The Netflix Star System Has A Bright & Dimpled New Sun In Wolfgang Novogratz

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
When we first meet heartthrob Nick in Netflix’s newest original movie Feel The Beat, he’s dropping off his little sisters at ballet class. Later, he helps them practice for an upcoming dance competition, and even steps in to curl their hair. It’s not what you expect from a swarthy romantic lead with dimples so deep one could comfortably shelter-in-place in them, but Nick’s portrayer Wolfgang Novogratz, is the oldest of seven — so he’s had some practice. 
You might have noticed Novogratz, who is — checks notes — approximately 70% aforementioned dimples, gracing a few of the latest buzzy Netflix films: as Drew in Sierra Burgess Is A Loser; Foster in The Last Summer; Trig in The Half of It; and now, Wisconsin boy-next-door Nick in Feel the Beat, released on June 19. But even before his ascension in the Netflix star system that turned Noah Centineo into a supernova, he was known in the reality TV world as the eldest son of the Novogratzes, a family whose interior designer parents were documented on the 2010 Bravo show 9 By Design.
The 23-year-old is fairly new to the acting scene, having only racked up his impressive portfolio in a few years since he went from seriously pursuing a professional basketball career (6’3” and can shoot from the perimeter) to taking a leap of faith after high school and, thanks to the advice of his drama teacher, moving to London to study Shakespeare and diving into acting full-time. “There were a lot of people close to me that were saying I was throwing my life away and such,” Novogratz tells Refinery29 on a phone call ahead of Feel The Beat’s release. “Despite a lot of shock at first, though, my parents were incredibly supportive and had my back. I've been extremely lucky.” And yes, he knows you’re probably thinking how very Troy Bolton that is of him.
Feel The Beat, directed by Australian filmmaker Elissa Down, is Step Up meets Bad News Bears. When the determined yet testy April (Sofia Carson) becomes persona non grata in the Broadway dancer community, she returns to her small Wisconsin hometown to reluctantly try to turn a ragtag group of preteen dancers into Dance Moms-level competition winners. Among them are the younger sisters of her former high school boyfriend Nick, who despite having dreams of leaving town, stuck around to take care of his family after their mother died. “I really love the character of Nick,” says Novogratz. “I thought he had such a strong code and fought for what he believed in and the things he felt responsible for.”
When Novogratz got the role of Foster on The Last Summer, he worked with director Bill Bindley to create more dimension to the “stereotypical, shallow douchebag” that was originally written. In The Half Of It, he and Alice Wu talked about making Trig more than a “prototypical mean boyfriend.” “Since becoming an actor, I’ve gained such a respect for the craft of it, and what I’ve learned about myself in the process is how important it is to me to take it seriously. Whatever opportunity I have, I want to try to do my best to not have clichés, or shallow characters,” Novogratz continues. “Fortunately, I've worked with really inclusive and collaborative directors who have been open to that.” 
He approached the role of Nick just as earnestly — by spending a week living on a ranch in Northern California with a family with four young daughters. “That week living on the ranch, I was up every day at the crack of dawn, and riding horses, building corrals, and doing a lot of work that I thought would help prepare me for the role. But also spending time just with all the girls. For Feel The Beat, because there's so many little girls on set, it kind of was the perfect preparation.” He and Carson organised a cookout and a trip to the arcade for their younger co-stars and their parents to make everyone feel comfortable, as this was many of their first film roles. The actors became so close, in fact, that he recounts a time in which his own 11-year-old brother was surprised by the bonds he saw formed on set. “My brother grabbed me and he's like, ‘Wolfie, you're just acting, right? You're not their real brother!’ He was so jealous,” Novogratz laughs. “I was like, Oh, it's okay man, trying to reassure him.” But his brother later got his revenge as they shot the final credits, heckling Wolfgang as he witnessed this other brother attempting to dance.
Throughout the film, the male characters seem to take somewhat of a backseat to the women at the centre of the narrative. In fact, they’re championing and cheerleading the women in their lives — from helping them figure out how to orchestrate a risky dance lift to literally getting beaten up defending their daughters’ grand battements from the criticism of rival teams. “I think the film really did a nice job with many of the male characters, giving them a chance to kind of break down many of those common male stereotypes,” says Novogratz. “On the surface, Nick is a tough, blue-collar, all-American guy. He's got his truck and he's got all these handyman jobs. But then you see him trying to help out his little sisters, doing these dance moves, and he's trying to do their hair. There are also the football players trying to do ballet.”
Nick joins the recently minted pantheon of Netflix heartthrobs who seem to be just as lusted after for their megawatt smiles and perfectly floppy hair as their rather thoughtful and progressive mindsets. The world swooned when To All The Boys I Loved Before’s Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) drove to a Korean grocery store specifically to buy Lara Jean (Lana Condor) her favorite Japanese yogurt drink, Yakult; Hearts fluttered when Never Have I Ever’s Paxton Hall-Yoshida blindly defended his sister, who has Down Syndrome, from potential harassment. It likely isn’t a coincidence that all what male leads have all in common is that they’re depicted through the lens of female directors, and Feel The Beat is no exception. “I've been very lucky — I'm a part of three films that are coming out this summer [Alice Wu’s The Half of It, Elissa Down’s Feel The Beat, Karen Maine’s Yes, God, Yes]. Every single film is directed by a woman,” says Novogratz. “Honestly that didn't even cross my mind until a buddy of mine mentioned he'd come across a list of a bunch of actors listing over time how many female directors they'd worked with, and it was so low. I feel proud that I'm kind of starting my career at a point where there's just so many more opportunities and representation for people that haven't had that in the past. It's been a really nice experience.”
“Right before filming, Sofia, Elissa, and I talked about really making sure that it never came across that Nick was condemning April for going after her dreams or calling her selfish,” he continues. “We didn’t want Nick to be holding her back somehow; he's not the bad guy because she wants to have a career and not stay at home and get married. What's really wonderful about that character is that he allows for both people to be equally as strong.”
Nick might have many of the makings of a leading man for the new generation, but he still — as Novogratz puts it — carries a glimmer of old-school charm. “It’s that kind of romanticism and nostalgia that I identify in myself as well,” says Novogratz, whose acting role models include Tom Cruise and Paul Newman. Novogratz admits that yes, he’s a bit of a romantic. "I’m romantic about a lot of things: movies, old music, and traveling.” He’s also an avid reader and history buff, and gushes as he recalls the last book he tore through: Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times. (“It's a portrait of LBJ, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and Abraham Lincoln at different tumultuous times in their lives. I thought it was fascinating.”). And he’s even trying his hand at screenwriting (a personal story about a father and son) while quarantining in Manhattan with his family.
Though the future at the moment is rife with uncertainty, Novogratz is used to taking big risks. It’s what got him on TVs around the world in the first place. But it helps to have a concrete vision, and Novogratz is clear about career goals. “The dream is to work with the best people. You hope to be one of those 10 or so actors in the world that can get greenlit and lead the film, and who the top studios and the top directors want to work with.” One step — or in his case, a shuffle-ball-change — at a time.

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