ARTICLE NTASHA STAGG
PHOTOGRAPHY MARK ABRAHAMS
STYLIST KEEGAN SINGH
IN JANUARY, V TRAVELED TO PARK CITY, UTAH, TO SEE WHAT THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL FORETOLD FOR 2014. IF THE TALENTS V PHOTOGRAPHED THERE ARE ANY INDICATION, THE FUTURE OF CINEMA IS SHINING BRIGHT
Kat Candler’s Hellion, starring Josh Wiggins, isn’t afraid to show its seams. On top of its classic coming-of-age plot shape, it is almost ostentatiously wrapped in nostalgia for that genre’s golden age. Over a fuzzed-up, big-sky backdrop, teenaged boys listen to heavy metal, look at porno magazines in print, and talk on cordless landlines—all in present-day Port Arthur, Texas. Hellion isn’t afraid to hint at forward-longing either, by way of grooming then-14-year-old Wiggins for his likely future as a Hollywood heartthrob. Here, he plays 13-year-old Jacob, a literal firestarter and loving older brother. The hallmarks of a rebel without a cause are laid out in the first scenes: his mother is deceased, his father (played by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul) is unfit, and his mother’s sister (Juliette Lewis) is unavailable. Then there are the motorcycles—or more accurately, dirt bikes.
Wiggins tells me he didn’t do his own stunts, but he can relate to Jacob in other ways. “I have brothers and I love them, so I know that brotherly love which isn’t shown. We all feel it. But I don’t beat trucks with baseball bats or anything like that.”
Today, 15-year-old Wiggins is in New York promoting this, his first film. His next project, a Warner Brothers movie called Max, is just beginning production, and Aaron Paul must have felt fatherly towards him off-screen, too, as they’re now under the same management. Wiggins, like his character Jacob, is in high school and has lived in Texas (Houston) his whole life. He isn’t planning on moving anytime soon (“I’m a diehard Texan”), and that’s just fine. These days, no one has to be physically anywhere to get discovered. Candler found Wiggins and another pre-teen actor, who was in the short version of Hellion, via YouTube. The two aspiring film-majors have been posting skits together since the fourth grade. These videos are boyhood typified, with everything from fake explosions to a car-driving Rottweiler. It’s like one of those channels you’ve discovered a hundred times, one that reminds you of the sincerity still to be found among a jaded generation. It’s a part of YouTube that can take you out of YouTube, to memories of life before the Internet, which is exactly what Candler must have been looking for, given the nature of the film. Most of the time, these accidental forays into a stranger’s semi-scripted world don’t land filmmakers their leading men. In this case, though, Candler’s search pointed the spotlight on who the press are calling (like many before him) the next Leonardo DiCaprio.
“I hope to be half the actor he is,” Wiggins says of the comparison. "I mean, he’s like one my top five. All the Scorsese movies: The Departed, The Aviator, Blood Diamond, Wolf of Wall Street… I think he’s just very charismatic and can play a lot of these diverse roles, which is rare.” There’s a more obvious comparison I’m afraid to bring up, so I wait for Wiggins to do it first. “Kat, before we started, she gave us a list of things to watch. Stand By Me [was one]. River Phoenix’s character was most like Jacob, so I tried to pay attention to that.” Perhaps it’s Wiggins’ undeniable depth of emotion in playing hopelessly lost Jacob, but the actors who first come to mind when watching him are the stars who shone too bright. And with every child-star’s adult life standing up as either a warning or guidepost before him, Wiggins still can’t possibly plan his fate, since a celebrity’s right to privacy has vastly diminished in recent years.
“I’m just kind of taking it as it goes,” he says. "I’m not really expecting to be this huge sensation but if it does get to that point then I have my family. I have four brothers to keep me grounded. If I start getting a big head they’ll let me know, in a very physical way.”
Hellion is in theaters and on Google Play now. Follow @jwiggs187 on Instagram