Q&A: John Green, Nat Wolff, and Halston Sage
On Tuesday, the Paper Towns “Get Lost Get Found” tour made its first stop in Indianapolis.
After an overwhelming amount of fans interacting on Tumblr to have John Green and stars of the film come to Indiana (one note on Tumblr meant one vote, and there were more than 60,000 notes), 20th Century Fox obliged and brought the tour to Old National Centre.
Before the day’s festivities, Indianapolis Monthly sat down with the author of Paper Towns and two stars of the film, Nat Wolff and Halston Sage (Cara Delevingne canceled last minute), to talk about filming, the soundtrack, and their characters.
IM: John lives in Indianapolis, but Nat and Halston, have you been here before?
Nat Wolff: I have. I came here in 2009 and played a concert, and I was here for like six hours. It’s good to be back and spend time with John. I went to his house. It’s beautiful, and I heard a storm.
John Green: We’re all going to have dinner at my house, and it will be fun. We’re going to have Chipotle.
IM: John, why was Tumblr the medium used to let fans decide where the “Get Lost Get Found” tour made stops?
JG: That was entirely Fox’s decision, not mine. But I think Tumblr is still where a lot of young people do most of their serious blogging, so I find it real interesting as a platform.
JG: No, because I was so busy trying to influence that one thing about the soundtrack. Every day, the whole shoot, I would wake up in the morning at like 4:30 a.m., and Jake Schreier (the director), Isaac Klausner, and I would drive together to the set, and at some point in that drive I would say to Jake, “You know would be good for the soundtrack? The Mountain Goats.” And then every day in the six months after the shoot, before the movie came out, I would say to him, “We should have The Mountain Goats on the soundtrack, Jake. We should have at least one Mountain Goats song.” And it worked.
NW: He was also a fan of my song.
JG: I love Nat’s song that’s on the soundtrack, and I really wanted it to be on the soundtrack, but that was Jake’s call, for sure. It was all Jake’s call, but I broke him.
IM: What would be on your road-trip playlist?
JG: For me it would literally be all Mountain Goats songs with Nat’s songs. The two Nat songs from the last two movies. And then there would also be some Drake.
NW: Drake is an awesome choice.
Halston Sage: I don’t know, I love John Mayer …
JG: You know how I just told you how you’re amazing at deconstructing all of my ideas about bubbly, blond California girls? That doesn’t.
HS: It’s another hole! I have to backpedal now. I’m done. They’re so mean.
JG: Who would you have, Nat, just your music?
NW: I would just listen to my own music. I listen to Drake and The Beach Boys and “Pet Sounds.”
JG: “Pet Sounds” is great.
IM: And maybe some Taylor Swift?
JG: Yeah, oh my gosh, I can’t believe we didn’t say Taylor Swift.
NW: I would do 1989. That’s the sh–.
JG: That’s a pretty great album. There was a lot of singing “Shake It Off” and “Blank Space” during the filming of Paper Towns. I remember Halston shouting out some “Blank Space” lyrics.
HS: I remember you shouting out some “Blank Space” lyrics.
JG: I’m not afraid to say “boys only want love if it’s torture.”
NW: “Don’t say I didn’t say I didn’t warn ya.”
NW: I think it was like that with the whole cast. But just the three of us, the three guys, we had three apartments, but we ended up just basically living in Austin’s apartment. Sometimes with a movie, you feel like you end up hating everyone or loving everyone. This is one of those times when you all end up loving each other. Then Justice moved to New York, but he didn’t have a place to stay, so he’s staying with me now, and we’ve all stayed super-close. We called each other by our characters’ names the whole time, which sounds really hokey, but it ended up being super-fun. Still once in a while, I’ll slip up sometimes and call Justice “Radar” or call Austin “Ben.”
IM: Margo kind of shatters the “manic pixie dream girl” concept by showing us that she’s not what Q expects her to be. Why do you think it’s so important to do away with this portrayal of women in films?
JG: Well, because any portrayal of women in films as something other than human beings is destructive. It’s tremendously destructive to the role of women in the social order. It’s just another way of enforcing institutionalized sexism, so it was really important to me. I think Cara really did an amazing job of making Margo human and real, and making her choices make sense within the world of the character. But it was also really important that Q understood that he was doing Margo—and also himself—a great disservice by imagining her as more than a person, by thinking she was this, like, superhuman angel who existed to be an object that he would win in a quest, and that’s just not what people are. People are not miracles, and they’re not objects to win. They’re people.
“I would like people to take away how important it is to imagine other people complexly and also to just be careful and thoughtful about how we imagine the world, from how we imagine our maps to how we imagine Santa.”
IM: Paper Towns says a lot about how we tend to put other people in boxes. How did you, as actors, go about creating complex characters that aren’t just archetypes but are like actual, real people?
HS: We had that from John. That’s 100 percent John. Almost any other time when you go and see a high-school movie, you’re going to see a stereotypical character. John writes these dynamic characters that are complicated, and they’re real people. I feel like Lacey’s a real girl. She has issues, insecurities, and problems aside from the fact that she’s popular and she’s smart. People are more than just one thing, and I feel like that’s all John. John gave us that. It’s the biggest gift to find a role like that at this age.
IM: Have any of you ever been to the paper town of Algoe, New York?
JG: No … well, yes, but not in many years. It was funny though, when I was watching the movie, it felt like being there. I went there when I was writing the book, but it felt like being there. One of the weirdest things about this whole experience is that in the last eight years since I wrote the book, this place was not real and then it became real and then it became not real again because it became abandoned and people didn’t know about it anymore, really. And then through the movie it felt like it was real again. It felt like they were walking through this place, and it’s crazy.
IM: What’s the main thing that you want people to take away from Paper Towns?
JG: I would like people to take away how important it is to imagine other people complexly and also to just be careful and thoughtful about how we imagine the world, from how we imagine our maps to how we imagine Santa.
HS: I would say the same thing. Just to not judge someone based on the way they look, which is hard to do. I mean, I do it all the time. It’s always my New Year’s resolution to not judge people so much.
(John and Nat laugh)
JG: That’s a good one, though.
NW: Something to take away … I would say that Nat Wolff is the greatest actor that ever lived.
IM: That’s what we took away last night (after seeing the film). What’s the biggest lesson you learned from filming Paper Towns?
JG: Oh man, that’s tough. I guess the biggest lesson I learned was to let go a little bit. I’ve always made stuff that I control pretty closely. I control VlogBrothers pretty closely, and I control my books pretty closely. And then in the last couple years, like I said, I started to make Crash Course, which is much more collaborative, and started to do other things that were more collaborative, like The Fault in Our Stars, and then this. This movie, especially, got much better the more I let go. The more I gave Q to Nat, and the more I gave Lacey to Halston, the better it got because they’re so talented and gave so much of themselves to it. So that was the biggest takeaway for me.
HS: I really learned to trust other actors, because I’ve done a lot of smaller roles and other things, but I never really had real moments with anyone before in any of my projects. And I think working with … even Nat in the bathtub scene, I had never felt more present in a moment onscreen before. So I guess what I’m taking away is to trust who you’re working with.
NW: That was one of my favorite scenes to shoot. I guess what I got from it was that this was one of the first times when I was really involved with something from the ground up. And a lot of times I’m just worried about really serving my character and my piece of the painting. But in this case, I really cared about the movie as a whole, and I really cared about everybody doing a good job and everything being right and everything being good. In a way, it’s more gratifying that everybody’s loving the movie so much because I feel more a part of the whole thing, as opposed to just, like, me.
JG: Yeah, I mean Nat was Q before there was a script, so he’s been there the whole time.
NW: A long f—king time.