Being hairy is a plus for the bear community and its stans, but hypertrichosis, a condition that can give one a wolfman-like appearance, covering every inch of skin with fuzz, is way too “woofy” for the protagonist of The True Adventures of Wolfboy.
Written by trans screenwriter Olivia Dufault and directed by Martin Krejčí, the modern-day fable stars Jaeden Martell (IT, Knives Out) as Paul, a 13-year-old whose affliction with hypertrichosis and subsequent bullying by locals lead him to run away in search of his estranged mother (Chloë Sevigny). During this road trip, he falls in with sleazy carnival sideshow owner Mr. Silk (John Turturro), a modern-day pirate; Rose (Eve Hewson); and Aristiana (The L Word: Generation Q’s Sophie Giannamore), a mermaid-loving transgender girl.
There’s more than a bit of trans allegory to Wolfboy, and magical realism is nothing new to Dufault, an acclaimed playwright (of New York Times Critics Picks Year of the Rooster and The Tomb of King Tot) and screenwriter (AMC’s Preacher and FX’s Legion, both based on comic books). Happily partnered with her girlfriend of seven-plus years, Dufault opened up to NewNowNext about making Wolfboy, loving comics, and being off the social media grid.
How did this project come together?
The first germ of an idea manifested a decade ago during my final semester of college. I ended up in a genetics class, which I thought was a waste of time, but we had a Powerpoint presentation about unconventional conditions that were passed down genetically. There was a brief segment on folks with hypertrichosis, which is the condition that causes hair to grow all over your face and body, and where many believe the “wolfman” myth originated. I was struck by that intersection between the mythological and mundane, fantastical and grounded, and it opened an opportunity to discuss lots of ideas and topics that I was dealing [personally] with in a fun and relevant way.
How long did it actually take to get from script to screen?
I wrote it when I was 26 or 27, and I’m 33 now. I talked to various directors, and Martin, who is Czech, had a great look-book and take on the film that was grounded in a certain level of reality. It’s a very ambitious, difficult film to make, which I didn’t know when I was writing it. I was so naïve. I didn’t think, This is going to require a boy to be in three hours of makeup every single day, so I really applaud and am amazed by the passion and bravery of everyone involved for tackling something left-of-center that had great personal resonance for myself.
The film has a Tim Burton feel to it. Do you hear that a lot?
Yeah, and definitely movies I loved in the past like Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish are sources of inspiration, among other things.
Did you get to watch Jaeden’s makeup process?
Yeah. I was present for the first two weeks of pre-production, so I watched the very first time that makeup was put on him and [saw] his reaction to it. He would sit there for three hours reading Dune while this makeup was put on. I constantly thought, What have I done to this child? but Jaeden never once complained. It’s such an indication of what a lovely human being he is as well as a consummate professional.
What’s the most personal element of the story?
Personally, it was very much an allegory for coming to terms with being trans. While writing it, I was grappling with years of transphobia and self-loathing and self-doubt, and I came to the conclusion I needed to transition to survive. This film was in a lot of ways me dealing with all my fears and anxieties about that and trying to move to a place of self-love and acceptance.
Trans actress Sophie Giannamore plays Aristiana. How much of you is in that character?
I feel she’s representative of the qualities I was trying to embody the most in my life at that time: being resilient. Being brave, frankly. Being able to find a community that loves and accepts you. At that time, I was finding that community and internal resilience. So she was the most fun character to write and easiest because of the elements of myself I was most excited by and proud of.
Did you spend much time with Sophie?
Yes. We had two weeks, and the majority was spent working with Sophie and Jaeden and talking about the script and making changes based on their thoughts. Specifically, my relationship with Sophie and her mother was one of the most rewarding elements of the entire process. I think Sophie is a pretty amazing human and actor, and it was a delight to be able to talk and share our experiences in terms of growing up as trans women and navigating that in Hollywood. I remain in contact with them today and saw them about a month ago. I really value their role in my life.
How about Chloë, who played a trans assassin in the 2012 British series Hit & Miss?
No. I was so sad! I wasn’t present for the shoot, and I’m obsessed with Chloe. I’ve loved her movies so much and I’m a fashion dork and think she’s the coolest. I would love to talk to her one day.
Is your girlfriend reflected in Wolfboy’s characters?
She helped me gather up the courage to be able to transition, and because of that she undoubtedly was instrumental in my life trajectory and thus the trajectory of Wolfboy.
You’ve worked on a couple of comic-based properties. Are you a comic nerd?
I’m a massive comic nerd, and it allows for the most creative freedom in almost any medium I’ve seen. One of the inspirations for Wolfboy was Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man. That’s very much a road trip film centering on three characters, wherein a lot of the individual segments concern different genre-y ideas, like astronauts and pirates and cowgirls, but you don’t even recognize those genre trappings because it feels so grounded in reality until even the very end. He’s written some of my favorite stories in any medium, like Saga and Paper Girls.
And he’s super queer-inclusive! What other comics do you think people should check out today?
Megahex by Simon Hanselmann, anything by Tillie Walden like Spinning or On A Sunbeam, which is great for young queer audiences in particular. I like Kieron Gillen’s books, and Die is one of my favorite comics coming out just now.
You’re completely absent from social media. What’s the story?
I am totally off the grid and have been for six or seven years now. In many ways, I’m a private person and really value being able to share myself and ideas through my work. The performative element of social media has always felt a little uncomfortable to me, and the more I recognized—as I think society has—that Facebook and Twitter and such are to blame for the destruction of our democracy, the more comfortable I am with not using them. But I will say that my girlfriend is into social media, so I’m able to get my little taste of the social media world through her.
How is navigating the waters of Hollywood as a trans creative right now?
Earlier in my career I think I faced some challenges due to it, but I’ll say this: The industry has so far to go in terms of trans representation on and off screen, but I’ve been fortunate enough to not experience the brunt of transphobia on the majority of projects I’ve worked on.
Is the COVID-19 pandemic inspiring or draining you creatively?
Well, it’s difficult in that I’ve written in coffee shops my entire life, and that’s probably one of the things I miss the most. I definitely had to adjust to writing in a new way. That said, I had ideas during the pandemic I don’t think would have come about were it not for this time period—like, most projects that are products of their time, and what I’m thinking of and dealing with at that moment. Conceptually, it can be somewhat rich for me, but practically, I miss writing in public spaces and seeing other human beings and feeling safe and secure in the world.
Wolfboy is available on VOD starting October 30.