WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The True Adventures of Wolf Boy, available now digitally and on demand.
Jaeden Martell is the type of actor who seems to disappear in every role he takes on … and since he started acting a few years ago, he has played some amazing characters. Themore recent is Bill Denbrough in It, Jacob Thrombey, the son of Michael Shannon’s character, in the independent film Knives Out and the main character, a 16-year-old man accused of murder, in Defending Jacob. However, with The True Adventures of WolfBoy, Martell takes things to another level. Like Paul, a 13-year-old boy who suffers from an excessive hair growth condition, Martell’s face is covered in furry material, making his expressions impossible to see. However, Martell manages to more than make up for this deficit with a nuanced performance that relies heavily on the emotion he conveys through his eyes.
In a conversation with CBR, Martell spoke of his unique character in The True Adventures of Wolf Boy, shared his experiences wearing – and acting – all that hair and remembered Knives Out and Defending Jacob.
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What did you think when you first read the script for ” The true adventures of Wolfboy “?
Jaeden Martell: When I first read the script, I think I was primarily drawn to the characters and how unique they were. I have never seen or heard about a movie with someone with this condition, excessive hair growth. And I don’t watch a lot of movies about transgender people, and just outcasts in general. So I thought it was a really powerful and interesting movie with a message that can resonate with anyone, anyone who feels different, but it was executed in a very unique and new way.
What ultimately made you want to take on the role?
I think the main reason I wanted to become this character was because he was so different from me. Actually, it was our differences that made me feel drawn to him. And I wanted to live in a character who listened to himself. And he has a lot of anger towards the world because he has not treated it very fairly throughout his life. But beyond that, I was very drawn to the way he changed throughout the story and how he felt more comfortable with himself and how the characters around him made him better and happier and more self-confident.
I have to ask, how was the makeup process to become Paul, because that didn’t seem easy.
No. It took me about three and a half hours to put it on. Half an hour to take it off. And it was a long and quite tiring process.
Did you ever go out with makeup?
A bit. I have the experience that right after putting on my makeup, I walk, and I have to walk a little bit on the street and just walk to the set, like walking a block. And from there you have to experience the way people look at you and how they treat you. Someone would say, “OMG, he’s a dog boy.” And people would make fun of me. It’s a bit embarrassing, but to me I felt defensive because it was Paul, and they were not making fun of me, but of my character, and it made me relate to him and how he felt. So I had to do a little bit of that, walking around town and seeing how people reacted to hair.
I’m sure the makeup helped, but were there other things that helped you get into character?
There are other things that I trust, but honestly the most important thing that helps, that made me forget all the other things that I would have done as an actor, it was the makeup and the fact that it was, not just the experience of the people who looked at me. Instead, my hair frustrated me because it sometimes restricted my ability to act, because they stuck all this hair to my face and it made it difficult for me to move and it made me feel uncomfortable. And that pushed me to understand the underlying anger that Paul has throughout the movie. So I think the main factor when I started working, the makeup took control of the process as an actor and it became something more than it would have done with any other character.
Like you said, Paul has a lot of underlying anger and ends up doing some pretty bad and illegal things when he leaves the house. How did you understand those choices?
Yes, it is a good question. I think sometimes it’s good not to always relate to your character. It is good to separate from the character. And I did not agree with your decision of … I don’t know how much I want to give away … but I did not agree with the first illegal decisions that you personally made. So I had to, to do it as an actor, I had to work really hard to think about why he did it and why he is so angry. And that made me understand a little more his anger and how humiliated he felt and how he was fed up with everyone treating him the same. The first time he lashes out at the circus, it’s the first time he’s fought back because he’s used to running away, so it was kind of a proud moment even though he did some destructive things.
You work with some amazing actors in this movie. What was it like working with John Turturro, Chloë Sevigny and Chris Messina?
It was incredible. It was a great learning experience for me. And the amazing thing is that they, the three characters, didn’t interact much with each other, so I had to work with them on separate days and in different settings and when Paul was in a different headspace. I got to see them all in a different light and they all brought something completely different to the movie.
Chris Messina was very warm, cuddly, and subtle. And I learned a lot about how he creates intimacy between himself and the other actors and the director. And then with John Turturro, I could see how theatrical and intense and intimidating his character was, and how he hugged him. And I saw how he adapted as an actor. It was great working with all these people because they were so different and they brought a new energy to the whole movie.
Have you ever been intimidated by the character of Turturro?
Yes, sure.[Mi] character is very calm at first. There is a common theme throughout the film where, when he speaks, people ask him what he says and he has to speak, and I am often like that too, so this character is very shy and quiet. And John Turturro taught me to be louder, and his character taught my character to be louder as well, and how to increase my energy. He had to match it, had to maintain his intensity. So I was definitely intimidated, but I think it definitely helped me grow as an actor and helped Paul grow as a character.
You have been acting most of your life. What do you keep enjoying about it?
I do not know. It is difficult to explain. I enjoy becoming new people and I don’t think any other job in the world allows you to experience as many things as an actor can experience because, you know, for a couple of months I became a guy with an excessive hair growth condition. And sometimes I get to … You learn new things and you become new people and you see the world in different ways and from different perspectives. So I think I enjoy learning and I enjoy the spontaneity of being an actor and that my life is constantly changing.
You’ve been on some amazing projects in the last couple of years. What was it like filming something like ” Knives Out“?
It was an incredible experience. It was incredible. It was great working with all these amazing people. And beyond being amazing legendary actors, they are all super nice. And I felt like it was an acting masterclass and I was able to basically sit back and watch them do their work. And it was simple things that I learned, like watching Jamie Lee Curtis and the actions he did when he wasn’t even talking, or when he wasn’t even on camera, but he would sit there and do things like check his watch, which sounds so stupid and so simple, but you forget things like that. You forget the simple things. So I learned a lot from being able to sit there and be in a room with them, and also how they behaved as people.
What about defending Jacob? That seemed like a challenging role.
Yes. That was definitely a difficult part. And I think the funny thing about that show is that I was forced to think about my character beyond what the camera saw and beyond what the audience saw. I had to find out who it was because so much of that character is in the subtext, so I was forced to think about it. I couldn’t go on set and be myself or be natural, I had to really think about who Jacob was and his relationship with his parents and whether he was constantly lying or telling the truth. And I thought that was a lot of fun and a great challenge.
Did you come to a conclusion about whether you were lying or telling the truth?
I have, but I have sworn not to tell anyone for a long time.
It seems fair to me. Do you have a dream role that you would like to play at some point?
I would like to play someone maybe similar to Jacob in a way that I could have some malicious or someone who is possibly a murderer or something interesting like that, but more explosive. Because I have to experience that a bit with Defending to Jacob but you never know his true intentions so I want to be someone who is really explosive and outgoing. I think it would be very difficult to be honest, but a lot of fun.
At this point, are your plans to keep acting as you get older?
Hopefully. I want to do it. I never take it for granted, so my wish is to continue acting, but we’ll see what happens.
Directed by Marin Krejcí and written by Olivia Dufault, The True Adventures of Wolfboy stars Jaeden Martell, Chris Messina, Eve Hewson, Michelle Wilson, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Sophie Giannamore, Chloë Sevigny, and John Turturro. It is available in digital format and on demand.
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The True Adventures of Wolfboy’s Jaeden Martell in Knives Out, Defending Jacob & Acting Through Hair