by Steve Prokopy
It’s almost impossible to fathom—and yet totally appropriate—that one of the most well-reviewed films of 2021 is about a man named Rob living alone in the Oregonian wilderness with his truffle-hunting pig. When said pig is kidnapped by the black market truffle underground, Rob (played in full hermit mode by Nicolas Cage) enlists the help of his truffle buyer Amir (Alex Wolff) to take him into Portland in search of his foraging friend. It turns out Rob used to be a world-renowned chef and must revisit some of his old haunts (and the dark past that led him to leave behind a successful career) in the hopes of finding his only companion.
Wolff’s character is a bit of a stand-in for the audience, asking questions of Rob and giving us the information that helps fill in the many blanks of his life. We also discover that Amir has issues of his own, most of which involve his estranged father (Adam Arkin), and for a good portion of PIG, from first-time filmmaker Michael Sarnoski, Amir’s story becomes a crucial part to helping Rob find out what happened to his beloved animal.
The son of actress Polly Draper and brother of actor Nat Wolff, Alex Wolff has truly broken out in a handful of key roles in his career beginning with playing Gabriel Byrne’s son in the acclaimed HBO series “In Treatment.” Byrne would once again play Wolff’s father many years later in writer/director Ari Aster’s HEREDITARY. Wolff has also co-starred in PATRIOTS DAY (in which he played Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev); the latest two JUMNAJI films; and in the HBO movie BAD EDUCATION, opposite Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney. And he’s about to be seen again in writer/director M. Night Shyamalan’s latest, OLD. But in PIG, he’s a complicated, morally compromised, deeply damaged young man, living in his father’s shadow, and he’s desperate to help his new friend Rob find one of the few happy endings in his recent life.
PIG is now playing at the Music Box Theatre, CLICK HERE for Showtimes & Advance Tickets. Please enjoy this talk with Alex Wolff…
Question: How did PIG come to you, and what was it about Amir that spoke to you and made you want to pursue this character?
Alex Wolff: Amir represents some parts of myself that I try desperately to keep dormant. I think it’s really important for me as a person and me as an actor—and artist in general—that when something makes me feel uncomfortable because it’s a part of myself that I haven’t dealt with or part of myself don’t want to deal with, that it’s something I should pursue. It was the sleazy qualities about him, this need to be liked, this aggressive, icky bedside manner, it all accidentally resonated with me in a deep way. There are parts of myself that you probably don’t see on the surface, but I have those feelings that I’m not enough or I’m a phony. So I think it was a necessity that I had to address, especially at this time in my life when it seemed like this script was making fun of the very thing I’m very much trying not to be. It’s hard when you’re in Hollywood when things are going well, or things are going not well, both can make you sleazy in different ways and artificial, and that need to pull myself back to reality and not address that, it was nice to completely embody it with reckless abandon and commit to this guy, who was unattractive to me, yet everything that I was feeling inside that I didn’t have the balls to express.
I wasn’t going to ask about this, but you saying that reminded me of the facial hair Amir has in the movie. It is the embodiment of sleazy, and I don’t remember you with facial hair quite like it. Does looking in the mirror at that guy make it easier to snap into his mindset?
AW: I have a soul patch, so year. In PATRIOTS DAY, I had a little bit of a beard. But yes, a physical thing like that can change everything. I just went for, I went all out, and it was a relief, to be honest. It’s like eating a bunch of junk food one night, then you don’t want any junk food for a while, but it’s a relief while you’re eating it. That’s how it felt. I got new cologne and put too much on, and I put this grease in my hair and got clicked into this other thing that I’d been repressing for a long time.
I didn’t know you were in this movie the first time I watched it, so I didn’t even recognize you at first. So congratulations.
AW: Thank you!
He’s also a stand-in for the audience. He’s asking all the questions that we want to know the answers to. We don’t understand what’s going on with Rob until Amir asks the questions and finally gets answers. You are something of the calm center of this chaos.
AW: It’s funny, because I didn’t see it that way. I saw myself as the chaos, and Nic as the absorber of the chaos—that was more the dynamic, more a MIDNIGHT COWBOY dynamic. It’s important for me not to think of the audience, even as a concept, when making a movie because often there is not audience. It’s nice to try and listen to the rumbles of the script and what the script is asking of you rather than trying to impose any ideas onto it.
You’ve had quite a few opportunities in your career to work with some really great actors. What did Nicolas Cage mean to you even before this movie entered your life, as an actor, as a movie lover? And now having worked with him, what did you learn from him just being in such close proximity for so many hours a day?
AW: Nic is the whole reason I love movies. His movies like MATCHSTICK MEN, RAISING ARIZONA, ADAPTATION, LEAVING LAS VEGAS, and THE WICKER MAN—all of this swinging back and forth between different types of performances. His versatility and exuberance for film and acting was what inspired me before I knew him and continues to inspire me after I got to know him better. But Nic is everything you want him to be and much, much more. He’s a massive celebrity and icon, but that’s not how he treats being an artist. He is an in-the-moment person; he comes from something deep within him, in his past, and the darker, shadowy parts of his soul. If you can find a way to separate any type of shallow congratulations or “Why did you do this?” or “This is bad; this is good,” and completely wash that away down the river and focus on what is going on right now with this other actor, you’re the true artist, the true filmmaker. And that’s what Nic is—he’s in the moment with you, looking in your eyes and sometimes he draws things out of you that maybe you were afraid to bring to the surface until he brings it out of you in an almost telepathic, STAR WARS-like, Force way. He’s a magic person. Some say he’s more than human, but in many ways, he’s the most human actor, he’s the most fragile. He has days when he thinks he did a shitty job too. He’s a real human, and I just think, “God damn, I got to be there watching that.”
When hear about underground truffle markets and these restaurant-worker fight clubs, do you get a sense in the film that there’s a little big of a criticism and admiration about this kitchen culture that has taken hold in so many countries?
AW: Yeah, I think it’s both. I hadn’t really thought of it like that, but I think you’re right. I think it is a criticism of it in a very cool way. Whatever it is, I don’t think you can call it a straight criticism because I don’t think it has a position, in terms of positive or negative, but I feel it has a very clear point of view of giving you a certain idea of what it takes. Any negative aspects of the truffle hunting or the food is more to provide context for how much people will go through to get a delicious meal or for some seemingly trivial thing. That’s why he says things like “We don’t get a lot of things to care about.” That’s a great message for it. All of the negative and positive aspects of food culture or culture are marred with a sense of adoration for the love and effort that is put into creating a great dish or trying to make it in the world of food.
Did you get to spend time with guys who did Amir’s job?
AW: I got really close to Ian Purkayastha, who wrote that book TRUFFLE BOY, which was my real starting-off point because I found there was a lot of bravado and insecurity in his writing about his life, and yet an almost heart-wrenching honesty, like it was THE CATCHER IN THE RYE or something like that. I fell madly in love with him as a person and just stole a lot from him.
Best of luck with this and OLD, Alex. Thanks for talking.
AW: It was so great to talk to you. Thanks.
Steve Prokopy is the chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review (www.ThirdCoastReview.com), a co-host of the Movie Madness podcast, and the Public Relations Manager for the Music Box Theatre. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago Editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker & actor interviews under the name “Capone.”