NEW YORK — It might not be instantly apparent as you're watching young actor Nat Wolff in the college-oriented comedy-drama “Admission,” but there's a touch of Dustin Hoffman (a la “The Graduate”) in the teen's studiously idiosyncratic performance.
“Admission” features Wolff (of TV's “The Naked Brothers Band”) as Jeremiah, an offbeat math and science prodigy vying for admission to Princeton. His co-stars Tina Fey and Paul Rudd carry on a halting romance as they champion this quirky candidate's unorthodox application.
Director Paul Weitz said during press interviews hosted by Focus Features that when he cast Wolff he wasn't aware of the actor's illustrious parents (“thirtysomething” actress Polly Draper and jazz musician Michael Wolff) or his previous teen idol status on TV.
“I didn't know that Nat was a part of ‘The Naked Brothers.' He just did a lovely audition,” Weitz said. “He has a tiny touch of Dustin Hoffman in him. In fact, he told me when he was a kid he won a contest where he got to have an acting lesson with Dustin Hoffman for a few hours.”
The director said he was impressed by Wolff's deft, off-kilter touch as an actor and his quiet confidence in fleshing out Jeremiah's various eccentricities.
“That sort of underplaying can slip into a crutch sometimes, but I think Nat manages to avoid that,” Weitz said. “And also, that character can easily be someone who's dismissible as just an oddball. But I like the idea that in the midst of his strange intellectualism and his possibly being somewhere on the spectrum (of autism) that he manages to be appealing, as well.”
In a later interview, Wolff was told of his director's comments and was asked about his Dustin Hoffman encounter.
“He said that? That makes me really happy,” Wolff said with boyish wonder.
“Dustin Hoffman is probably my favorite actor in the world,” he explained. “And I won a contest where I got to have an acting lesson with him when I was in eighth grade. I was so nervous, so I did a scene from ‘Ordinary People.' I probably was horrible because I was so nervous, but he was super, super cool and gave me a lot of good advice.
“He said — cause I said something like, ‘well, I really wanted to get to an angry spot' at the end of the scene — and he said you can't do that. You have to just be sure that you're being true to the moment all the time. And when I went back and watched all his movies after I saw that he's not forcing things or trying to indicate anything. He's just letting it all happen. And that opened up a huge door for me.
“I actually saw him at the Toronto Film Festival and I didn't think he'd remember having a lesson with me,” Wolff said. “I went up to him and said, ‘you gave me a lesson when I was in eighth grade, and you said at the end, now I'm a real actor, and now I'm here with a real movie. And he laughed and said, ‘Oh, I should've charged you more.'”