Interview | Nat Wolff & John Green Discuss Paper Towns
Paper Towns is the second of John Green’s highly popular books to get the silver screen treatment. The first to make the jump to celluloid was the 2014 hit The Fault in Our Stars, in which Nat Wolff played the blind friend to Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort’s lead characters. Whereas that was more of a supporting role, Paper Towns sees Wolff graduate to leading man status and his talents are all the better displayed for it.
I took part in a roundtable discussion ahead of the movie’s UK release, and while Green spoke of comparisons to John Hughes, Wolff discussed who he’d like to work with in future and how the Pokémon theme song found its way into the film. It’s all been transcribed for your reading pleasure below.
A lot of people have said that this is very reminiscent of a John Hughes film. Some were even saying that you may even be the person to take up the baton. Does than unnerve you at all?
John Green: That’s high praise! I love John Hughes movies. I think that’s a ridiculous comparison because I think John Hughes is one of the most important filmmakers when it comes to teenagers in our current generation. That comparison makes me nervous only because I’m going to look so poor in it. Why don’t you compare me to…
Nat Wolff: The Beatles? Gandhi? [Laughs]
Your characters are in that awkward time of leaving school and not really knowing what the hell they’re doing with their lives and that’s a massive theme for many people at the moment. Do you have any advice for anybody in that situation?
John Green: Those were the hardest years of my life. The two hardest transitions I made were high school to college and then the first few years of what was called adulthood even though I felt totally unqualified to be an adult in every way. I felt like I hadn’t learned any of the skills I actually needed to navigate adulthood. I didn’t know how to open a checking account and pay taxes and I found all of that stuff overwhelming. I spent a lot of time at the laundromat and I would always bring a notebook and write stories but then I ended up just trying to write notes of encouragement to myself like “You were going to be OK” and “Things get easier” and they do. There’s an instability that accompanies those transitions that’s very exciting in a number of ways. You can have wonderfully intense friendships and relationships, but that instability is also at least for me completely terrifying and overwhelming and very difficult to deal with. For the vast majority of people life does get more stable and established and you feel like you have a better net beneath you. But those were very hard years for me.
Nat, you’ve worked with a lot of interesting people recently. Is there anyone actor-wise who really inspires you?
Nat Wolff: A lot of times it’s the way older guys that I’ve seen, because I like the idea of having longevity as an actor and doing a lot of different things. Dustin Hoffman is one of my favourite actors and I think he’s amazing and Robert De Niro I obviously really love and I got to work with him last summer. Everybody told me he’s very focused and quiet on set but he ended up really messing with me and we had a lot of fun together. People like that who have had really great, long careers. I also think Ryan Gosling is a good actor, Paul Dano, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep…I could keep going! [Laughs]
Speaking of inspirations, so far you’ve only worked with up and coming film directors and I was just wondering in terms of bigger more established names – do you have anyone you wish to work with?
Nat Wolff: I’ve been lucky that I’ve worked with just really good directors and some of them have done a bunch of movies and some of them have barely done any movies. I’d love to work with all the directors that everybody wants to work with, all the famous great ones. But also there’s a lot of really great young filmmakers that have a lot to prove and there’s something about that that I really like too.
There’s a line in this film where someone says “What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in your life?” but what’s the craziest thing that happened while making this movie?
John Green: Nat’s answer is one time he was doing a scene with Cara [Delevingne] and they were in the middle of the scene and Cara started to do her line and then her eyes went away from Nat for a moment and he was like thinking “What’s she doing?” “What’s she thinking right now?” Then she said [at this point John Green puts on his ‘English’ accent] “Is that a water slide?” [Laughs] She had seen a water slide in the distance and then at lunch bought everyone tickets to the Water Park as well as hotel rooms. We spent this crazy weekend at the water park.
Cara’s relatively new to acting. How did you find working with her?
John Green: If it was scary for her she certainly didn’t show it! She’s tremendously talented and just such a good actor. There’s a great line in one of Philip Roth’s books The Human Stain where he says the thing is not about owning the person, the thing is about having a contender in the room with you. In the audition the thing that impressed me the most is that Cara was definitely a contender in the room. Nat’s a really good actor and it’s hard not to be intimidated by him I think, and Cara was a contender in the room in the audition and throughout the entire process.
How involved were you in the soundtrack?
John Green: Yeah, I picked all those songs. [Laughs] No! Here’s how involved I was in the soundtrack: the day that I met Jake Schrier – the director – I shook his hand and I held him close and then I whispered in his ear “the Mountain Goats must be on the soundtrack” and that was the first thing I ever said to him and I got my wish! But it’s Jake’s movie and Nat’s movie and Cara’s movie and I was lucky to be on set for almost all of it.
Is the Pokémon song on the soundtrack? [Laughs]
John Green: We didn’t come up with it until like the day before we shot it.
Nat Wolff: Basically nobody else knew the song except for the three guys. Everybody our age knew every single word to Pokémon. I hadn’t heard the song since I was 10 and I was like “I wanna be the very best that no one ever was…” It just came out of me like something was overtaking my body! It was exactly what we needed, it felt like it was ingrained in us. Our characters have been best friends since we were kids so it fit perfectly.
Paper Towns is released in UK cinemas on August 17.