actually I spent more time working with them off-set, which was very cool. On the very first day I was having serious anxiety and I felt very emotionally disturbed about the character. I was sitting in my trailer and just thinking “Should I be doing this?” And I felt really overwhelmed, and then Mark walked into the trailer and gave me a big bear hug and said, “Hey you know we’ve got your back and no matter what happens, we’re here for you.” And I just thought wow that’s a cool thing to really have their support and it just completely relaxed me. That was a very cool moment for me.
Out of all of the characters you have played, do you have a favourite or one that you felt you really connected with?
I think Patriots Day was probably the most interesting. I had a whole different voice that I stayed in, both on and off-camera for three months, and I had a whole different attitude and persona. I plunged into this pure abyss of darkness to take on the character. That, as an actor was a big challenge. But I’ve enjoyed all of the roles I have played for different reasons, which is the great thing about acting. You love different projects for different reasons.
If you could play any character, whom would you choose?
Well I would love to play Hillary Clinton if possible (written pre-elections). Maybe I can play Hillary and Trump and do a combination of them both. No, I’m not too sure to be honest; I would have to think about a specific character.
I mean if they made a movie about Bob Dylan I would love to play a young Bob Dylan; I mean I’ve got the wild hair. Or maybe a sexy astronaut; that sounds good, or maybe a lizard; I don’t know.
Have you ever thought about what you might have pursued if acting wasn’t your passion?
I’d probably be an acrobat or an astronaut or let’s see…a dinosaur before they became extinct. I might be a stop sign––I think I could do that well…professional hula hooper? A foot model? Who knows? No, I can’t imagine doing too much away from acting or music.
Tell us about your personal style, we know you work with stylist Jenny Ricker––how would you say your style has developed over the last few years?
That’s a cool question; Jenny’s awesome. Well I’m not too sure––style is kind of crazy as we’re always reinventing it and figuring [it] out, but Jenny is great at finding things that suit me. I would say my personal style is sexy reptilian slash raccoon living in Bordeaux for thirteen years. But no, I rely on Jenny a lot, I trust her taste a lot more than mine.
Out of all of the characters you’ve played, which one do you think had the best style/on-screen wardrobe?
That’s actually one of the first things that gives you a sense of a character you are about to play: the clothes. It really is, once I find [out] their clothes, I find it a little easier to learn a bit about the guy. When I was playing Dzhokhar and I first put on his clothes I actually burst into tears when I looked in the mirror and I thought I was going to throw up and felt dizzy, and my older brother took care of me. It was very scary and I’d thought about the character and knew what the film would be about for months but once I got on set it just all felt very intense. But it’s so interesting how the clothes really bring the character to life and can really affect you. Those clothes are I guess, very different to what maybe my style is.
Finally if you could give a piece of advice to your younger self or a young actor about making it in the industry, what would you say?
I would say number one, focus on working.
Don’t stress about having the perfect career, or think you have to be in this movie, just go with the flow, and do what feels right. Play different characters, make mistakes and try not to panic about what’s cool or just try to focus on comedy or drama because you think that’s best. People are often very limiting to themselves and can be their own worst enemy. So the final two things I’d say are don’t stress about the trivial stuff and focus on––I dare call it, the craft. Just focus on that part of it, the acting, and work hard.
This interview has been edited from its original version. To read the full interview, get your copy of the current print issue––The Art Issue (also available in digital).
Our creative team in New York City photographed Alex Wolff for the Candid Magazine Issue 1 4 cover story. Kreerath Sunittramat was behind the lens with creative direction by Andy Salmen at The Wall Group, grooming by Melissa Dezarate for Exclusive Artists Management using R+Co, and production by Torraty Singanipar.
Words by Sophie Exton