Jun 13 2018
In case you’re unfamiliar with Hereditary, here’s a quick primer. It’s (1) the scariest movie of the summer, if not the year, and (2) it’s about a family dealing with their figurative (and possibly literal) demons after the death of their matriarch. Alex Wolff plays Peter Graham, the teen son of Annie (Toni Collette) and older brother of Charlie (Milly Shapiro); he can be seen in the trailer beating his head against a desk at school. That’s pretty much all I can say without revealing too much of the plot, but suffice it to say that if you watch this and wake up in the night thinking your coat rack is a home invader, you won’t be alone.
Alex, who’s an “obsessive” horror fan in real life (his favorites are Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and anything directed by Ti West), worked himself so hard during that desk scene that he actually ended up bleeding for real. Here, he talks about the scariest thing that happened on set and shares his strategy for coping with a movie that required him to do way worse things than beat his head on a desk (no spoilers).
Hereditary is an extremely dark movie. How did you cope with the heaviness of day-to-day life while playing Peter?
It was really difficult during the day, and I never would let myself off the hook. Really for most of filming I kept myself in a pretty rough spot. Then when I’d get home, there was a Chinese food place right by the hotel and I would just order Chinese food and turn on Family Guy, and I would watch it and try and do my best to clean out all the grossness that I’d been through that day.
What kind of creepy stuff happened on set?
I am very worried about saying the M word — the William Shakespeare play, the Scottish play — because I said it once when I was doing a play and all these terrible things happened in that show, like a chair fell over, the fan broke, I fell backwards, I forgot a monologue. When we were shooting the séance scene [in the movie], I broke my rule. I’m like, “Oh, we’re not doing a play,” and I swear right after I said it the glass shattered in my hand inexplicably. It just shattered and this whole machine broke right in my hand. [Director] Ari [Aster] was like, “OK, so what was that thing you said that undid the spell?” We were both so freaked out. It was so funny.
How did you shoot the scene where you bang your head on the desk?
That was nuts. I said to Ari, “Look, I’ll do it on a real desk. Let me do it on a real desk so it can be authentic!” He was like, “I appreciate the commitment but I will definitely be sued, that’s definitely a legal hazard. We’re gonna get you a foam one.” So I got adjusted to that, then I showed up on the day and it was a foam top but it was a completely hard bottom — essentially foam over a metal desk so it still hurt like a motherfucker. It was painful but it was also kind of exhilarating.
After I smashed my face on the desk, I launched backwards, and my whole face was covered in fake blood but then I also slammed my leg and my ankle against the desk. I looked down and my knee was covered in real blood, dripping down to my ankle. My ankle was completely swollen and the medic brought in these ice packs because I couldn’t even walk back to my trailer. Luckily we had two days off after that. But I liked it. I was like, “I have something to show for this one.” All the rest were emotional scars you can’t see. This one I have a physical scar. Everyone was like, “Good job today, man, wow, you really went there.” I’m like, “Goddamn it, I’ve been going there for four weeks!” You guys waited till I broke my ankle to tell me.
So then did your real blood end up in the movie?
I mean, it’s inside my jeans so you can’t really see, but yeah, that take is the one. I know it’s there. By the way, after my leg was bleeding and my ankle was bleeding, we weren’t finished. I had to do the other side — they had to do the reverse. So they had to do me slamming my face, I jump back, I hurt myself, we did three takes of that, and then we flipped it around and shot the classroom’s reaction and I did the same thing but I was just gushing blood.
Outside of the Hereditary set, have you ever witnessed anything supernatural or paranormal?
I don’t really buy that shit, but I do buy it as a manifestation of a family’s trauma. That’s why I think it works so well in this movie is because everything that happens that’s “supernatural” or not real is really turning what the family’s feeling into a nightmarish reality. I mean, OK — my parents have a house in L.A. and there definitely is a ghost there. There’s handprints and all this stuff. So I guess I’m contradicting my point. I don’t generally believe in [that stuff], but there’s definitely a ghost in L.A. She’s nice though. She’s a good person.
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