Bustle called it first — we said The Fault in Our Stars would make Nat Wolff a huge star. He was a scene-stealer time and time again, both in the film and off set during interviews with the cast. So much so, that the team behind the first John Green adaptation cast him again, and this time giving him leading man status in Paper Towns. But how does Q measure up to Isaac — in other words, how does Nat Wolff in Paper Towns compare to the actor in TFIOS ?
A quick recap, in case you missed him the first time around — Wolff, previously best know for his role alongside his brother Alex in the Nickelodeon series The Naked Brothers Band (and its spinoff musical group of the same title) starred as Isaac in last year's The Fault in Our Stars. Isaac is Augustus Waters's (Ansel Elgort) best friend, and more importantly, is responsible for bringing Gus to the cancer support group where he meets Shailene Woodley's Hazel Grace. While his role was definitely supporting compared to that of Woodley and Elgort, it was sufficient to earn him the role of the main character in Paper Towns. It says a lot for his performance in TFIOS, where he consistently earns more laughs and exudes more energy than his top-billed scene-mates. It says perhaps just as much, then, about his role in Paper Towns, where he carries much of the film — alongside a talented crew of co-stars like Halston Sage, Austin Abrams, and Justice Smith.
Compared with TFIOS, Paper Towns-Nat Wolff had it easy. As The Fault in Our Stars director Josh Boone explains in a narration for the New York Times, Wolff wore blinding contacts and blinding sunglasses for his performance as the visually-impaired Isaac. Crew members helped out by giving Wolff eye drops while he wore the contacts, because they're quite uncomfortable and he does not wear glasses or contacts in daily life. It pays off in his performance. "It made it so scary, and so real to the point where that eulogy scene — I was blind during that scene — something about it just freed me up, because I wasn't self-conscious," Wolff told The Hollywood Reporter.
Boone also had praise for Wolff's performance later in the movie. Of a scene where Isaac, Augustus, and Hazel egg the car of a girl who broke up with Gus, the director said, "It was one of the more fun scenes to shoot, just because Nat's energy is so high in it. You just kind of wind him up and let him go." High praise for a supporting role. The scene also features a monologue by Gus, yet Wolff's character's acerbic humor as Gus' sidekick carries the scene even more than that speech.
When it comes to Paper Towns, Wolff is still dorkily adorable — he plays a band nerd who has been in love with the same girl since elementary school — but he's a bit more the straight man. The sidekick torch is passed to Justice Smith and Austin Abrams, who play Radar and Ben, respectively.
That's not to discredit his performance in Paper Towns by any means. It's just that, when compared with the way he brings biting humor to the depressing cancer narrative of The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns doesn't give Wolff quite the same opportunity to demonstrate his range. He can't be a scene-stealer because the scene is already his to command. The banter between Wolff and his costars is still present throughout, but much of the humor is deferred to Smith and Abrams. This doesn't mean the end for Wolff in a role like that of Isaac — he'll soon return to playing a supporting role in Grandma as the juvenile boyfriend of Lily Tomlin's granddaughter, a part promises to provide more of the antics that made us love him in TFIOS.
What's awesome about Wolff's move from sidekick to leading man between The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns is the range it lets him demonstrate between films. Not only can he carry the emotional weight of a movie, but he can give it its levity. Entertainment Weekly called the shift a “deserved promotion," and I couldn't agree more.