Finn Wittrock is not that kid from Stranger Things. He’s got a couple of years, and a hell of a lot more notches on his resume than the boy who plays Mike Wheeler, although he does somewhat envy the hair. Wittrock has been serving in Ryan Murphy’s universe for the past few years, playing the self-appointed protégé of a serial killing clown, a criminally attractive male model, an Italian actor-turned vampire, and a cannibal. His big-screen credits — a war hero in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken and Judy Garland’s polarizing husband Mickey Deans in Judy — are just as memorable, though not quite as strange.
In his latest film, Semper Fi, co starring Suicide Squad’s Jai Courtney, Arturo Castro, Nat Wolff, and Leighton Meester, Wittrock plays Jaeger, a war vet who must choose between loyalty to his country and loyalty to the brothers he served with overseas. It’s a muted war flick focused less on the gear and guns and desert battlefields, and more on the bond between men who’ve pledged their lives to one another. We chatted with Wittrock about surviving the Semper Fi shoot during Mardi Gras, Ryan Murphy’s f*cked-up family, and whether he’s got a superhero flick is in the cards.
First, I guess we should begin by setting the record straight: You are not Finn Wolfhard. Twitter seems to get confused sometimes.
[Laughs] I always get things like, “Oh, I loved last night’s episode of Stranger Things #FinnWolfhard.” I’m like, “I could be Finn Wolfhard’s father,” you know?
This movie, Semper Fi, you guys shot down in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. I’ve heard some stories, mainly from your co-star Arturo Castro, who’s been praising your dance moves. “Seductive” was the word he used.
Arturo is the biggest prankster I have ever met. I lost a bet. So now he gets to tell every interviewer that.
What was the bet?
I have no recollection.
Sure, but did the drunken nights out help build that comradery between you guys?
Honestly, that was kind of our whole job. The only way it would be believable is if you believe that those four guys have been friends forever. I had known Jai [Courtney] before, but we only had a weekend to make that connection. The city of New Orleans definitely helped but it’s a rare thing when you find that deep friendship with each other in a matter of a couple of days, and I think we did. I think that’s what the heart of the movie is about, how friendship can be as strong a bond as anything.
We’re always seeing you get beat up on screen, and in this film, you play an injured war vet. Did you feel a responsibility to that community?
I had a mentor. His name is Eric and he was a Marine. He’s a below-the-knee amputee. So, he was my guide and my leg double for a couple of the shots where they used the real amputated leg. I was able to pick his brain and then mimic his movements a bit. [In the movie] I go to the VA and they all make fun of me, “Oh, that’s a flesh wound.” Because if you have a below the knee amputation, it’s the best you can have. It sounds terrible, but they all compare. It’s that macho shit. They’re all like, “Oh man, that’s nothing.” It’s how they deal with it and there’s an incredible form of courage that comes with putting your life back together after that. So yeah, I felt the responsibility to those guys who come home with those war wounds, especially amputees.
Why do you think we love war movies, and where does this film fit in that conversation?
To me, it’s about comradery. It’s about the friendship and it’s about how the friendships that are made overseas, in that kind of operation, are more powerful than almost any relationship you can have in peacetime. Also, I think one of the big moral questions of the movie is, “Why is [this] okay? How come, Jai’s [character] can shoot a man point-blank in the face and come home a hero, and then his brother, who, in an accidental bar fight killed a guy, now has his life totally screwed?” What world do we live in that both those things are true?
You’ve been apart of the Ryan Murphy Universe for a few years. You guys are working on Ratched for Netflix right now. Is getting back on set with Murphy and Sarah Paulson like a little f*cked-up family reunion at this point?
It is. Actually, it’s a pretty tight family. That’s why it’s fun. There are all these people that I know, and I’ve worked with now for many years and, I think it’s become a well-oiled machine. A big part of being on a set is getting a kind of second language with each other. A lot of us have that already. And as actors it’s, “What crazy thing am I doing now?” And you kind of look each other in the eye and go, “Okay, let’s just dive in.” And [Sarah] Paulson is the most fearless of all of them. It makes it a really exciting, dangerous ride to be on. And I think the show is going to be really good.
This is basically an origin story for the villain of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, right?
Yes, exactly. It’s taking a while to get there. It backs up a bit in time. I can’t talk too much about it.
Can you talk about superheroes, because word is you might be in the running to play Nightwing for DC? At least, some fans want you to.
I’ve heard rumblings about that.
Would a cape and tights interest you at this point?
I’ll look at whatever comes my way. I mean, it would be cool to jump into that world. I think I kind of want to treat it like I treat everything. If it’s a story and a part that excites me, if I’m working with cool people, then let’s go.
‘Semper Fi’ is currently playing in limited theaters and streaming digitally and On Demand.