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Nat Wolff talks cockroach problems in Body Cam & pandemic close calls shooting The Stand
There’s a segment of actor/musician Nat Wolff’s fandom that grew up on him in the hugely popular Nickelodeon series The Naked Brothers Band (2007 – 2009). But in the almost decade since, Wolff’s been veering far away from breezy roles and embracing characters with a much darker side. Of late, that’s often been in genre projects — like Netflix’s 2017 film Death Note, CBS All Access' upcoming limited series The Stand (as Lloyd Henreid), and the new supernatural drama, Body Cam, which just dropped on digital.
In director Malik Vitthal’s sophomore feature film, Wolff plays rookie beat cop, Danny Holledge. He’s paired with Mary J. Blige’s Renee Lomito-Smith, a veteran officer just returning to the night shift after the investigation of a civilian death incident. That, coupled with the loss of her young son, means they’re not exactly the best matched partners. It only gets more complicated too, when they investigate the death of a fellow officer and only Renee sees a spectral entity in the damaged body cam footage.
Body Cam is moody and spooky, and it treads on some deep social issues like police brutality in a unique way, which is what Wolff says initially grabbed his attention. In a socially distanced phone call, Wolff tells SYFY WIRE about working with a legend like Blige, why genre scripts are calling to him more, and his thoughts on why The Stand limited series might be great for humanity right now.
Was it the script, the character, the supernatural elements or Malik’s pitch that got you involved with Body Cam?
Nat Wolff: It was a mix of everything. I felt like it was primarily the idea of making a movie that had a social awareness that wasn't a "hit you over the head" message movie. It was exciting, and it was an exciting genre, but then it touched on some really vital, important, delicate social issues. I thought it sidestepped a lot of ways that it could've gone corny or offensive.
And then at the same time, I've always wanted to spend a month in a cop car with Mary J. Blige. I mean, to knock off the bucket list. [Laughs]
Did you know she was cast or was that revealed after you said yes?
She was cast first, so if I had been reading the phone book [in it], I probably would've jumped aboard. I mean, she's a legend. She's also a wonderful human being. We did FaceTime today and she asked me, "How was I, Nat?" We just saw [Body Cam], so I'm like, "You killed it." She's like, "You killed it." We had a nice, little catch up, because I hadn't talked to her in a bit. She's a sweetheart.
Do you sing in the squad car together?
No! But Malik got really lucky and got to see her play in Toronto. He was sending me videos. Of course, I've seen clips of her performing live. And I obviously know her music, but I've never seen her live. So that is something, when we come out of this pandemic, that I'm looking forward to doing, is to see her perform.
What did you and Malik talk about in terms of crafting Danny as a character in a film that needs to be grounded in a lot of realism?
We talked about a lot. We had a first meeting that was really magical and he's still a really close friend of mine. One of the things that I did was put on 20 pounds. I spent a week with cops. We all wanted to portray cops realistically, even in this heightened genre. I got to do days in a cop car with real cops and we'd go to these different 9-1-1 calls.
What did you get out of that experience?
It's beautiful to see how heroic some of these cops could be. And some of it was really upsetting, seeing people in hard, difficult, dire situations. But we went to one house where there was a false alarm type deal. But there's a certain amount of stress that comes into the house once cops arrive. This woman looked kind of shaken and I had my cop outfit on, sort of playing the role of cop all day. She came up to me and she looked at me and I thought, "Oh wow, I should probably direct whatever question she has to the other cops." And she goes, "Are you from The Fault in Our Stars?" I was like, "Oh s***, my cover's blown!"
Body Cam has a really unique economy of dialogue to it. Was it always that way, or did that come out in the final edit?
There are moments [that we shot] that Danny would talk about his background, or talk about the reason why he became a cop. I think in editing they realized that there was a lot to be said without saying anything. It got cut down a lot, and a lot of Mary's dialogue got cut down a lot. But even as shooting went on, we took an approach of sometimes the less said the better.
You have an awful sequence in an abandoned house with some cockroaches. That looked real. Was it?
My main memory of that is the cockroaches were…they didn't train with Meisner. [Laughs] They're supposed to stay in this drawer and I'm supposed to pull out the drawer and then a few are supposed to come out. Then, they're going to add digital cockroaches. But as soon as I reach in to grab them, they'd all be coming over the edge and walking on my hands. I would say it's probably the grossest thing I've done yet in my career.
Oh, no. That’s awful.
I'm a huge animal lover, and even a bug lover, but that was maybe one step too far. But, that was the most I ever impressed Mary. She was like, "You had the cockroaches on you?" And I said, "Yeah, Mary. I let them walk on my hand." And she said, "I can't believe it. I can't believe it." So that was where I really earned my respect with her.
You got your Mary J. points. That's all you needed.
What were your thoughts about how the film ended up merging the realism with the supernatural?
What I liked about the script, and the movie, is that the supernatural element was very light and it made a metaphor of a point on top of a solid story. As opposed to the other way around, where I feel like a lot of times with supernatural stories, it's almost like there's a plot to honor the set pieces. Here, I felt like all of these set pieces were there only to honor the themes of these mothers who are grieving, and corruption and the systems that seem to oppress everyone and cause, obviously, all this horror. Whether it's a horror movie or not, you see it in real life all the time. It's interesting these days with making movies in that I feel like a lot of times the messages that seem to reach people are cloaked in genre.
Is that why you’ve chosen to be in more genre films lately?
I try to really reflect on what are the kinds of things that really mean a lot to me? I got to do this movie, Kill Team, last year. I feel like Body Cam has a really important message. It’s about doing things that I feel like are going to be beneficial to the world and not be part of the ick of the culture, but be part of an antidote.
You’re in the upcoming CBS All Access adaptation of Stephen King’s The Stand. You’re Randall Flagg’s enforcer, Lloyd Henreid. Talk about art imitating life?
That was wild because we were doing a show about a pandemic as a pandemic was unfolding. We shut down right before it really took hold in America. It was kind of terrifying because I was shooting scenes in the jail, where we were burning toilet paper and throwing it out the jail cell, which is exactly what they were doing in Italy. And so, it was really strange. But in a certain way, I was kind of hip to the fact that this [pandemic] was going to get really radical before my parents were, because I had just sort of lived through it in this. And obviously, The Stand is a really wild, exaggerated version, but there's just some eerie similarities.
King recently said he doesn’t think the world needs to see The Stand in a pandemic right now. Your thoughts?
I mean, I would never expect this of myself, but as soon as this happened, I re-watched Contagion. I was on the whole pandemic streak. The great thing about The Stand too is it's based on these Stephen King characters and he is such a genius that brings this humanity and the intrigue and the satire and the mystery, but also this deep love and humanity for all his characters. So in a certain way, I think the show could be healing in a way where it’s like there's nothing better than seeing your struggles reflected in great art. It's a slow-motion disaster. And I really hope The Stand can be healing and educational and, at the same time, a good distraction.
I'm really excited to see what you do with Lloyd.
Lloyd is a f***ing blast. It was the most fun I've ever had in my entire life. It was just a full wild getting to play every note on the piano, getting to paint with every color. It was just a full spectrum. We're all sharing this story. I could not have had more of a blast playing this character. It was a hard one to let go, even though he's in so much pain and he's so scary and pathetic. But it was actually really freeing.
Something we should look forward to when it drops?
The scene with Alex Skarsgård [Randall Flagg] and I in the jail, where he comes to break me out of jail from the book, which is iconic, [and] my favorite scene that I've ever done.
Body Cam is streaming on digital now, available for rent On Demand June 2, and dropping on DVD July 14.