Interview: Wyatt Oleff on 'I Am Not Okay With This'.

Interview: Wyatt Oleff on 'I Am Not Okay With This'.

"I'm just really lucky to be able to play the age that I actually am because I can draw from those experiences that are right now," Wyatt Oleff thoughtfully tells me over the phone a few weeks ago. The sixteen-year-old actor (who you might recognise from 'It', 'It: Chapter Two' and both volumes of 'Guardians Of The Galaxy'), is referring to his latest project, 'I Am Not Okay With This', the graphic novel turned Netflix original series where he stars as the awkward, yet lovable Stanley Barber.

Oleff stars opposite Sophia Lillis as Sydney Novak, an introverted seventeen-year-old whose emotional distress starts to culminate as supernatural powers. In a similar vein to 'Stranger Things' and 'The End Of The F***ing World', the show explores the struggles of growing up and captures the modern high school experience with a twist, with a dash of nostalgia thrown in through some excellent stylistic choices (think bright blue suits; soundtracked by The Kinks, Bonnie Tyler, Roxette, and more).

We spoke with Wyatt Oleff about the show's success, what he'd want to see in a second season of the show, and more...

[Full suiting by Hallenstein Brothers.]

COUP DE MAIN: I really enjoyed watching 'I Am Not Okay With This'! What’s it been like seeing the reaction from everyone who’s now seen it, and experienced what you experienced when you were filming it?
WYATT OLEFF: I was super excited for the show to come out just because I loved filming it so much, and I thought it was something special. Now that it's out and people are seeing it, I think the response has been quite wonderful and everyone's complimented it and loves the story. The characters, and just everything about it, we put a lot of work into it and I'm just really happy with the way it turned out.

CDM: I feel like it must be strange when you go from filming and then sometimes there's a long break between when you finish it and then when it comes out - not that you forget about it, but it's not an instant process!
WYATT: For this show, it was a pretty quick turnaround. I mean, usually for a movie it's around a year or a year-and-a-half, or even two. For this, it was a two-month shoot, from the beginning of June until the beginning of August. So pretty short, but it was like filming a movie and we filmed all the scenes kind of out of order.

CDM: It was exciting that the show ended with such a set-up for what could happen in future seasons. Is there anything you’d want to happen/explore more with Stan in a second season of the show?
WYATT: I feel like there's a lot of aspects of Stan that you kind of get glimpses at but don't see, like his relationship with his mom or even his dad, and subtle parts where he shows something like a little crack in his personality, or something like that kind of affects how he's always positive. I think more of his family dynamic would be pretty interesting.

CDM: What initially drew your interest in when you first read the script for the show, which made you want to audition and be a part of the show?
WYATT: Well, when I first got the audition, I saw Sophia's [Lillis] name attached to it, and that was pretty exciting. I was like, "Oh, this would be a really fun project." And then the director [Jonathan Entwistle] from 'The End Of The F***ing World'. So that was another thing, and of course, seeing it's Netflix and I already have a couple of people I know on Netflix, so it was kind of like, 'Oh, this would work out great. I'd love to do a project like this.' And then obviously with the character description, I was like, 'Whoah, this is kind of like me.' Everything combined and led to an overall excitement for the project, and I'm just really glad that I was able to get the project because sometimes you don't always get it even when you really want it and you try your best, sometimes it just doesn't work out but luckily this time it did and I'm really happy about that.

CDM: I love how the show is set in the current world but feels so nostalgic - from the soundtrack to the wardrobe and general set-design/vibe of the show. It’s been described as “faux nostalgia” by Shawn Levy. What was it like stepping into that world when you were on-set?
WYATT: Obviously, you don't really get as much of that feel on-set in terms of song choice, because that's all post-production - Jonathan never really described what songs he was going to use. But with the props, and especially Stanley's bedroom, I think those really define the show's feel and the colour palette as well, and seeing all of the frames that they were using. Everything together worked really well, even though I couldn't see it immediately, I think Jonathan Entwistle and Justin Brown's [cinematographer] vision of how they wanted the world to be viewed is really unique and special, and I think it's turned out great.
CDM: Yes! Also, you working in a bowling alley is so novel.
WYATT: Yeah, and I used to not like bowling, but then I learned that I was doing it wrong because instead of using my middle finger and my ring finger I was using my index and my middle finger. But luckily, now I actually know how to do it, I enjoy it. So do Jonathan Entwistle and Justin Brown - they actually appear as extras in the background. The first scene in the bowling alley when Sydney comes up and is like, "I need to use your car," and whatever, they're in the background as the two bowlers. It's a great little detail.

CDM: Your blue suit is definitely one of the most iconic things from the show! Did you enjoy getting to experiment with fashion through your character?
WYATT: Absolutely. Bex Crofton-Atkins who is the costume designer, she actually went to thrift stores and picked out clothing there and I think it really fits the character so well. It's kind of inspired me in terms of how I want to dress and present myself. Most of the time when I go to school, I just wake up in the morning, and I don't really think about what I'm going to wear - usually, it's jeans, t-shirt, and a sweater, and that's kind of it. Nothing in terms of colour coordination, but I think there's something special about Stanley's wardrobe and especially something as wacky as the blue suit that just makes it so special and makes him stand out as a person and character. Expressing yourself through your clothing is something I'm familiar with, but definitely not totally involved in, so I think maybe working on that after seeing that with Stanley is definitely something I'm more interested in.

CDM: Do you have any memories/anecdotes from filming the show with your co-stars?
WYATT: The first one that comes to mind would be when we were filming the scene where we're all in detention. Mr Whitaker is talking to all of us and in this specific instance, the camera was doing coverage on him. So all of us behind the camera were for some reason... we could not keep a straight face. Jonathan recorded all of us behind the camera, and we're all dying of laughter. It was incredibly hard to keep a straight face. That happened so many times that it just became a thing where it's like, 'Who would laugh most on-set in the middle of a scene?' It was a good time.

CDM: Stanley is a big music fan in the show, always recommending and listening to music, and the opening scene with the montage of Stanley getting ready is so cute! What music do you, Wyatt, like to listen to and share with people? Who are some of your favourite artists at the moment?
WYATT: I feel like one that's been one of my favourites for a while is definitely Elton John. Exploring his music, there's something about the way he used the piano that really intrigues me because that's my main instrument. Not as much anymore, but I went through a big Queen phase. And right now, I'm listening to a bunch of soundtracks of shows and movies just because I like putting a soundtrack to my own life. So sometimes I'll like to think of something and use the music in the background as sort of the score for my own life.

CDM: You’ve spoken a bit about how it’s lucky for you and Sophia that you are the same age as the characters that you are playing. Do you feel like it makes the story and characters feel more genuine and real, as opposed to when people in their 20s/30s are playing teenage characters?
WYATT: Yeah, I think it does add a sense of realism to the characters. I think for me, specifically, still being in high school and being able to draw from those experiences really helps me. I feel like the characters have kind of more of an older soul to them, and maybe that's because of the way the sets are made and the costumes and whatever, but I think there's also something about them that feels sort of mature in a way. I don't really know how to describe it. But I do feel like it's less common for teenagers specifically to actually play their age because usually it's older people, so I'm just really lucky to be able to play the age that I actually am because I can draw from those experiences that are right now.

CDM: It’s interesting to see how Stanley and Sydney are influenced by their family relationships - Stan in particular, though you don’t see much of their dynamic, you can really see that he’s trying to be completely unlike his father. Why do you think that parents and their personalities can have such an impact on how teenagers form their own identity?
WYATT: Great question. I think parents are such a big role model in children's lives, and especially adolescence as well, and people who are becoming adults, having the main adult in their life be their parent kind of defines who they are. I guess it gives them a vision of their future self in a way - unless that person, like in Stanley's instance, maybe he sees his father and says, "I'm not going to be like him." And I think that kids find their own morals through their parents, and especially growing up into those teenage years, it's really difficult to find your own identity. So using your parents as a basis can really help you with that journey and sometimes going off the rails from that parent or the image that the parents have set up also might be another outcome. It really depends on their relationship with them.

CDM: Equally, do you think teenagers form an identity based on their peers at school a lot as well?
WYATT: I think actually sometimes it's a stronger influence from your peers because you view them as cool, and especially for kids who don't really admire their parents or look up to them, they kind of look up to people of their own age in a way. What's funny is some of those people look up to their parents and it's kind of like a chain effect, no matter what. So, definitely being influenced by your peers in a similar way to your parents, in which like, 'Oh, I want to be like that person,' or, 'I don't want to be like that person,' and your high school experience will really kind of define who you are as an adult. I mean, actually, I don't know that because I'm not an adult yet, but from what I've seen and heard, I think high school is a very formative couple of years, so we'll just see what happens.

CDM: High school is such an intense and hard time for everyone, and the show does a really good job of showcasing that through the different experiences people are going through. Do you think it’s important for these honest depictions of high school to be explored in pop-culture?
WYATT: Oh, absolutely. I think that while there are great movies that focus on high school characters and glorify the high school experience, I think it's very necessary to show people who are going into high school, or are already in high school, to show some sort of relatability or something more realistic to expect because high school is not fun. I mean, it is, but it's not - you find little bits and pieces of fun throughout your experience and finding friends and who you really are, but it's such a strenuous journey, and I think that some shows and movies kind of gloss over that and I'm really happy that our show tries to really depict something honest.
CDM: Especially for people going into high school you don't want them to have this understanding of what they think high school will be like and then it's nothing like that.
WYATT: Yeah, and depicting all types of people in high school - Sydney exploring her sexuality, and Stanley who kind of already knows who he is, that is something you don't see a lot in high school but is certainly there and I think that with all the different types of characters and little groups and all that you kind of see in the show, it definitely shows the variety and diversity of what you get in high school.

CDM: I really enjoyed the scene where Stan is practising asking Sydney to the prom, rehearsing his lines over and over. Communication can be so hard sometimes! Do you think that technology has made in-person communication more difficult?
WYATT: I think it depends on who you're talking to. I think if it's someone you're trying to impress or something along those lines, it definitely makes it a lot easier when you can do it over the phone instead of in-person because you don't have to immediately come up with a response, you can wait for a second and formulate the "perfect" response. But I think there's something special about that eye-to-eye connection that may be getting lost in this new technology-based world. So I think even if you can be confident over the phone, it's completely different when you're in person and I think that the connection that you get is, to me, it's really important. So I think the absence of that may kind of hinder some social abilities a little bit sometimes, but I think it'll all balance itself out eventually in some way.

CDM: Did you know about the easter eggs from 'The End Of The F***ing World'? It’s such a cool touch and nod to the show from Jonathan!
WYATT: I actually didn't! Obviously I knew Jonathan directed it, but I think there's a magazine in the show that says something about two teens. I do know where it is. I don't think you can actually see the picture of them. I think the text might be visible from the side somewhere, but it's not like something that you can really directly see. That was really interesting. Those things they kind of snuck in that I didn't even see. That's such a unique thing, to work on something and not realise a certain aspect of it until someone pointed it out after the fact.

CDM: It’s cool that you still go to school! Has it been important to continue that regularity, despite everything else going on in your life with acting/promo etc?
WYATT: Yeah, I think there's an importance to staying grounded and such a different world, specifically for me, acting and going to this hotel to do all the press for the show and then flying out to New York to do even more press and then coming back the next week, and going on a camping trip with all my friends with the school, I think having a sort of normal high school experience will allow me to stay grounded in a way and also have somewhere to pull from especially when I'm more interested in creating my own stories - whether it's directing, or writing, but having those experiences of high school is something so special and unique that only happens very briefly in your lifetime. So I think having that exposure, also balancing acting and stuff, it hasn't been super difficult for me, but I think it's definitely something I'm trying to take advantage of.

CDM: You briefly mentioned directing and writing - is that something you'd be interested in exploring more in the future?
WYATT: Absolutely. I've worked on a couple of projects where I got to be a second unit director and then be a co-director. I think that exploring that side of things is something I'm definitely interested in. I think telling stories is something I love to do and creating my own and also sharing my own is something I'm also interested in doing. So hopefully in the future, I can have more opportunities like that and continue to expand my storytelling reach.


The first season of 'I Am Not Okay With This' is streaming now on Netflix - watch the trailer below...