Photography by JUCO. Shot at The Row NYC, Times Square. Fashion editor: Michael Cook. Hair and makeup: Angela DiCarlo. Shirt, suit, and tie all by Tommy Hilfiger.
On a hectic Wednesday afternoon, Nat Wolff is just another New Yorker packed into the Grey Dog café near Union Square. To get to him, I have to scurry past a line of customers that stretches out the door, before spotting the unassuming, lanky, dark-haired actor in the back. He’s seated next to a soup-bowl–sized mug of coffee, but it isn’t his. He doesn’t drink the stuff. “I get too...” he says, shaking his hands in a jittery motion.
This is all a marked departure from what Wolff brings to Fred, the perpetually wired, hard-partying, chauvinistic teenage antihero of Palo Alto, the debut film from writer-director Gia Coppola (granddaughter of Francis, niece of Sofia). Fred wouldn’t be sitting at a table; he’d be standing on it, drunk and screaming. “He’s that guy who needs an insane amount of attention,” Wolff says. “He grew up only getting attention for negative things, so that’s the only way he knows how to get noticed. He needs everyone to look at him.”
A Nickelodeon alum whose big break was the network’s The Naked Brothers Band (a musical series produced by the 19-year-old multitalent’s mom and named for the group he co-headlined with his brother, Alex), Wolff can relate to Fred’s hunger for the spotlight, but not his douchebaggery.
Instead, the budding scene-stealer—who greatly bolstered last year’s Tina Fey comedy, Admission, and also appears in this summer’s The Fault in Our Stars—connected to the deftly explored adolescent tedium and nuance of Palo Alto. The movie, which mirrors high school classics like Dazed and Confused, is based on a book of short stories by James Franco, who costars along with Emma Roberts and newcomer Jack Kilmer (son of Val).
Fred, for instance, has a complex core beneath his transparent veneer of rebellion, much of which is tied to his ambiguous bromance with his best friend, Teddy (Kilmer). “I think Fred loves Teddy,” Wolff says. “I don’t know if he’s sexually attracted to him, but he’s definitely in love with him, and there’s some kind of obsession. There’s a lot of mystery to my character.”
The mystery comes to a head when Fred finally unleashes a cryptic, stream-of-consciousness rant—a quasi-confessional that costar Talia Shire (also of the Coppola dynasty) was keen to highlight. “Talia said, ‘You guys really need to think about that beat,’ ” Wolff explains. “ ‘Fred is coming out there.’ I don’t think she meant coming out as gay, exactly—just that it’s a breaking-down, who am I? moment.”
If coming out isn’t exclusive to closets and sexuality, it’s fair to say Wolff is in the midst of a coming-out of his own. Just days before we met, news broke that he’ll be the star of Paper Towns, the next adaptation of a best-selling young adult novel by The Fault in Our Stars author John Green. And shortly before that, he’d flown from the nest of his parents’ apartment to settle into his own place in the East Village. His neighbor? Michael H. Weber, the co-screenwriter of Paper Towns and Fault. “He lives a block away,” Wolff says. "We hang out all the time and chat.” Just not over coffee.