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Growing up can be brutal when you feel different from everyone else. Worse is when you feel that difference is as plain as the fur on your face. This is one of the hardships endured by the young hero of the superb urban fantasy, The True Adventures of Wolfboy. Jaeden Martell stars as 13-year-old Paul, who goes on a bold quest to meet the mother he never knew. Along the way, he crosses paths with modern versions of a dragon, mermaid, pirate queen, and the devil. Yet in a magical way, art reflected life. Because through telling this coming-of-age fairy tale of self-discovery, screenwriter Olivia Dufault found herself.
For Dufault, the idea for Wolfboy was sparked 10 years ago during a requisite science class in her final semester of college. "I ended up taking a genetics course, assuming that it would have no impact whatsoever on my life," she explained to SYFY FANGRRLS over a Zoom interview. During a lesson on rare genetic conditions, a PowerPoint presentation paused on a slide about hypertrichosis, which causes excessive hair growth all over one's body, including their face. "I was captivated by it immediately," Dufault recalled, noting fears over this condition are believed to have birthed werewolf lore.
Dufault had long been fascinated about where fantasy and fact intersect. As a child, she relished the fairytales her father read to her and her siblings. Years later, while working as a teacher assistant in a high school, she considered exploring this intersection in her own writing. "I was writing plays and a lot of them were unapologetically vulgar, coarse, and violent," Dufault recalls, "And I just wanted to see if I could translate over some of my thoughts and interests into something that was intended for a younger audience." That expanded into exploring her understanding of herself. She added, "Also, at the time I was also personally grappling with my gender dysphoria and coming to terms with the fact that in order to survive, I needed to transition."
In The True Adventures of Wolfboy, the hero's journey not only pitches Paul into peculiar circumstances with colorful characters but also leads him to love himself for exactly who he is. Dufault hopes Paul's story will speak to "anyone who experiences any sort of harassment, who experiences being outcast in any way or is just outside the convention of what society tends to accept and celebrate." For her personally, Paul's journey is "very specifically a trans allegory." She continued, "I was grappling with so many issues concerning self-love and self-acceptance, which I think is one of the most difficult things to achieve. Especially when you have been indoctrinated by culture to hate certain elements of yourself."
Yet as she crafted the screenplay for The True Adventures of Wolfboy, the insightful screenwriter worried the ambiguity of allegory could dilute her intention. "Something I think that can be difficult with allegories is that they can at times result in erasure because the characters that are meant to be represented [aren't literally presented]." So, Dufault created Aristiana, a trans girl, who dreams of stardom, takes no guff, and serves as Paul's mermaid/mentor. "I really wanted to have a young trans character who could exist in a sort of inspirational role for the protagonist — and for audience members and for myself at that point in my life," Dufault said. "So often with trans characters, their narrative is one of suffering, which is partially why I was like, 'Okay, we'll let this Wolfboy deal with all the real suffering.'"
While Aristiana faces prejudice — including parental rejection — she is further down the path of self-appreciation than Paul. "[Aristiana] is emblematic of resilience, of self-acceptance, of the idea of being free to find the community that you feel comfortable within and you embrace it and that embraces you," Default declared. "She was my favorite character to write."
To do justice to this sensational trans heroine, Dufault was determined that a trans actress be cast. "It deeply pains me, seeing cis actors play trans characters and especially get rewarded for doing so," she explained. "[Casting cis actors in trans roles] perpetuates this idea that trans women are just — when you take away the hair and the makeup and the costumes — these are cis people putting on this show. So I think that's just tremendously harmful."
To that end, director Martin Krejcí cast transgender actress Sophie Giannamore to bring Aristiana to life. "I think that it's important for trans actors to play trans characters," Dufault explained, "But I think it's even more important for a young trans actor to do so, because that is rarer. [Aristiana] is a character that I would have loved to have seen when I was 13 or 14 years old. That would have dramatically affected my life in a positive way. So I think that the film is infinitely better for that casting. And I think the world is better for the casting as well."
She added of Giannamore specifically, "Sophie's performance in the film is just astonishing. She's just effortless, wonderfully at ease and natural in a way that I think is beautiful and inspirational."
While Aristiana encompassed Dufault's hopes for her future as an out and proud trans woman, her fears about this path were given voice in the film's villain. Mr. Slick (John Turturro) is a carnival owner who cajoles Paul into his freak show, where the boy might be mocked and prodded by gawkers. In the climax of The True Adventures of Wolfboy, Mr. Slick snarls at Paul, "All you're good for is a long stare and a cheap punch line."
While Aristiana was her favorite character to write, Mr. Slick was the worst. "Mr. Slick was the terrible voice in my head that was the core of my self-loathing and fears associated with transitioning," she said, "Which is essentially: You cannot live a successful life if you exist outside of the conventions of what we deem as standard already." In that sense, when Paul stands up against Mr. Slick's cruelty and ignorance, Dufault did the same. "That climax is me confronting all of my worst fears about being ridiculed, about being just disregarded." She mused, "I was really confronting my anxieties and my insecurities to ideally come to a place of self-love and self-acceptance. Which is easy to say and easier to write about and infinitely more difficult to do in reality! But writing this story was hugely instrumental in terms of my personal journey. And in terms of allowing myself to explore ideas that I could then enact in reality."
Essentially, writing The True Adventures of Wolfboy not only proved a path for Dufault to learn to accept herself, but also laid down the challenge to be the heroine she wanted to see in the world. Beyond granting herself this incredible gift of love, she created a heartwarming coming-of-age tale in which Paul finds more joy than he dreamed the world might contain. As such, The True Adventures of Wolfboy grants that gift of hope to anyone who fears they don't belong.
The True Adventures of Wolfboy is now available on-demand and on digital.