Top image: Timothée Chalamet by Fabien Kruszelnicki, HERO 13 / t-shirt by DSQUARED2 FW15; socks from VANS; sweatpants stylist’s own
It’s fair to say that Timothée Chalamet is having a moment. Having wowed in two of this year’s biggest films, Call Me By Your Name and Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird, the LaGuardia-graduate is Hollywood’s brightest new it-boy.
But before he was the Timothée Chalamet, he was just a (very) promising up-and-coming talent looking for his big break. We spotted that potential back in 2015 (not boasting… well, maybe a lil), featuring Chalamet in HERO 13 – before the hype, before the Oscar-nominations and before Chalamet become the hottest name in town.
James West: So how has your day been? Mine’s been filled with doing all that crappy stuff that you just have to do.
Timothée Chalamet: I know, all the itty bitty stuff that no one will ever pat you on the back for.
James: Is there much of that in your job? You always see the end result, the film or the play…
Timothée: No I really love every bit of it [laughs]. Thankfully my agent and lawyer take care of all the annoying stuff. An actor that doesn’t have his own agent once told me that he negotiates his own deals, it sounded really intense.
James: I don’t even know where you would start.
Timothée: Yeah, how do you say to someone, “I’m worth X amount of money?”
James: And how do you deal with it when someone says, “Yeah we don’t think you’re worth that much…”
Timothée: Yeah – and not be like, “On a separate note, that hurt my feelings.” [laughs]
James: So you went to Austin straight after the shoot?
Timothée: Yes I was only there for 36 hours! It was really great, I wasn’t there long enough to see any bands [at SXSW], I did see a really great movie called Final Girl, kind of a play on the horror genre that was hilarious. Besides that, press stuff and a screening.
James: And are you still filming that Christmas movie?
Timothée: Yes, so then I went back to Pittsburgh and finished up Let It Snow, and then three days ago I got back to New York.
James: And now you’re just chilling out.
Timothée: Now I’m just chilling out. Seeing friends I haven’t seen in a long time, comforting friends who have split from their girlfriends.
James: Real life takes over again.
Timothée: Yeah exactly, it’s always kind of a bummer when you leave behind all these people you’ve worked with for a long time on set, gotten close with, and just as you feel like you’ve found your rhythm personally and professionally you have to split. And you never see a lot of these people again.
James: In the beginning do you try and maintain those relationships, but then work out after a few projects you just need to embrace it for what it is?
Timothée: You just don’t stay in touch with everyone, it would just be impossible. Even leaving high school I had that experience of there being so many people I wanted to keep in touch with but you only end up keeping in touch with three or four. It doesn’t mean you don’t like the other people, but it’s just very hard. When there’s not an excuse to see someone like there is on a film set when you’re working together every day, then there’s an ingredient to your relationship that hasn’t been there before and that’s effort. If there’s an actor I work with that I really enjoy working with, I’m like, “Keep in touch.” Luckily for me because I’m young, a lot of the time that means meeting older actors that I look up to who I feel can help guide me. But then for all the other random relationships on the set that are so much fun, people you meet even locally, those are hard to keep up.
James: I guess everyone knows the deal. Did you manage to make Timo stick as your nickname on set, did it work?
Timothée: [laughs] No… there was still Timmy. But then I got to Austin and everyone on that production had called me Timo so it’s a weird stage in life trying to figure it out. I’m thinking about adopting James as a first name.
James: It’s a good one. I did some hunting on YouTube and a guy interviewing you for a recent film called you Timo. Did you brief him? It was an interview where the camera kept going in and out of focus.
Timothée: Oh! What? Yes yes… [laughs]. Yeah, two seconds before I told him to call me Timo.
James: “I’m rebranding, this is it.”
James: Everything is on the internet, all these performances you did at school… everything’s out there. How does it make you feel, is it ok?
Timothée: That’s just the way things are now, so that’s just who I am.
James: I guess it’s interesting to see the progression of someone’s career, if you were an actor growing up ten years ago even you wouldn’t have that back-catalogue out there visible for everyone to dig through. Do you think about that when you go for auditions? It’s a new problem maybe.
Timothée: No it doesn’t worry me.
James: That’s good. You did a lot of stage work at theatre school, there’s a lot of electricity in your live performance, do you miss it?
Timothée: Yeah, I’m hoping to do a play next spring in New York. That’s where the my real passion lies, when I was fifteen I did a play off Broadway in New York called Talls at a theatre company called Second Stage, and that’s what made me really want to take it seriously, to pursue acting professionally, because I’d been at LaGuardia, which is a performing arts high school, and I’d had a blast acting there all day long, you do four hours of drama classes every day, but I had never really thought about it as a career path. And then this play just happened to come about during the summer break so I didn’t have to miss any school, and it became my life for two months. As for the process of bonding on a film set like we just talked about, doing a play it’s that – but times ten. You’re doing the same work every night, you’re still exploring and finding new moments and you get so close with all these people.
James: It must be such an anti-climax, the first night after it ends.
Timothée: It’s really sad at the end when you have to leave everyone – that was hard, especially as I was fifteen. I was lucky because I just jumped into school, but if I hadn’t it would have been really hard. It’s such a thrill doing any sort of live performance that you just don’t get on camera, which is funny because what you do on camera will reach such a big audience, but [with theatre] in the moment you just feel the room and people are there, so that’s what I really love to do. I hope I get to do more of it.
James: You started in commercials when you were quite young, then onto acting school, TV and movies. In that whole period, what’s been the most challenging transition?
Timothée: I think it’s not so much the transitions between commercials and TV and film, it’s more about doing this at a young age can be hard. I was shooting Homeland while I was still in high school. You know, when you’re doing something professionally you want to feel confident and assertive on set, making strong choices and taking risks. Although you make strong choices and risks in drama school, I feel like it’s different because you’re being taught. You can’t bring this assertiveness to the table like you do on a film set where you’re supposed to collaborate. So it’s hard for me, when I was doing Homeland, where a director would maybe ask, “How do you think this should go?” Or, if I felt like something was awkward in a scene, something as simple as thinking, “I don’t think I should stand here, I think I should stand a bit closer,” or whatever, that’s hard to do as a sixteen-year-old. If you’re able to do that when you’re sixteen, seventeen on set, when you leave that set how do you continue your development as a teenager, which a lot of the time involves insecurity? They say your personality’s not fully formed until you’re 25, so how do you take that confidence and kind of drop it? That goes in every regard, dealing with agents and lawyers… by nature, especially when it comes to the legal stuff, you have to have an opinion, you know?
James: But that’s important for life in general too, you meet a lot of older people and all they have is confidence, but most of the time they’re wrong about a lot of stuff. You still need to be insecure on a certain level to be open to life and new ideas. This is getting quite deep… but you seem quite grounded. I’ve seen a ton of interviews, you seem to be switched on to the business. Is it because you’ve been involved in it for so long?
Timothée: Yeah, I think that’s part of it. I read in a book somewhere that what makes an asshole an asshole is for them to have an entrenched sense of entitlement. Like you’re really entitled to have everything great in your life, you deserve to have it. And you know, it’s more possible now to get your career started at a young age, I’m the first one to realise that if there were no such thing as cameras I wouldn’t be doing any of this stuff. So I really don’t feel entitled to anything. Another big thing is living in New York… I happen to be from New York which just happens to be one of the few places in the world that you can act professionally. With that same mentality I know that, as quickly as stuff comes and feels great and you have a lot of wonderful opportunities, I know it can go away in an instant. So I don’t want to ever feel entitled to this stuff, as soon as you do it stops being fun when you feel like you deserve to be in all these positions. I’ve been lucky enough where Homeland, Interstellar those are two things that I’ve done that have been really great that haven’t required a lot from me aside from acting. So I don’t think acting itself can destabilise someone’s psyche! But red carpet, or interviews in magazines can be hard when you’re so young.
“As quickly as stuff comes and feels great and you have a lot of wonderful opportunities, I know it can go away in an instant. So I don’t want to ever feel entitled”
James: I guess you’re expected to have an opinion about everything.
Timothée: Exactly, and then you’re getting driven to photo shoots and having pictures taken of you. Luckily I wasn’t the lead in Homeland or Interstellar , so it wasn’t like I was having to do press junkets. If I did have to I’m confident that I’d be fine. One of my good friends comforts me about these things, about the worries I have. He says, “Listen, the fact that you’re thinking about these things, that you have an awareness, will help you.”
James: The sense of entitlement is a weird one. I think often it’s pressed onto actors by publicists and managers.
Timothée: Right, I don’t have a publicist or a manager. I have what I need so that I don’t have to be the one negotiating deals! Besides that, how many adults do I really need to be dealing with at nineteen?
James: So you have a few projects on the go, One and Two we interviewed Andrew Droz Palermo [the film’s director] a few issues ago about Rich Hill [Droz Palermo’s recent film, which won the Sundance US Grand Jury prize].
Timothée: He’s great, very kind and communicative. This was his first narrative feature and nothing fazed him. Even if a camera went down, or he couldn’t use a light in a certain scene, he was calm, cool and collected. I’ve been really lucky, I haven’t worked with a hot head yet! But I’m just waiting for it…
James: So did you say you’re in college now?
Timothée: Yes I’m at Columbia University in New York, majoring in cultural anthropology. I had to take these two semesters off, but it’s something I’m definitely going to complete and it’s very important to me. Learning all those wonderful things and studying up, becoming knowledgeable in a subject… but really getting to hang out with kids your age and have those experiences.
James: Something like cultural anthropology is still intertwined with ‘the business’, it must make you think on a deeper level about society and then how that relates back to what you’re doing with your work.
Timothée: Oh yeah, it was really demoralising for me at first! I was like, “Wow, I’m not unique at all!” We’re all just the same, just products of our culture. It’s really humbling, so I appreciated it for that. It’s interesting because acting tends to be little individual character studies, or at least that’s how I try to approach it, it’s about specific, minute details about someone in addition to the general convictions they have that make them who they are. Cultural anthropology is the total opposite, the take on character studies is very broad. You’re not studying individuals you’re studying habits of cultures and groups.
“I think I just want to do stuff that every actor wants to do, things that are unique to me, roles that I will really able to be good in. I guess that’s what we all want, to be good.”
James: I know it’s a bit of a cliché to talk about the pressures of social media, but you mentioning cultures and groups reminded me – this generation is the first that’s had to deal with it. Is it something you feel you have to maintain as an actor, where do you draw the line?
Timothée: I’m happy to just put something out there when I feel like it. But it’s weird, a whole new world. I feel like every generation feels like they’re braving a new society that hasn’t been before, but I really feel like that. [laughs] I loved Birdman for that.
James: I feel like so many people have issues with social media, not just famous people, just people I meet every day who are bored of it. People can’t be bothered maintaining this presence, this second life anymore.
Timothée: Exactly, it’s not only public relations related it’s people-related. I remember in high school deleting my Facebook and that was the best decision I made. As soon as you’re alone you think, “Oh, I can check social media,” and sure you have the semblance of being with people… I think the first month you get social media it’s interesting and useful. That was my experience at least, it’s fun, you’re genuinely getting in touch with people you haven’t seen in a while, or that you want to talk to. But when you have it for more than a year then it just becomes like a nervous habit, at least for me. And that’s time that could be spent reading a book or whatever. Social media can make that harder, it can take away a lot of your time.
James: So are you going to stay in New York? You grew up there and are living there now. There’s that well trodden path of young actors going to LA, doing all that circuit, meeting all those people.
Timothée: I don’t know, a lot of my good friends from high school left for college, and I’ve lived here my entire life. I have a natural inkling to want to explore a little bit, to get out there. But if I want to keep acting I feel like that probably leaves three places: New York, LA and London.
James: So One and Two is coming out soon, and Adderall Diaries is also releasing in April I think and it’s quite anticipated. There’s a great still of you with some crazy hair doing the rounds online.
Timothée: Oh I can’t wait for that. It’s premiering in Tribeca Film Festival in New York. We shot it over last summer, I really can’t wait. All my scenes are with Ed Harris who is one my idols and such a pleasure to work with. I’m so proud of my work in that movie, it’s unlike anything I’ve done but more importantly there aren’t many roles like that for eighteen-year-olds. Maybe I was cut from all of it, we’ll see!
James: And I know it’s a luxurious question to ask, because it depends on the opportunities presented to you, but what kinds of roles would you like to start working on next?
Timothée: I’m glad that you say it’s a luxurious question – whenever I’m asked that my response is always, “I’m in no position to be picky.” I know people who haven’t worked yet but have agents and managers, and it’s like, “Why do you have a manager?” But I think I just want to do stuff that every actor wants to do, things that are unique to me, roles that I will really able to be good in. I guess that’s what we all want, to be good.