In Dude, Wolff plays Noah, a character he describes as a “clever, cocky, hotshot kid who wants to get high with and date Lucy’s character.” Coincidentally, Wolff gave himself the name of Noah in a short he wrote, directed, and starred in called Boots, before taking the role in Dude. Boots, an emotionally raw story of young love, also features his friend Gabriel Day-Lewis (actor Daniel Day-Lewis’s son). Wolff financed the short—which has more than 22,000 views on YouTube—himself with money from other acting gigs and a little help from his older brother, Nat, who is also his musical collaborator (the duo has songs on the soundtracks for Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars, among others).
The New York City native—who finds it amusing that he was recently punched in the face by a complete stranger on the subway—got his start at age eight doing The Naked Brothers Band: The Movie, a musical comedy that co-starred his brother Nat and was directed by his mom, Polly Draper, with musical direction by his dad, jazz musician Michael Wolff. Two years later, the concept became a successful series for Nickelodeon. Ever since, the youngest Wolff knew he wanted to be an actor and never considered a plan B. “Well, I was going to be a doctor, but who makes it as a doctor anymore?” he quips.
At just 18, the quirky star is already an industry vet, but that doesn’t mean self-doubts don’t creep in. “I relate to Michael Keaton’s character in Birdman so much, how he has that voice being so mean and then another boosting his confidence,” says Wolff. “I give myself pep talks. I have to tell myself how sexy I am—literally every day. I do. I look in the mirror and say, ‘You are so sexy,’ because everything else in my body is telling me, ‘No, you’re not.’”
The high school senior’s college admissions essay was about how he feels more himself when he’s acting than any other time. “That’s why it’s really hard for me when I’m filming movies—I fall in love with everybody because it feels even more real than real life,” says Wolff, as he flags down the waitress and orders an apple cider.
Wolff’s yet-to-be-released film Coming Through the Rye, which made the festival rounds late last year and into this year, was serendipitous casting to say the least. The movie focuses on Jamie Schwartz (Wolff), who is obsessed with Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye. So much so that he ditches boarding school to find the book’s reclusive author, J.D. Salinger (played by Chris Cooper). “I went into my audition with a copy of The Catcher in the Rye that my grandfather read,” says Wolff, stealing a few french fries from my plate. “He signed his name inside and wrote the date that he read it. Then when my dad turned 13, my grandpa gave him that copy. My dad read it, wrote his name and the date in it, and gave it to my brother when he turned 13. Nat read it and signed it, and I did the same when I was 13.”
Family aside, Wolff cites The Catcher in the Rye and the Beatles as being his biggest personal and professional influences to date. Though he hates the color yellow, his bedroom is decorated in a Yellow Submarine design because he’s so devoted to the legendary band. “What can I say? I’m a complicated guy,” says Wolff, with a laugh. “If it’s Beatles yellow, it’s great. Anything else yellow, get outta here.”
Stylist: Skye Stewart-Short. Grooming: Amber Duarte at the Rex Agency using R+Co.