15-year-old Alex Wolff spent his sleepless nights in New York City spending time on eclectic rooftops with high school friends, working through self-discovery in his insomnia-driven ways and writing a screenplay.
Fast forward five years and that screenplay is being made into a movie written by, directed by and starring Alex Wolff.
Alex Wolff on breakout directorial debut: “I gave a piece of myself”
“The Cat and the Moon” follows Nick, a high schooler who has his life briefly uprooted from Detroit and moves to New York City to live with his late father’s ex-bandmate while his mother finishes her stint in rehab. For Wolff, this project is not just a breakout into the world of elevated showmanship, it’s a love letter to film in general and a piece of himself.
“I don’t know what inspired it. I know it felt like an itch that I needed to scratch, it just felt like I had something in myself that I needed to work out,” says Wolff. “I was hanging out with this group of friends at the beginning of high school and I found the environment to be really complex and really original, different and fantastic. I guess I started to fall in love with the characters and I started to write it as therapy and write through this peculiar time in my life and this peculiar time in my relationships with the people around me.”
In the movie, Nick almost immediately befriends the boisterously outspoken Russell (Tommy Nelson) and the rather selfish yet warmly charming Seamus (Skyler Gisondo) after they catch him smoking weed in the bathroom. Russell and Seamus invite Nick to a party that weekend and welcome the newcomer to their group of friends, including Seamus’ girlfriend Eliza (Stefania LaVie Owen). The characters in the movie are all colorful, rambunctious high school kids finding their place in the world through the backdrop of the night in one of the most culturally energetic cities in the world – and the result provides a story that is relatable and allegorical.
Wolff spent time crafting each character: from the vibrant new group of friends and their own underlying problems, to his father’s sagacious ex-bandmate (Mike Epps) who has his own building-up of emotional mountains, to his parents who actually never quite make it in person onscreen (aside from a recording) but play perhaps the biggest roles in Nick’s life in the film — even after death.
“I wanted it to be something different. I know that the spirit of the story stayed the same, but over time I got to know these people so much better,” says Wolff. “So I started to let them guide me to show where things could work and where things didn’t. It makes me really sad to think that the process of them changing and evolving is over — I guess I’ll just have to think that now they’ll change and evolve in other people’s minds.”
Nick and his new friends party, buy drugs, hook up, cheat, fight — everything you would expect from a film focused on this age group. What’s different and virtually impressive is the poetic undertones the story subtly courses in through each scene. It doesn’t feel like it’s a carbon-copied teenager tale — and that’s, quite frankly, because it’s not.
The title itself is symbolic to Wolff for a number of reasons. A scene in the movie shows Nick, who progressively gets closer to Eliza, reciting a line from the W.B. Yeats poem of the same title, but also “The Cat and the Moon” holds a personal torch for the actor.
“It’s exactly what Nick is growing through, it’s all about the process of growing up. On an imagery standpoint, 90% of this movie is at night, and the backdrop of New York City at nighttime plays a huge role in the film because I had insomnia and it would mostly be at four in the morning when I wrote the script,” says Wolff. “I found that kind of quiet exhilaration of being this soul alone in the city and looking up at the city lights and the moon — the image was so powerful and exactly what I was trying to express. Another level comes from my dad who was a jazz musician. Whenever he talked about people he would say ‘those cats.’ It’s just a very jazz-like and cool way of speaking, it was just the perfect culmination.”
“The Cat and the Moon” is not only a showcase of how talented the now 21-year-old Alex Wolff is, but it’s also a peek inside of someone who simply just wants to provide audiences with the benefits of what film can do for the soul: provide meaning, closure and a source of significant entertainment.
“I never set out to make a movie that is for any other purpose than entertainment. But don’t let anyone make you feel like movies don’t have some deep emotional resonance and power,” says Wolff. “I dont want anything from people when they see it, I just hope they understand that I gave a piece of myself.”
“The Cat and the Moon” opens Oct. 25 in NYC at The Village East and The Roxy