Finn Wolfhard plays good boys. The massive Stranger Things viewing population met him four years ago as the lovable loser Mike Wheeler of Hawkins, Indiana’s A.V. Club. Then he played your other favorite loser, the foul-mouthed Richie Tozier, in the reboot of Stephen King’s It, in which he tried to save the world from certain doom at the hands of a world-eating clown. He’s about to be a young hero yet again in Ghostbusters: Afterlife, but before Jason Reitman’s revival of the sci-fi classic comes out, he’s taking a quick detour into villainy with The Turning. Based on the Henry James novella The Turn of the Screw, this haunted-house horror film follows a young woman (Mackenzie Davis) who takes a nanny job at a dour estate where she expects to be caring for a kind little girl (Brooklynn Prince), but ends up saddled with her eerie older brother, too. As the dark nature of the house reveals itself to the woman, she’s stalked by Wolfhard’s super-creepy adolescent.
Traits that usually play into his charms — Wolfhard’s mop of curly hair, the angular bone structure that’s outpaced the rest of his development, his fair skin, and characteristically gawky expressions — are twisted into something sinister for The Turning. He’s less awkward boy who can’t talk to girls, more boy in the back of the class drawing violent doodles of animals in his notebook. It was a new challenge for Wolfhard, who admits he had a hard time settling into the role of Miles, because the character was such a jerk. The actor found his groove, though, and ended up becoming the scariest part of all The Turning’s weird happenings. Vulture chatted with the actor just before the release of his new movie about serial-killer red flags, his desire to direct, and what he learned from Roger Deakins.
Tell me about pivoting to being a super creep for this role.
Well, it was pretty upsetting for the first week for me, because I’ve never really played a character like that before. As the production went on, I became more involved and it became way more fun for me.
Did you have a vision board of creeps for inspiration as you were thinking about becoming Miles?
I was looking at serial killers and stuff, because Miles kinda has checked all the boxes for a young serial. He has a rough childhood. He has dead parents. He likes to kill animals. Honestly, I kind of just played him as a regular boy that is like constantly battling another person that’s trying to take a hold of him. So, he’s constantly kind of having a wrestling match with another person the whole movie, and I feel like I tried to play him with a sense of defeat in every scene, because he is kind of offering himself up to this terrible negative force.
You’re obviously very known for these genre roles in Stranger Things and It, but as you progress in your career, do you feel like the characters you’re interested in are finding you? Do you have to sort of make the case for yourself outside of the horror-type roles that would naturally find you at this point?
Everyone always asks me, “So what makes you want to do horror?” And I’m like, “I don’t know. It’s kind of been all a coincidence.” It just so happens that the two biggest things I’ve been in so far are horror, but I hope as my career goes on I can do a bunch of different things. There’s always that thing of being typecast, but I think people are starting to notice that I’m not just, like, into horror and stuff. I can be versatile. It just so happens that it’s been horror.
I have two or three names that I can’t say yet, but there are a few cool things that came my way that are not horror — which wasn’t even on purpose — and so I’m excited to announce those and do those soon.
As a teenager, do you feel like you’re seeing characters or getting offered parts that reflect you?
Sure. With Stranger Things, I think the Duffers are pretty good at writing teenagers ’cause they’re like teenagers at heart. I’ve worked on stuff where if the dialogue doesn’t feel like it represents teenagers well, the director or writer is usually pretty easy to work with, because they don’t want to seem out of touch either. I always try to make it as authentic as possible, but I think the film industry’s getting a little younger. There’s a lot of younger filmmakers now, which I think is great, and in my opinion, who can write a better teen romance or teen coming-of-age story than teenagers? I’m directing my first short in the next few weeks, and I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker ever since I was really, really little — before I even wanted to be an actor. When I was 13 and on a set of It and Stranger Things, I said I wanted to be a filmmaker, and when you’re around people who understand what you want to do, no one batted an eye. They were like, “Great, that’s what you’re going to do.” That was so empowering, because you have something that you want to do so bad and you’re so young, and you actually have people behind you and supporting you. The Duffer brothers let me come to set after school every single day and just watch them direct. Shawn Levy, too.
Oh, so you’ve already been kind of job shadowing for this?
I’ve been kind of shadowing all the directors I’ve worked with since I first started when I was 12. I got to work on The Goldfinch with the amazing [cinematographer] Roger Deakins, and that was like the top for me.
What did you learn from Deakins?
I don’t really know how to describe his working. He’s very elusive. He doesn’t really say a lot of things. He’s kind of a shy person, but he knows exactly what he wants, and his team knows exactly what he wants. They’re all, like, connected through telepathy. Roger Deakins and his team are like a hive mind. They just know exactly what they need at all the times. Roger is just like, “Camera. Sandbag. Here.” Then all of a sudden it just appears and you’re like, “Holy shit!” And it’s perfectly framed! What I learned from him was communication and just the love of it. You could feel that he loved every second of every day of shootings, setting up those shots and being with his crew and his friends. The thing I think Roger sets up the most is the tone, just the happiness of being there with everyone and the team effort of it. He is a really selfless person, and amazing to work with.
What does filmmaker Finn want to do then?
I love comedy so much. I love writing. My favorite is awkward humor, and there’s something so amazing, so great about showing a teenage life that’s so naïve. I’d be interested in making a horror movie. I love all kinds of genres. But for me, I love ensemble teen comedies where the whole cast is in for the ride, and if one person falls the entire cast falls. Everyone needs to be equally as good and kind of leaning on each other. Booksmart was a perfect ensemble, Superbad, and all of Judd Apatow’s movies. That’s why I do this, to make friends and we can just play off of each other.
Since you have this good, steady gig with Stranger Things and plenty of big projects on your résumé, are there any crazy or big swings you want to take with the freedom that gives you?
I think for me, the big swing ones I’d love to do are just some really weird movies — some crazy, fun indie movies. Like, I love everything the Safdie brothers are doing. I would literally do anything in a heartbeat with them, and I guess the end goal for me is to be in a place of security to the point where I could just be in a room with my friends writing and directing. That’s where I want to be in life.