Personality Complex is a new regular feature of Complex's Pop Culture channel, where you'll be introduced to rising stars of film and television. Check back in April for the next installment.
Written by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
Nat Wolff is on a scooter, maneuvering his way down the carpet of the Complex office. "Can I take this out with us?" he asks as he looks back. Realizing he's turned a foreign work place into his skate park, Nat quickly adds, "No, never mind. I'm just kidding." The 18-year-old actor returns the toy to the cubicle he borrowed it from, straightens his leather jacket, and walks tall out into New York City, his actual playground.
Growing up in the city, Nat and his brother Alex Wolff weren't your typical kids who joined Little League and stressed over getting straight As. The children of actress Polly Draper (star of Thirtysomething) and jazz pianist Michael Wolff, the brothers' idea of fun was strumming Bob Dylan songs at Washington Square Park and making movies, Nat's first being Don't Eat Off My Plate, which he filmed at the age of nine.
"I know a lot of the kids in the entertainment industry who didn’t go through the normal stuff, like high school, with the peer pressures and heartbreak and everything. There's definitely a part missing in them, you know? You can see it in their eyes.”
Despite his mother’s reluctance to exposing him to Hollywood at such a young age, even going as far as to recount to him her own horror stories of rejection in the industry, Nat insisted he take a shot at acting. One of his earliest memories: Kid Nat tacking a sign to his bedroom door for his parents to read. It says, simply: “I want to be a child actor!”
Nat adds, “With two artist parents, I just grew up knowing that art was the most important thing and everything else was kind of secondary.”
As fate would have it, the brothers' favorite pastimes just so happened to parlay into a career. Before entering middle school, Wolff became a tween megastar for playing, well, a tween megastar. Produced by his mother and with music supervised by his father, The Naked Brothers Band, which started as an award-winning indie movie before Nickelodeon made it a series, was essentially an exaggerated version of Nat and Alex's life. With a title inspired by the brothers shouting, "We're the Naked Brothers Band!" from their bathtub as toddlers, the show documented the absurdities and intricacies of the NYC-based band's world—from fending off groupies (think more Bieber, and less Rolling Stones) to juggling their math homework while on tour. By the time he was 11, Nat, along with then-8-year-old Alex, had a song on the Billboard Hot 100 ("Crazy Car") and had their faces plastered on everything from school supplies to video games.
The show ran for three seasons, before ending in 2008. As his fans grew out of their Nickelodeon phase, so did he.
Sitting across from Nat at a busy café, it’s evident that his claim-to-fame character’s trademark shyness, the one that made him a regular scribble in the Mead notebooks of 12-year-old girls, has been replaced by a quiet, contemplative confidence. Giving himself seconds to think before speaking, Nat says, "Right after the show ended, I learned that the fame goes in and out. It's untrustworthy, and you can’t get too attached to it.”
Instead of trying to maintain his career’s momentum by moving into the Oakwood apartments of L.A. like every other child actor, he stayed in New York and shifted his focus to finishing school. "I know a lot of the kids in the entertainment industry who didn’t go through the normal stuff, like high school, with the peer pressures and heartbreak and everything,” Nat says. “There's definitely a part missing in them, you know? You can see it in their eyes.”
While many of his contemporaries are sheltered at exclusive private academies or spend their entire adolescence getting tutored between takes, Nat’s a senior at a public performing arts high school on the Upper West Side. When he's not filming or attending class, Wolff plays pickup games at local basketball courts around Manhattan, and jams with the friends he’s had since pre-school in city apartments. Some nights, after writing and recording music with Alex for their duo Nat and Alex Wolff, he'll take in a show at Radio City or Terminal 5; Metric and Andrew Bird are two of his favorite acts. But if you don't catch him swaying along with a sweaty and hyped up crowd, that means he's probably at a diner with his high school buddies, talking about anything and everything.
For someone who's been in the spotlight for more than half his life, his nonchalance toward his own celebrity is refreshing, if not startling. “I don’t go to any Hollywood parties. If I do, it's to make an appearance, or Alex and I will go together and create some trouble,” Nat says. “That’s why we named our  album Black Sheep; after The Naked Brothers Band, we would go to Hollywood parties and these people were talking about their accomplishments, while we'd be trying to set something on fire."
When he thinks about who and what inspires his acting, he’s quick to name the classics. Shouting out everyone from Dustin Hoffman to Timothy Hutton, Nat has studied these men and their work, praising Hoffman’s versatility in The Graduate and the rich subtext of Ordinary People.
His Admission director, Paul Weitz, couldn't help but compare Wolff to one of his idols, too. "He did a lovely audition that made me see this tiny touch of Dustin Hoffman in him. He can make strange intellectualism and being an oddball appealing. "
With that kind of praise, it's easy to add him to those innumerable "Next Big Thing in Hollywood" lists. After all, he's got everything going for him. First up is Admission, a romantic comedy in which he plays Tina Fey's awkward, potentially biological son with a genius IQ. Then, in June, he'll be staring opposite Greg Kinnear and Lily Collins in the dramedy Stuck in Love. Before the end of the year, however, he'll be back on the bedroom walls of teen girls everywhere as the star of Behaving Badly, about a struggling teenager who ends up on a rock 'n' roll excursion with his crush, played by Selena Gomez.
When asked about working with Gomez and dealing with overprotective Bieber fans—photos of Nat kissing Gomez on set caused an online outrage—he isn't interested in indulging the media frenzy. "Selena's so sweet and everything you'd expect her to be," he says. "And I don't read any gossip blogs. With Hollywood rumors, sometimes people make stuff up completely."
He shrugs it off, and shuts down when you shift the conversation from his excitement over discovering Tom Waits for the first time (thanks to Admission co-star Paul Rudd) to whether or not he’s thought about the idea of blowing up like Taylor Lautner: "If that happens, I only see it as a positive," he says, peering at his half-eaten sandwich, “But it’s not what I’m going for.”
Still, with your name on the marquee right next to the one of the biggest pop stars in the world, you must be bracing yourself for an explosion. "Honestly I just want to keep doing really good work that I'm excited about," Nat says. "But I don't want to think about more than that and over-project myself."
Despite his reluctance, being considered a teen heartthrob and a move to L.A., for work purposes, seems inevitable at this point. He’s aware of that. But right now, he's still got to finish high school and pick the right college. And more pressing still: figure out what to get into with his friends in the city this weekend.
RELATED: Interview: Tina Fey and Paul Rudd Talk Admission, Amy Poehler, and Their Unaired Pilot Soundtracks Live
RELATED: The 25 Best Hollywood Actors Under 25
RELATED: Personality Complex: Alona Tal, Star of The CW's "Cult," Parlayed Military Service Into a Hollywood Grind
ADDITIONAL CREDITS: (CLOTHING) FIRST, THIRD, SEVENTH, AND NINTH IMAGES: Jeans by DKNY Jeans / T-Shirt, Shoes and Necklace Talent's Own. SECOND AND FOURTH IMAGES: Sweater by DKNY / Jacket and Jeans by DKNY Jeans / T-Shirt and Necklace Talent's Own. FIFTH AND EIGHTH IMAGES: Jacket and Jeans by DKNY Jeans / T-Shirt, Shoes Sunglasses and Necklace Talent's Own. SIXTH IMAGE: Shirt by DKNY Jeans.