Finn Wolfhard: ‘I only started acting because I wanted to be a film-maker’

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A mash-up of The Goonies, Stand by Me, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and The Thing, starring 1980s refugees Matthew Modine and Winona Ryder, and set to a soundtrack featuring Howard Jones, Teena Marie, and Wham!, it is not uncommon (or difficult) to mine Stranger Things for the TV smash’s 1980s underpinnings. Not long after the first season dropped on Netflix in 2016, the industry watchers at Variety identified Stranger Things as emblematic of the streaming giant’s “nostalgia strategy”.

It may not be a coincidence that Finn Wolfhard has shot to fame with two 1980s set hits, playing Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things and playing Richie Tozier in the 2017 film adaptation of Stephen King’s It.

He almost had to choose between those tentpole 1980s projects. It was a troubled project for Warner Brothers before the film opened to rave notices and a $700 million haul in 2017. True Story and A Bigger Splash screenwriter David Kajganich attempted to shepherd the lengthy Stephen King novel to the big screen for several years before Beasts of No Nation and unlikely Bond 25 director Cary Fukunaga became attached between 2012 and 2015, at which point Andy Muschietti (Mama) took the reigns.

“It was all kind of coincidental,” says Wolfhard. “They are both amazing scripts that just happen to be set in the ’80s. I auditioned for It before Stranger Things and I got the part. But then It fell through and that allowed me to go off and do Stranger Things. Then that wrapped and It came back and was on again. So it was kind of perfect timing for me. It was just an amazing coincidence that I got to do both.”

The nostalgia buzz doesn’t end there. Wolfhard’s band seldom sound like 21st-century noiseniks. Founded in 2014, Calpurnia, Wolfhard’s Vancouver-based quartet, lists Pixies, Weezer, and a-ha among their primary influences.

“I mean I love my generation,” says the 16-year-old. “I think we live in the best time for humanity. Right now people are getting treated better than they ever have been before; there’s obviously still a lot of problems but I’m happy to be here. But musically, I love the music that I love and I definitely stay away from what’s popular.”

Finn Wolfhard, Jack Grazer, Jaeden Lieberher in It
Finn Wolfhard, Jack Grazer, Jaeden Lieberher in It

It’s not just the 1980s associations. Wolfhard is something of an old soul. He was still only 14, when, in 2016, he took to Twitter after an adult fan complained that Wolfhard had failed to greet him in a throng of acolytes waiting outside his hotel: “Hey everybody!” wrote the teenager. “I don’t wanna ex-communicate anyone from this fandom, but if you are for real you will not harass my friends, or co-workers. Ya’ll know who you are. Why I even have to tweet that, I don’t know. Anyone who calls themselves a ‘fan’ and actively goes after someone for literally acting and doing their job is ridiculous. Think b4 ya type boiiii.”

That tweet produced a rally of support from other besieged celebrities, including Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner, who weighed into the aftermath with: “Damn . . . seeing fully grown adults wait outside the Stranger Things kids’ hotels etc, and then abuse them when they don’t stop for them is super weird. A. What adult in their right mind waits for a child outside their hotel and B. is then is offended when the child doesn’t stop . . . And how dare you shun and demean that child when they don’t pose for an adult stranger’s photograph or walk over and talk to them when they take that not consented for photo.”

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That spat was not, alas, an isolated incident. Wolfhard’s Stranger Things co-star Millie Bobby Brown has chosen to leave social media on several occasions. During her 2018 MTV Movie and TV Awards speech, where she won for Best Performance in a Show, she addressed her detractors directly: “Since I know there are many young people watching this, and even to the adults too, they could probably use the reminder that I was taught – that if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say it.”

Social media

“I haven’t had as many problems with the internet,” says Wolfhard. “I think that is because I tend to stay away from the internet. I don’t take the internet and social media very seriously. I’ve grown up around social media but to me what happens on the internet just doesn’t feel real. If you’re at something like Comic-Con with people and the people are really in that room then that’s a different thing. But I think I have 11 million followers and I’ve never been in a room with 11 million people, have you? So nothing, none of that feels real to me.”

Wolfhard still finds all the attention a bit tricky. Stranger Things fans frequently turn up at Calpurnia gigs to proclaim their love for the TV show between songs; all attempts to politely shut them up are widely reported across media and social platforms. And then there’s the fan-art and a range of fan-fiction, typically called things like “My Babysitter’s Brother” or “My Brother’s Best Friend”.

“It’s definitely something I still can’t really get over,” says Wolfhard. “I just go with it depending on how I feel. But the difficulty is that you are always expected to say yes. You always have to be on. You can never have any down time to yourself. You have to perform even when maybe you’re feeling like saying, well, I don’t want to take a picture. I don’t want to be mean to people. I try to be as nice as possible to everyone. But it’s something that comes up. It is just part of what I do, I guess.”

Wolfhard became interested in film through his father, Eric, a researcher on Aboriginal land claims and an aspiring screenwriter. He landed his first acting role by responding to an advertisement in Craigslist. Aged 11, he appeared in the shows, The 100 and Supernatural. His long game, however, is to emulate his It Chapter Two co-star, Xavier Dolan, the child star turned auteur behind Laurence Anyways, Tom at the Farm, and Mommy.

“Xavier is a huge inspiration for young film-makers,” says Wolfhard. “And I only wanted to start acting because I wanted to be a film-maker. I still do. I still want to be a director. But I thought acting was the best way to get into the film industry so I started acting when I was nine and I loved it and I’ve never looked back.”

With the release of the third season of Stranger Things, 2019 was already a big year for Wolfhard, and that’s before the release of The Addams Family (in which Wolfhard voices Pugsley) and John Crowley’s keenly anticipated adaptation of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, starring Wolfhard, Nicole Kidman, Oakes Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Ansel Elgort, and Sarah Paulson. Awards season surely beckons.

“Oh man, that would be pretty amazing,” says Wolfhard. “But I loved working on The Goldfinch and I already know we made a pretty incredible movie. No one goes into a movie thinking that they want to make something bad but I think this one is a really special project. If awards come up, that’s cool. But it’s definitely something that we’re all proud of.”

The Turning, a new adaptation of The Turn of the Screw – shot in Killruddery House in Co Wicklow, and overseen by Steven Spielberg – is in the can for next year. And filming has already begun on Ghostbusters 2020, a direct sequel to 1989’s Ghostbusters 2, co-starring Mckenna Grace, Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd. Before that, there’s It Chapter Two, the concluding part of the series based on Stephen King’s creepy clown saga.

Finn Wolfhard: ‘I do think that they can be creepy, I guess it depends on the clown’
Finn Wolfhard: ‘I do think that they can be creepy, I guess it depends on the clown’

Wolfhard remains agnostic on the clown issue.

“I never knew anyone who have growing up who had a clown at their birthday party,” he says. “They are something I think of as being from the past. So I never had strong feelings about them. I do think that they can be creepy, I guess it depends on the clown.”

It Chapter Two is set 27 years after the events depicted in the first film, and stars Bill Skarsgård, returning as Pennywise; James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, and Andy Bean portray the adult versions of the Losers’ Club. In an interesting turn of events, we’ll see an older Finn (played by Hader) and a younger de-aged Finn. Even Wolfhard can’t wait for the premiere.

“I read Carrie when I was younger and that’s one of my favourite books,” says the actor. “With It, I haven’t read the entire book, I’ve only read plot points. I wanted to keep it a surprise. I haven’t seen anything of It 2. It’s all kind of a secret until we see it.”

It Chapter Two is released on September 6th

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