Finn Wolfhard on the Ambiguous Sexualities of his 'Goldfinch' and 'It' Characters
[This story contains spoilers for The Goldfinch and It: Chapter Two]
As Finn Wolfhard grows up, so do his characters. Whether it’s running from dancing clowns and Demogorgons or ghostbusting in Jason Reitman’s Ghostbusters 2020, the 16-year-old actor is still having plenty of fun in the genre that launched his career. However, Wolfhard is finding new ways to challenge himself, hence the role of Boris Pavlikovsky, a Ukrainian émigré in John Crowley’s The Goldfinch.
Heat Vision breakdown
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Goldfinch chronicles the childhood and adulthood of Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley, Ansel Elgort), who lost his mother in a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Once Theo relocates to Las Vegas to live with his mostly deadbeat father (Luke Wilson), he meets Wolfhard’s Boris, and the two become inseparable as Boris’ wild ways rub off on Theo. Though the film faltered at the box office, it gave Wolfhard an opportunity to stretch his acting skills by perfecting an accent. And while the novel suggests that Boris and Theo experimented with each other sexually, Wolfhard didn’t play the part as clear cut.
“I didn’t really know, which I think helped it even more that he was ambiguous,” Wolfhard tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s a deep brotherly love; he’s never connected with someone like this before and neither has Theo. I do think it’s totally up in the air and ambiguous, which makes it very interesting.”
Even Wolfhard’s roles in It: Chapter Two and Stranger Things 3 are adding more and more complexities such as Richie Tozier’s secret, which Bill Hader and Wolfhard brought to light via their interrelated performances. As It fans continue to debate the nature of Richie’s feelings for Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone), Wolfhard wasn’t surprised by the reveal.
“I thought it totally made sense,” Wolfhard explains. “In the first movie, he has the clown scene, but there’s something more than that that’s deep inside. He’s still in the closet when he’s 40, and once they finally defeat Pennywise, the fear goes away. You’re finally comfortable with who you are.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Wolfhard also discusses It: Chapter Two’s de-aging process, the status of Ghostbusters 2020 and his irrational fear of bananas.
You’ve been shooting Ghostbusters 2020 for a few months now. How's it going so far?
Dude, it’s one of the most fun sets I’ve ever been on. Jason Reitman is an amazing director; he’s really amazing with his actors and crew. He creates a family relationship on set, so it’s been really fun. We’ll be done soon, and I think a lot of people are going to love it.
So can you provide a basic timeline when it comes to shooting The Goldfinch, Stranger Things 3 and It: Chapter Two?
I did The Goldfinch first, which was about a three-week shoot, plus some preproduction stuff in New York. It was a three-week shoot in Albuquerque, and then I think I had a few months off before starting Stranger Things 3. During Stranger Things 3, I shot It: Chapter Two, so I would shoot on my days off, which was super tiring and stressful, but really rewarding at the same time. Basically, I shot It: Chapter Two and Stranger Things 3 at the same time.
In addition to mastering a Russian accent, you were also juggling a sense of humor and an altered state from all the drugs and alcohol Boris consumed. How did you pull these other attributes off since the accent was already hard enough?
I was so into the character without being method. I was so entranced by the character and all the things that he’s interested in and wants to do. He’s the complete opposite of who I am in real life. I just had so much fun doing things I’ve never done before, and I had a lot of freedom to just try and do what I wanted to do with the character … In a way, it was kind of therapeutic for the way that I act because it was such a different thing.
As far as the drugs and alcohol thing, Boris is so used to getting messed up. When I was younger, I acted in some Shakespeare stuff; I did one Shakespeare camp. I remember when I played someone who’s drunk, I just had to do what my interpretation of someone who’s drunk would be. That was kind of the same case when I was doing this movie, but because Boris is so used to it, I dumbed it down because it’s kind of a default mode for him. Oakes [Fegley] really helped me because he set the bar for how messed up he was going to be in those scenes. Obviously, John’s direction really helped too. The humor stuff really comes natural. It’s way easier for me to make a joke than it is for me to cry. So the humor was the easier stuff to do.
Boris and Theo take acid at one point in the movie. Did you do any research as far as how one might behave at his age?
With the whole LSD thing, I just listened to psychedelic rock. (Laughs.) Like I said, I felt like I had to dumb everything down because he’s such a low-key character. Everything is straightforward for him: “I’m tripping on acid, but I’m totally fine still.” Those scenes were really laid out for me in the script.
Boris’ behavior was a byproduct of his mother’s death and his physically abusive father. How deep did you go into the psychology of someone who’s suffered as much as Boris has?
He’s so wise beyond his years. He’s gone through so much hardship, and he’s lived in a hundred different places. He’s almost like a recluse. He still lives in houses, but they’re not homes. He’s kind of just wandering around in the world, and he’s come to terms with that despite being very young. A lot of people have been asking me at TIFF if I felt sad playing him, but honestly, I had a lot of fun going into Boris’ psychology even though it’s not a fun movie at all. I think the Las Vegas stuff is the most fun stuff in the movie even though it’s very trashy but also very poetic and beautiful at the same time. It sounds terrible to say, but Oakes and I just had so much fun going into why these characters feel this way. We were learning a lot, and it was a huge learning experience for us. People deal with death differently; some even laugh at funerals. For me, it was interesting to figure out the why based on the way he was raised and his culture. He’s originally from the Ukraine. So he has this deadpan quality from the very beginning, and that’s how he copes I think. It was such a huge learning experience and a major character study for me.
The scene with Boris’ father was pretty brutal. Were you relieved to get that scene out of the way as quickly as possible?
I was happy I wasn’t the one being hit by the cane; that was my wonderful double. (Laughs.) It was pretty intense, but like I said, the set was not as intense as the movie makes it out to be. The actor [Kevin Owen McDonald] who played my father was the sweetest man ever. He’s American too, so he also worked with our dialect coach [Kristina Nazarevskaia]. He played it very authentic, and that really helped me in the scene.
Apparently, the novel suggests that Boris and Theo had a sexual relationship. What kind of conversations did you have with John Crowley about Boris’ sexuality? Did you play Boris as someone who had romantic feelings for Theo?
So Boris had a girlfriend in the book, but it’s really hard to get 800 pages onto a movie screen and include everything. I didn’t really know, which I think helped it even more that he was ambiguous. I didn’t even know what was happening or what kinds of things he feels for different people. At the same time, it’s a deep brotherly love; he’s never connected with someone like this before and neither has Theo. There’s a deep love there as well. Also, the videos that I would watch for research showed Russian politicians kissing each other, and that’s kind of how I saw the end [kiss]. But there could be more to it than just a formal thing. It really does feel like deep love for him. I do think it’s totally up in the air and ambiguous, which makes it very interesting.
When two people shared a same-gender kiss onscreen, it used to make waves throughout the press. Nowadays, it’s not a big deal. So I have to presume that Boris and Theo’s kiss goodbye was no big deal for you and Oakes?
It wasn’t a big deal at all. We were like, “Alright, sweet. Let’s do it.” Like you said, if we did this in the ‘80s and ‘90s, it would have been blown out of proportion. I mean — we’re acting. It’s such an amazing thing to be able to do some things you wouldn’t normally do in real life, and they’re things that are completely normal … We weren’t even really thinking about that kiss; we were just thinking about the emotion before. My character has this big secret that he can’t tell Theo, and it’s killing him inside. It’s also killing Theo inside because Boris isn’t coming with him ... That was a big thing in rehearsals. That was a scene that was really important for us to nail because it’s the point in the movie where Theo is completely on his own … We were really just focusing on the emotion behind it, and I think the kiss is a great button to the scene. It really encapsulates their love for each other.
The look on Boris’ face as Theo is packing up the painting was quite telling. Did you shoot a ton of different reaction shots since that was such a crucial moment?
I think John pulled me aside and said, “This is a moment where he doesn’t remember that he showed you.” Obviously, later in the movie, Boris says that Theo showed him when he was blackout drunk. Boris remembers, but Theo doesn’t. So when Theo goes down and tries to get the painting, Boris turns around and gives that look. The audience kind of knows, but Theo still doesn’t know at all. He’s not even really suspicious of it. I think we only did it that kind of way … That’s when the secret starts to burn inside of Boris a little bit. And then, the last line of the scene is where I say, “What about the dog? What about Popchik?” Boris said this so that Theo wouldn’t have to leave, but he did not expect him to take the dog with him.
And you never shot the scene where Boris swaps the painting, right?
No, we never did. I would have loved to. Boris explains to Theo later what he did, but we never shot that. I guess it’ll be on the Blu-ray, but there’s only one cut scene. It’s where we’re at the lunch table, and I have a black eye. We then talk about it. That’s kind of the only deleted scene.
In our last conversation, you mentioned that John Crowley and Roger Deakins hugged each other over a particular shot. Since the film is now released, do you remember which one it was?
It’s the shot of us on the swings with the sunset in the background. Anything that Roger touches is beautiful. Above anything else, I love the movie, but it’s one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in a really long time. I’m really happy about that. [Editor's note: you can see the sunset shot at the 1:21 mark above.]
Moving to It: Chapter Two, Richie’s sexuality is explored more in Chapter Two. Were you surprised by this reveal when you first read the arcade scene, as well as Bill Hader’s part, or did it make sense to you right away?
I thought it totally made sense. Again, it’s ambiguous. You don’t really know for sure. Some fans think it’s real, and some fans don’t. I think that’s what’s interesting about making these movies because they’re not the exact same as the book. And I thought it totally made sense because in the first movie, he has the clown scene, but there’s something more than that that’s deep inside. It’s something that he’s so ashamed of that he doesn’t even bring it up to his friends until it shows in the second movie. He’s still in the closet when he’s 40, and once they finally defeat Pennywise, the fear goes away. You’re finally comfortable with who you are. I think Andy [Muschietti] and Bill really captured it beautifully.
So can you set the record straight regarding the de-aging? Did they put those dots on your face during production?
So that’s what’s insane. They did de-age us with CGI, which is already crazy, but I didn’t do any scenes where they put dots on me. They must have done it with no dots. Barbara Muschietti, who’s Andy’s amazing sister and main producer, was describing how they basically softened the face. They soften your features until you look the way you did. I thought that was interesting, and it looked pretty cool.
In Stranger Things 3, the Duffers didn’t try to hide the fact that you’ve grown up. Since Chapter Two de-aged you, did you get the sense that Andy was also trying to hide your height by having you hunch over your bike while walking with the group — or other things like that?
Totally. With Stranger Things, it’s kind of a Harry Potter effect where it takes place every year, and you’re checking in with these characters. This one was very different because it takes place over flashbacks, and it’s a very specific time that we’ve seen already. Andy, who’s a visual artist and illustrator, really saw that in his head; it drove him crazy if we looked older.
Since your voice has also changed, did you re-record some of your dialogue during postproduction, so they could adjust the pitch to be higher?
Yeah, some of it I ADR-ed, and they just pitched it up. They didn’t have to pitch Jaeden [Martell], Sophia [Lillis] or Chosen’s [Jacobs] voice up. They might’ve done Chosen’s a little bit. Jack [Dylan Grazer] is way taller, and his voice is way deeper; Jeremy [Ray Taylor] also. His face has completely changed. All of us did a full body scan, essentially, and that’s how they did that VFX stuff.
Since you got to hang out with Bill during the press tour, what’s your favorite story involving the two of you?
He’s just such a wonderful person, and he’s one of my biggest influences. It’s great that I got to spend time with him and do things with him. We talked movies, and we kept doing this fun thing where we’d make fun of Canadians because I’m from Vancouver. We’d just do that all day. He told me this funny SNL story; I think it’s from a book too. Essentially, the writers in the writers room were super tired because it was a really late night. The writers all ordered food, and it was taking forever. So the writers kept complaining, “Where’s our food?” over and over again. One of the other writers’ food got there, and the minute the writer got his food, the other writer grabbed the food and threw it out of a 32nd-story window. It was the funniest story. He’s definitely a gem and really great to be around.
I love how he compared you to King Joffrey since he credits your power for his casting.
(Laughs.) That was so funny. “Bring him to me!” I told Andy that Bill would be great, and I guess Andy was like, “Finn wants you to be in it.” He ended up getting cast in it, and now there’s this whole running joke about how I’m the most powerful child in Hollywood. I love getting that credit, but I’m sure Bill is like, “Ugh — I have to keep saying a 16-year-old gave me a job.”
The Paul Bunyan scene. Do you ever get used to the feeling of acting against nothing, or do you always feel self-conscious about it?
I’m so used to it now. For a lot of people, it’s really hard, but I’m so used to it now that it’s easy. At first, I was like, “How am I going to react to nothing?” That’s when the true creative acting comes in as you have to just put your imagination into it, plus lots of director’s notes. Then, you just hope to God that it’s convincing.
As far as The Addams Family, have you met any of your castmates yet?
We did everything completely separately. The directors Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan would play me lines from Chloe [Grace Moretz], Charlize [Theron], Oscar [Isaac] or Nick [Kroll]. So that part was interesting, but I’m very excited to meet them all soon.
So Finn, what’s the deal with you and bananas?
Ah, Jesus. (Laughs.) Here’s the thing: Jaeden Martell from the first and second It found out that I just didn’t like them. I don’t like the smell or the texture. I’m not alone on that! So it started with Jaeden just chasing me around, and I was like, “Dude, can you stop? I’m going to punch you.” During the first movie, I remember he peeled a banana and rubbed it on my skin. So I chased him and knocked him down. I was only 13, so I wouldn’t do that anymore. It was so funny; he was laughing so hard. I think it started when my brother threw a banana in my face, and now I just don’t like them. I know it’s a weird thing I have against them. I guess I’m going to have to start eating them one day, otherwise, I’ll die from too little potassium or whatever.
Andy joined The Flash after you shot Chapter Two. Did you bug him about it once you saw him again during the press tour?
I didn’t bug him, but I was just like, “That’s so cool, man!” And he was like, “Yeah, I’m really excited.” I’m excited to see what comes out of that; I hope he does it. On the first It, I remember working with Cary Fukunaga, and he ended up leaving. Then, Andy came in, and he’s such an amazing director. It’s one of those things where you’re not making the film until you’re actually on set making it. So I hope Andy does it; it’ll be sweet.
I almost forgot that Cary was the one who cast you first.
Yeah, initially, on the first one. I came in again to read for Richie when Andy was directing. He didn’t know that I auditioned for the first one, so I ended up getting it twice, which is a true thing. I guess the producers knew that I had auditioned and got the first one because I think they were the same producers. So I think they just got me back to do another self-tape, but Barbara and Andy had no idea. Fate definitely got me back into It.
by Sharareh Drury, Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya