It’s All Okay
Friendship helps even the most unusual teenage issues.
It's not okay when you have telekinetic powers that you can't control, but it's good to have a friend who wants to help.
Wyatt Oleff plays the quirky sidekick Stanley Barber to lead character Sydney (Sophia Lillis) in I Am Not Okay With This, a Netflix original series that premiered on February 26.
Based on the Charles Forsman graphic novel, the new series is directed by Jonathan Entwistle (The End of the F***ing World).
I Am Not Okay With This is a gritty, raw story that follows a teenage girl who's navigating classic high school issues such as her own social awkwardness, family dynamics and her awakening sexuality. Now she's faced with something not so typical: she has mysterious powers—and she is NOT okay with it.
"This is Syd's origin story," explains Oleff. "She's going through everything a typical teen experiences, plus her special powers emerge and begin to affect those around her. The powers are an extreme way of her showing her emotions, trust and love," Oleff explains. Stanley is the only one who has witnessed the telekinetic abilities that Syd is unable to control, with results ranging from embarrassing to terrifying.
Oleff's Stanley Barber is Sydney's neighbor, a quirky guy who doesn't fit into classic stereotypes and doesn't seem to care. In fact, he embraces his eccentricity by dressing in vintage clothing and listening to esoteric music.
He befriends the smart but awkward Sydney, who hates school, has a sarcastic wit and fights constantly with her overworked mom [Kathleen Rose Perkins]. It doesn't help that Syd's dad has died, further burdening the family with emotions they feel deeply but never discuss.
During their time together, Stanley witnesses some of Syd's powers. She's terrified, and Stanley eventually attempts to help her learn how to control them. Rather than thinking Syd strange, Stanley is intrigued by his friend's abilities. The suspenseful result keeps the audience eager to find out how her powers will play out next.
Stanley is "my biggest role so far," says 16-year-old Oleff. In the past, he was best known for playing a young Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. He also played Stanley Uris, one of the kids known as the "Losers" in IT and IT Chapter 2. He first worked with Sophia Lillis in the IT franchise, where he developed a close friendship with her and the other young actors.
"All of us in the IT movie had this incredible bond. We love each other so dearly. It was the best summer of our lives for all of us. We even won an MTV award for the "Best On-Screen Team," he noted.
"In IT, my character was more balanced with all the other kids in the story. In this series, I'm more able to develop the character," says Oleff, who has second billing and is featured in all episodes.
"I had a lot of fun," he says, and enjoyed a bit of creative freedom with the role. "Everything was scripted, as in 'Stanley dances,' for example. But I brought my own dance moves and put a lot of myself into the character. He has a quirky, 'I don't care' attitude. That piece was a bit of me in there."
Oleff feels the series will appeal to young adults. "A lot of people like fantasy and a surreal spin on normal things, especially in the young adult genre. While the characters are teens, some of the themes and material may be more suited to those a bit older, although I suspect a lot of younger people will watch it anyway," he laughs.
Filmed in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, PA, the setting is gritty and stark with a sense of deindustrialized abandonment.
"I don't think the setting was too important in the novel, says Oleff, "but [for the series] the location was chosen in an effort to make it the most boring town where you wouldn't want to live. It contributes to the sense of loneliness and isolation, which is important in the characters."
Adding to the effect is the fact that one is not quite sure what year the show is filmed in. Songs from the '80s play at a party. Stanley has a turntable, VHS tapes and an old car. When and where are we?
"I think what's fun about the show is it doesn't really have a time period," says Oleff. "[director] Johnathan's vision created his own world with an 80's vibe. It takes the extra step of world-building. I call it '20 and tween'. You can't pinpoint where and when you are. It adds to the effect," Oleff explains.
In addition to Sydney and Stanley, viewers will meet Dina [Sofia Bryant], Syd's effervescent, fun and pretty best friend, and Dina's cocky jock boyfriend, Brad [Richard Ellis], who Syd despises. Liam [Aidan Wojtak-Hissong] is Syd's artistic and insightful 10-year-old brother, who she adores despite being resentful of having to look out for him while her mother works.
The series gets more intense as Syd's powers seem to increase and her relationships grow more complicated, including that with Stanley.
Oleff hopes that the show extends into a second season but isn't sure where his career will take him next. "I'd like to dive into more dramatic roles if possible, but I'm open to anything really," he says.
The acting bug bit when Oleff was quite young. "When I was about five, I pointed at the TV and said, 'I want to do THAT.'"
His career began after his family moved from the Chicago area to Los Angeles. "We moved due to my parents' business and warmer weather, not because of my dream of acting," he says. Yet the move paid off, with Oleff's career budding as he continues to balance work and high school himself. "It's a private school and they're OK with me taking jobs so long as I keep up with the work and stay in touch my teachers," he explains.
In addition to acting on the large and small screen, Oleff recently co-directed a short film called Writers Block. "I did it alongside someone more experienced in directing. I've always admired how directors envision a story and make it come true on set. I like their process. I'd like to get to that level someday," he added.
Wyatt Oleff will continue to be someone to watch, and viewers of I Am Not Okay With This will definitely want more after the first season's chilling finale.
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