ABOVE: ALEX (LEFT) AND NAT WOLFF IN NEW YORK, APRIL 2014. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GABELLO
When we arrive at Nuyorican Poets Café in Manhattan’s Alphabet City to interview Nat and Alex Wolff, it’s T-minus two and a half hours before their set time. Even so, a gaggle of about 35 teenage girls has already formed a line outside. “I’ve been here since three,” we overhear a pubescent redhead tell the hoodie-wearing blonde in front of her. “Well, we got here at two,” responds the girl, whose mother’s face makes it clear that they have, indeed, been here for most of the afternoon.
In case you didn’t already know (we didn’t), Nat and Alex Wolff are best known for starring in The Naked Brothers Band, a Nickelodeon mocumentary-style sitcom and subsequent movie about two rock star brothers. Though Naked Brothers hasn’t been on the air since 2009, Nat and Alex still perform together under their own names and have a sizeable following from their time on TV. But along with their ongoing musical career, the Wolff brothers are both gaining momentum as dramatic actors. Nat, in particular, has a lot happening this year: Over the next two months, he’s set to appear in two buzzed-about films. The first is a tearjerker called The Fault in Our Stars adapted from John Green’s YA smash-hit that counts Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, and Ansel Elgort among the cast. The second, Palo Alto, is Gia Coppola‘s dark, dreamy debut based on James Franco‘s short story collection of the same name.
When the Wolff brothers do pull up to the venue (fully clothed), it’s in a very un-rockstar-like yellow cab. Even so, fans crowd around hoping to get a glimpse of the brothers as they emerge. It’s exactly the scene you’d expect from an act that got its start on a kid’s show. Which makes us wonder: What are these tweens going to think when they see Palo Alto? In the film, Nat plays a teen who gets wasted, smokes weed, and does far worse things by the movie’s end. Though his character is, in truth, just a little older than his fans, something tells us that these wearily acquiescent moms won’t be lining their daughters up for a screening.
Before the brothers took the stage, they sat down with Interview to talk their ongoing musical collaboration, future films, and a fleeting encounter with Jared Leto.
AGES: 19 (Nat), 16 (Alex)
HOMETOWN: New York, New York
NEW MUSIC: Alex: From a technical level it’s a little more focused. It’s not as all over the place—not, let’s try and write a song like this band. It’s more writing in our style, naturally.
Nat: It’s almost like we’ve found more of our thing. We’re still working towards it, but we’re closer to our style.
SONGWRITING PROCESS: Alex: We usually write separately and then the other person kind of comes in and fixes, tweaks it, and makes suggestions.
Nat: Usually I’ll have musical suggestions for Alex and he’ll have musical suggestions for me.
Alex: But sometimes it flip-flops. [Turns to Nat] You complete me.
A MUSICAL FAMILY: Alex: We had lot of jazz playing [around the house] because our dad was a jazz musician. A lot of Miles Davis and stuff.
Nat: And our parents were big Beatles fans, but we took it to the next level. We were the original fan girls. We used to watch The Beatles Anthology over and over again. Alex, one time, said in an interview when he was like eight that he learned to play drums by watching Ringo Starr in the movie. And they wrote in the article “Alex Woff was taught by Ringo Starr.” [laughs]
Alex: It’s not true, but we like it. It was on my Wikipedia for like six years.
FICTION VS. REALITY: Alex: The funny thing about The Naked Brothers Band movie was that we tricked the audience into thinking that we were actually rock stars. It’s not that we’re on the scale that we were in the movie, but we got to live that fantasy a little bit.
Nat: One of the best things about The Naked Brothers Band, aside from the show part of it, was that people just love the music. I still play songs I wrote when I was like seven—people still go crazy for those songs.
Alex: I’m sure some people go to our concerts just to hear those songs still.
GROWING UP NAKED: Alex: [The fans] age with us. We get asked the question “has your audience changed,” and they haven’t. They just got older. They kind of stuck with us.
Nat: Well, when we were younger, there were literally no guy fans in the audience. There were none…
Alex: Now it’s like six percent [laughs]. But with these new singles [“Cities” and “It’s Just Love“] we’re getting taken more seriously than we ever have. We’re getting amazing reviews. We’re more mature, so the music is more mature. I’m glad that people are responding to it and not just seeing us as we were when we were younger.
MUSIC VS ACTING: Nat: I went to a screening of Dallas Buyers Club and I saw Jared Leto. I said that I was in a band and we talked for a while about music. I asked him how he scheduled [his time between music and acting]. But then this beautiful blond model walked up and he’s like “hold on one second.” And I was like, he’ll never talk to me again. And he didn’t.
Alex: It’s a great problem to have. We’re always writing music no matter what. And we’re not always acting—we have months off. But we never take a break from songwriting. I haven’t taken a break since we started writing songs. It’s addicting.
PALO ALTO: Nat: Gia [Coppola] saw a movie that I was in called Stuck In Love and set up a meeting. I hadn’t read the book yet, but I thought the script was amazing. I referenced Mean Streets and I referenced Nicolas Cage in Vampire’s Kiss. We kind of just bonded over that. She offered me the part within five minute of talking to her. Then I read the book and got a deeper understanding of the material.
GETTING IN CHARACTER: Nat: You’d like to hope that people just watch a movie that you’re in and accept the character without having too much information about the actor. But, a lot of the fans of our music won’t be able to see Palo Alto, or won’t see it.
In a lot of teenage movies the kids are so horrible that it feels like the director is making fun of them, or the kids are so smart—they talk in long paragraphs where you’re like, “this isn’t real.” Palo Alto just felt like “Oh, fuck, I’m in a high school!” My character is probably the darkest in the movie, but I loved that character. And I’m really excited that one of our songs made it into the movie. That song where I play piano is one of our real songs—it plays again in the credits. Gia just said on set one day, “Could you just drunkenly play a song?” and I was like, “hell yeah.”
NAKED AGAIN: Alex: I did this movie A Birder’s Guide to Everything with Ben Kingsley that’s on iTunes that I really want people to see. “It’s Just Love” is in the end.
Nat: It’s really awesome. There’s a lot of nude scenes. Full frontal.
Alex: I’m an ass double.
PALO ALTO COMES OUT IN LIMITED RELEASE MAY 9; THE FAULT IN OUR STARS COMES OUT JUNE 6. FOR MORE ON THE WOLFF BROTHERS’ MUSIC, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE.