Nat Wolff's story is a familiar one: a former Nickelodeon star attempts to break out in feature film. But in two upcoming performances Wolff demands your attention. On Friday audiences will be able to see Wolff in Palo Alto as Fred, a veritable harbinger of mischief. Next month he'll be seen in The Fault in Our Stars as Isaac, a teen with cancer losing both his eyesight and his girlfriend.
My expectations for Palo Alto were mixed, having long ago grown weary of many of James Franco's antics. But despite his turn as a soccer coach lusting after his teenage players—in which he is never not creepy—the movie feels less like one of Franco's art experiments, than the foundational work of exciting emerging artists. Gia Coppola has clearly inherited some of her aunt Sofia's predisposition for imbuing her work with a dreamlike quality and indie music, but the movie isn't all artifice. Coppola has created an ecosystem of teens that you are actually able to care about despite their horrible behavior. And the Wolff's Fred is the worst of them all.
The movie opens on Fred and his friend Teddy (Jack Kilmer, who is, yes, Val's son) sitting in a car in a parking lot. Out of nowhere, Fred slams the car into a wall. It's the first indication that Fred is something of a Tasmanian Devil, prone to leaving destruction in his wake. He vandalizes a children's book. He chops down a tree with a chainsaw. He pushes a girl's head down, making her give him a blow job, and later taunts her. Wolff portrays Fred as a kid who quite literally can't sit still. His gangly frame is almost constantly bouncing up and down. But what is perhaps most miraculous about his performance is that he actually makes Fred somewhat alluring, even though his behavior is vile and revolting. It makes sense that a teenage girl would find him attractive, or that a boy would hang out with him despite being warned time and time again not too. "Gia told me, I want you to find the fun and the humor and the lightness," Wolff told me at The Fault in Our Stars press junket this past weekend. "The asshole’s already in the script. You don't have to play the asshole. Play the other. That opened me up."
In the short time we chatted it became clear that Wolff—whose first adult breakout role was arguably the 2013 comedy Admission—takes his work seriously. Still, he couched his comments in enough self-deprecation that he didn't come off as pretentious. He said he has realized that each role is going to be "hard" if it's going to be performed well. "It’s become so uncool to say that you’re a method actor," he said. "But I am." It goes way back, he explained his mother—the actress Polly Draper—would do acting exercises with him when he couldn't sleep. He only realized what she was doing once he started going to class. (Draper wrote and directed The Naked Brothers Band: The Movie, which launched the careers of Wolff and his brother Alex, and became a successful Nickelodeon show.)
To prepare for his role in Fault he spent time practicing being blind. "I wore an eye patch for a day, just saw how that made me feel, kind of woozy and stuff," he said. "Then I just closed my eyes and put glasses on and did everything blind. I ended up putting Tiger Balm on my toothbrush accidentally." (He wears contacts that blacked out his eyes in the movie.) For Palo Alto he described the process as a freeing one, having initially told Coppola that he didn't feel like the character he was set to play. "There’s a part of me that’s like that, and it’s a part that I keep so hidden," he said. "So basically that role was almost liberating. It was finding this part of myself that needs a ton of attention that I usually keep hidden and bringing it out to the front."
Isaac and Fred have little in common, but both brim with a sort of nervous, at times angry, energy that makes them magnetic to watch. Fred's anger is nebulous, whereas Isaac's is pointed. He is, after all, a cancer patient. Isaac is also secondary to the story of The Fault in Our Stars, which focuses mostly on the love story between Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters (Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort). Wolff will have a bigger role in the next movie based on a John Green book: he's set to play the co-lead in Paper Towns, a book he read on the Fault set at the recommendation of Green. He'll also re-team with Fault director Josh Boone—who used Wolff in his first film, Stuck in Love—for the Stephen King adaptation, The Stand. He thinks of Boone and Coppola as two of his best friends, he told me.
"Now I’m sort of getting to the point where I have more control over what I do, but I want to work with really great people and and do stuff that’s good," he said. "That’s been my drive more than being the most successful actor in the world. And I would love to be successful, I love the people who are going to Fault. Nothing against success, obviously. I just mean, it can’t be my number one priority or I think I’ll make the wrong choices."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
From the “400-pound” hacker to Alicia Machado, the candidate’s denigration of fat people has a long tradition—but may be a liability.
One of the odder moments of Monday’s presidential debate came when Donald Trump speculated that the DNC had been hacked not by Russia but by “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.” He was trying to suggest the crime had committed by someone unaffiliated with a government—but why bring up fatness?
Weight seems to be one of Trump’s preoccupations. The debate and its fallout highlighted how he publicly ridiculed the Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado as “Miss Piggy” and an “eating machine,” and how he called Rosie O’Donnell a “fat pig” with “a fat, ugly face” (“I think everyone would agree that she deserves it and nobody feels sorry for her,” he said onstage Monday). He also recently poked fun at his ally Chris Christie’s weight-loss struggles and called out a protestor as “seriously overweight.” And when he was host of The Apprentice, he insisted on keeping a “funny fat guy” on the show, according to one of its producers.
According to Arthur, just a few months later, all 60 members of a committee selected by the American Dialect Society voted to google 2002’s most useful new word. Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary would soon note the coinage. By 2006, Google’s lawyers—fearful of seeing the company’s name brand watered down to the trademark mushiness of kleenex—wrote a post for the company blog outlining when and when not to google should be used.
The biggest threat to the Republican nominee is not his poor performance in the debate, but his reaction to it: blaming microphones, insisting he won, and doubling down on gaffes.
Debates seldom make a great deal of difference to the outcome of the election. Mitt Romney’s dominating performance in the first debate four years ago? Didn’t stop Obama’s reelection. Gerald Ford’s “no domination of Eastern Europe” gaffe in 1976? He rose after it.
Sure, it’s better to win than to lose, but the historical record is a good reminder of why Hillary Clinton’s strong performance in Monday’s debate could have a limited effect on the election’s outcome. If it does have a lasting impact, however, it will likely be due not to what happened on stage at Hofstra University, but due to Donald Trump’s hectic, frenetic crisis-communications strategy.
This is a pattern amply seen before in the election: Trump gets caught in a tight spot, and rather de-escalate, he tends to take out the bellows and fan the flames as much as he can. Time and again, he has managed to overtake a news cycle (and often overshadow bad news about Clinton) thanks to bad crisis management. It’s what he did in his tiff with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, and so far it’s his post-debate strategy, too.
Programs that should be crafted around people’s needs are instead designed to deal with a problem that doesn’t exist.
At a campaign rally in 1976, Ronald Reagan introduced the welfare queen into the public conversation about poverty: “She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”
The perception of who benefits from a policy is of material consequence to how it is designed. For the past 40 years, U.S. welfare policy has been designed around Reagan’s mythical welfare queen—with very real consequences for actual families in need of support.
Though it was Reagan who gave her the most salient identity, the welfare queen emerged from a long and deeply racialized history of suspicion of and resentment toward families receiving welfare in the United States. Today, 20 years after welfare reform was enacted, this narrative continues to inform policy design by dictating who is “deserving” of support and under what conditions. Ending the reign of the welfare queen over public policy means recognizing this lineage, identifying how these stereotypes continue to manifest, and reorienting policy design around families as they are—not who they are perceived to be.
In North Carolina, the Democratic candidate basked in her debate victory. As for her supporters, they’re feeling better, but they’re not ready to exhale.
RALEIGH, N.C.— "Did anybody see that debate last night? Ooooh yes," Hillary Clinton said, her first words after striding confidently out on stage at Wake Technical Community College Tuesday afternoon.
As a capacity crowd cheered, she added, "One down, two to go."
Celebration and relief added to the thick humidity of late summerat Clinton’s event inNorth Carolina. Post-debate analysis is in that awkward in-between state, after the pundits have rendered their verdicts and before high-quality polling has measured the nation’s response. But the Democratic nominee seemed sure that she was the victor.
It was Clinton’s first event after the first presidential debate Monday evening in Hempstead, New York. One sign of her confidence coming out of that encounter: As I approached the rally, a man asked for a hand loading a heavy box into his car. He was the teleprompter man, he said, but when he arrived in Raleigh, he’d been told that Clinton had decided to do without the prompter. He was turning around and heading back to Washington, D.C.
In a unique, home-spun experiment, researchers found that centripetal force could help people pass kidney stones—before they become a serious health-care cost.
East Lansing, Michigan, becomes a ghost town during spring break. Families head south, often to the theme parks in Orlando. A week later, the Midwesterners return sunburned and bereft of disposable income, and, urological surgeon David Wartinger noticed, some also come home with fewer kidney stones.
Wartinger is a professor emeritus at Michigan State, where he has dealt for decades with the scourge of kidney stones, which affect around one in 10 people at some point in life. Most are small, and they pass through us without issue. But many linger in our kidneys and grow, sending hundreds of thousands of people to emergency rooms and costing around $3.8 billion every year in treatment and extraction. The pain of passing a larger stone is often compared to child birth.
The films touted for consideration this year include prestige projects like Martin Scorsese’s Silence and festival hits like Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight.
With the main film festivals of the fall (Telluride, Venice, and Toronto) now concluded, and Martin Scorsese finally confirming that his much-anticipated drama Silence will come out at the end of the year, the next three months will bring a calendar loaded with prestige releases. Among them are films that better reflect the wide range of faces and voices in America (and around the world), which have recently been severely under-represented on Oscar night. Audiences and critics will be paying especially close attention to the works and actors the Academy chooses to recognize, after the awards were condemned this year for nominating only white performers two years in a row.
The question, as always, is which films will be able to stand out once studios begin their awards campaigns in earnest. A lot can happen in a few months; after all, the season has already seen its earliest anointed front-runner practically disappear from the race. The former Best Picture favorite was the big story out of Sundance: The Birth of a Nation(October 7), a searing depiction of Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia written and directed by Nate Parker. The film won the festival’s Grand Jury Prize just as the conversation over the largely white Oscar nominations was at its loudest. The movie was acquired by Fox Searchlight for a record $17.5 million, with the studio promising a huge publicity campaign in the fall to help push it for awards contention.
Donald J. Trump on why he hoped for the housing market to collapse
In 2006, two years before the crash that would destroy the livelihoods of millions of Americans, Donald J. Trump said he “sort of hope[d]” for that eventuality. He stood to make money.
Confronted by Hillary Clinton with that comment at Monday’s debate, Trump did nothing to disavow it. To the contrary, he defended it: “That’s called business, by the way,” he condescended.
Together these remarks showcase a callous indifference to other people’s hardships—an indifference that, my colleague Conor Friedersdorf writes, “may matter little for a Manhattan mogul, but matters very much for someone asking to be entrusted with representing every American.” No reasonable person who has followed along over these last few months could view such an attitude as an aberration. Rather, it fits in precisely with Trump’s long and documented history of putting himself first, even when it means demolishing those who are in his way. Here is a person, a person who may very well become the next president of the United States, who is seemingly unable to imagine what it’s like to be someone else.
Conservatives have put families and communities at the center of their conception of a better America—but they’re notably absent from the Republican nominee’s account.
Again and again at Monday night’s debate, Hillary Clinton attacked Donald Trump’s record in business. She accused him of caring only about himself. Again and again, he pleaded guilty.
When Clinton quoted Trump as cheering for a housing crisis, Trump responded, “That’s called business.” When Clinton accused Trump of not paying taxes, Trump answered, “That makes me smart.” When Clinton attacked Trump for declaring bankruptcy to avoid paying the people he owed, Trump replied, “I take advantage of the laws of the nation because I’m running a company.” Clinton set out to paint Trump as selfish and unethical. Trump basically conceded the charge.
Commentators are declaring Trump’s answers a tactical mistake. But they’re more than that. They show how unmoored he is from conservatism’s conception of America.