The Way We Get By: Alex Wolff Has Been Watching Magic Documentaries and Writing Monologues

Actor-musician Alex Wolff, whose latest film Castle in the Ground is out now on VOD, shares what he’s been doing during coronavirus lockdown.

Most of us are sequestered in our homes, doing our part to slow the spread of COVID-19. That includes some of our favorite artists, so we’re asking them to tell us about one thing — a book, a movie, a record, whatever — that’s helping them get through this difficult time.

I’m in Los Angeles right now, locked up in quarantine. I miss people, but the silver lining is I’m watching a lot of movies. I think we’re all looking for some catharsis and so we need to watch films that are emotionally weighty, not just distraction or entertainment to get our brains focused on something other than what’s going on in the world. I’ve been going through The Bergman Collection again (Ingmar Bergman is my favorite director), and I’ve rewatched the first season of True Detective, because it’s the best, as well as This is Spinal Tap and Signs.

I’ve also become obsessed – in a very dorky way – with magic, and I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries about it. I feel like a little kid when I see magic. It reminds me of being around people, and what it’s like to surprise and excite them. It’s kind of embarrassing, because this is not something I’ve ever been passionate about before. I wish I could say I’ve just watched a few videos on YouTube, but I’m watching two-hour documentaries about magicians like Houdini. I don’t really want to know how their magic works and I also don’t have any real desire to do magic myself, I just want to watch magicians surprise people. Luckily, I’ve been quarantined for months with my friend Austin, who knows how to do magic, so I’ll often ask him to do tricks, like I’m a little kid at a birthday party.

I’ve also been watching documentaries about the brain and intentional blind spots, and TED Talks about deceiving people. I’ve gotten interested in psychological manipulation, because it makes people revert to a childlike state. Everybody should go watch Apollo Robbins’ TED Talk, “The Art of Misdirection.” I think there has been a lot of misdirection in life recently and I don’t quite understand how that’s happened, how the wool has been pulled over our eyes. Watching his talk, you see how easy it is to fall for these traps.

A lot of times you see celebrities or actors, who are always calm and in control, but when they see an amazing magic trick, they’re not in control at all. They get giddy, they become like kids, they get angry, they get nervous – it’s like a shortcut to their true humanity. At the moment, we’re being so bombarded with negativity and bullshit – and have an awful president who is so untruthful – so it’s nice to see people react to magic in such a truthful, guttural, visceral way. I think that’s part of why I’m so fascinated and excited by magic.

Some of the more brilliant magicians out there get off on making people feel joy and surprise. A lot of people right now are getting off on negativity in the news, so it’s an important antidote to binge-watch magicians who get so excited by doing magic. It’s this beacon of hope, the perfect way to be uncynical and see that even a simple card trick can rush endorphins into someone’s brain, pour serotonin in there, and make them happy.

When I’m not watching magic documentaries, I’ve been making music with my brother; we’re going to release a new song in a few weeks. Also, my friends and I have all been writing monologues for one another, just for fun, and then reading them out loud. We record our performances and send them to each other, and then we have an award ceremony and give each other prizes for the monologues. It’s really fun. We all take it extremely seriously – way too seriously – and most of the monologues are really weird. My brother wrote a very sweet one from the perspective of a dog, and a friend did one about trying to get someone to commit a murder. I wrote a monologue from the perspective of a horse, and another where I was calling my mom and venting to her about a terrible party I was at. It’s a lot of fun, and we definitely want to keep doing them.

It’s hard to say what we’re going to take from the experience of going through COVID-19. I don’t necessarily believe that everything happens for the higher purpose of learning something, but I do think that we’ll appreciate other people a lot more. I can’t wait until I can go back to being with my friends, hugging them and being out on the street and going to restaurants. I really miss that.

As told to Nick Dawson by Alex Wolff.

Multi-hyphenate actor-writer-director and musician Alex Wolff is one of the most sought-after young actors in Hollywood with multiple exciting projects on deck. In 2018, he received buzz for his award-winning role in A24’s critically acclaimed horror film Hereditary, and the following year made his feature directorial debut, The Cat and the Moon, which he also wrote and stars in, to rave reviews. Wolff can currently be seen in Joey Klein’s Castle in the Ground, out May 15 on VOD, and also recently appeared in Human Capital, opposite Liev Schreiber and Marisa Tomei, and HBO’s Bad Education, starring Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney. He has appeared in a slew of other movies, including Jumanji: The Next Level, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, My Friend Dahmer and Patriots Day and on TV won huge acclaim for his performance in the HBO series In Treatment. Wolff gained international recognition from an early age when he co-starred with his older brother, Nat Wolff, in 2005’s musical comedy The Naked Brothers Band: The Movie. Nat & Alex Wolff and released their first studio album, Black Sheep, in 2011; their latest songs are currently available on iTunes and Spotify. (Photo by Udo Spreitzenbarth.)