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A version of this story first appeared in the July 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
The son of a jazz pianist and an actress, Nat Wolff seemed destined for Hollywood. After starring with brother Alex in the 2005 musical film The Naked Brothers Band and a subsequent Nickelodeon series, he’s now following up a role in The Fault in Our Stars as the lead opposite Cara Delevingne in another John Green adaptation, Paper Towns (he and Alex also have a song on the soundtrack). Next, he’s in Nancy Meyers’ The Intern.
Wolff, who was photographed in New York by Jeremy Liebman, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about how he got the coveted Paper Towns gig, what he first thought of his co-star Delevingne and why it’s tough to balance his music and acting careers.
After Fault, what led to the idea that you should do Paper Towns?
Two producers on Fault [Temple Hill’s Wyck Godfrey and Isaac Klausner] came up to me with this mischievous look and said, “You should read Paper Towns.” Without asking any questions, I read Paper Towns. It’s my favorite of John’s books by far. Four months later, I got a call asking if I wanted to play Quentin.
Why is Paper Towns your favorite?
I think it’s the most complicated. I love how it has a mystery element, a detective story. And I connected deeply to those three friends. I felt like when I did the movie it was like going into a time machine back to when I was 12 or 13. I was embarrassingly romantic and had these two best friends I spent all my time with, and we joked about similar sorts of things.
You were cast before Cara. What was your first impression of her?
I was the only person on the face of the Earth that had never heard of Cara before, but when she walked in, I looked at her and said, “I think you’re on a billboard outside my house.” I just thought she was some model, but then she blew me away. She’s very spontaneous and crazy and that was perfect for the role. She made me really uneasy, and that was perfect for the characters.
What was your upbringing like?
I grew up with these two crazy artists as parents, and all their friends were artists, writers, actors and musicians. I just thought that’s what everyone did. They helped me realize that the success and the money and the fame is great, but transient and out of my control, and at the end of the day it’s empty if it’s not based in the love of the art.
What do you remember about shooting the Nickelodeon show?
I loved it. It was such a magical time in my life. It was all my best friends. I’d done a couple plays but I hadn’t acted in front of a camera, so acting with my best friends and having my family around really helped me to be loose and comfortable in front of the camera. I’m still best friends with all those guys.
How are you balancing the music and acting careers?
The only thing that’s been hard has been scheduling sometimes. When I do work on movies, I like to be completely focused on that. And when I’m in the studio, I like to be completely focused on that. I got to meet Jared Leto for like eight seconds last year. I asked him how he schedules his life, but as soon as I asked him he saw this beautiful blond model walk up and he said, “Hold on one second.” He went and talked to her and never talked to me again. So I missed my one chance to find out.
Why do you get along with John Green so well?
He wrote a really nice thing about me recently, so I want to pay him back. He’s a master novelist. I love all his books, but I think the thing I love most about John is how generous he is. He is so giving to everyone around him. He really has, in a lot of ways, changed my life. And we really get along and have a lot of fun together. I do a really good imitation of him, so I like to torture him a little bit.
What do you want to do next?
I just want to be in good movies. I want to keep doing things that are different and challenging and where I feel like I’m going to have an anxiety attack every time. Because if it’s things I’ve done before, I’m just going to get bored.
Hometown New York
Big break 2014’s The Fault in Our Stars
Reps CAA, Untitled