Chloë Grace Moretz’s latest project – acclaimed Amazon series, The Peripheral – transports us deeper into the 21st century, to a world distorted by future tech: one of uber-realistic VR that blurs reality and gaming, of cyborg avatars and programmed time travel. It’s a world that could easily feel distant and cold, yet Moretz imbues her protagonist – Flynne Fisher, a young small-town woman seeking pharmaceuticals to help her ill mother – with warmth, sensitivity and complexity.
Adapted by the visionary creators of Westworld from the 2014 novel by William Gibson, The Peripheral is centered around an ever-advancing digital landscape Moretz is well tuned into: the 25-year-old actor was an early adopter of VR and continues to be a passionate gamer.
Fellow actor Nick Robinson has known Moretz since the early days and will soon shape another disconcerting future in Angela Bourassa’s upcoming Turn Me On, where human emotion has been eradicated by a government-imposed daily pill. Both actors have been prolific since a young age, turning out solid performances and building enviable careers; now they connect to discuss futures – both fictional and professional.
Nick Robinson: Hello Chloë Grace Moretz, how are you?
Chloë Grace Moretz: I’m good, how are you? Are you in LA?
NR: I’m in LA, I’m in my garage. My family is in town and this was the quietest place in my house. Where are you? It looks like you’re somewhere fancy just based on the mirror behind you.
CGM: I’m in my house, you’ve been to this house!
NR: I would have guessed Paris just based on the mirror, that was my gut instinct.
CGM: I’m in the Paris of Studio City. [laughs]
CGM: Is your whole family in town?
NR: Yes, pretty much everybody, my little sibling Joy is really into Orville Peck, they got my mum into him and he was playing at The Greek last night so they all flew down and are staying with me. It was great, he’s really good.
CGM: That’s fun, Orville Peck is very cool.
NR: Yeah his whole aesthetic is on point with the mask and the rhinestones, it’s dope.
CGM: He’s sick. It’s like cowboy mixed with BDSM-light.
NR: Exactly, it’s very cowboy of today and very individualist, it’s what a cowboy is all about. It was a fun night. They’re all still here until the end of the week.
CGM: Are you going up for Thanksgiving?
NR: No, I’m going to Rochester, New York, on Monday to start work on something and I’ll be there until the end of December, so I’ll probably do Thanksgiving in New York this year. How about you? Do you have some downtime now or are you working?
CGM: I’ve been off, which has been so nice. I’ve just been doing press for the show, which has been tiring but really good. I was filming all last year for eight months, then I got back and just really wanted to not over-inundate myself unless I really cared about the project. I felt like I didn’t find anything that really stuck with me this year, so I just sat back and rested for the first time. I also did a lot of camping.
NR: I think I saw Instagram stories of some van life posts.
CGM: Yeah, we’re properly Overlanding now.
NR: Do you have a rig? Did you buy a van?
NR: Oh that’s sick!
CGM: Close enough, I have a 110 Defender, then on top I have a large iKamper and I’ve built out the inside so when we go camping we have all our stuff there whenever we need it.
NR: I’m actually jealous, I’m thinking about doing the same thing. I’ve got a Ford Ranger and I’m thinking about doing a bed tent but I’m trying to figure out the best one.
CGM: I like the iKamper a lot compared to other brands, it’s also really warm.
“I feel like when I turned 25 last February, something shifted for me.”
SHIRT AND TROUSERS BOTH BY THE ROW FW22
NR: Nice. Where do you go?
CGM: We went camping right below Yosemite in a place called Dinkey Creek, we were there during Memorial Day. It’s in an area where there are these huge glacier rocks and massive boulders which have been carved out with water over however many years, so there are these little swimming pools throughout the campground. It’s really cold water even though it was pretty hot when we were up there. It was really beautiful. Then at night the temperatures dropped down crazy because you’re pretty much in The Sierras, it was about 34 at night. It was really cold. The tent was warm though, but we were not prepared for that kind of cold. [laughs]
NR: That sounds really fun. I did a winter trip to Yosemite a few years ago and we went camping with a bunch of dudes who are way more outdoorsy than I am, I was so out of my depth. I had a 30-degree bag, we were camping in the snow and I was just freezing my ass off. It was dangerous actually. [both laugh] Yosemite is a special place though, that one trip left an impact.
CGM: It’s crazy.
NR: The nature there is insane, it just feels like this really special respite out of all the crazy stuff that goes on.
CGM: It’s been really fun. Last time we spoke we were talking about bikes, you have a dual sport bike, right?
NR: Yeah, there she is! [turns the camera to bike] I also have an electric one now which is cool too. It’s fun because you can take it to bike trails even though it’s a little bit of a grey area in terms of whether you’re actually supposed to… But you can, so I can ride it up into Griffith Park which is ten minutes from my house and I can just be in the woods on these trails, which is sick. Did you end up getting a bike?
CGM: I’m getting a Honda CRF250RX.
NR: Fuck yeah, dude! That’s sick. Hit me up when you get it because I’m always looking for people who ride.
CGM: We went riding yesterday up in Hungry Valley. Have you been up there?
NR: I haven’t, is it a good ride?
CGM: Super fun! It’s 200 acres of just trails, you can follow them and there are motocross areas.
NR: That’s the great thing about California, you have so much access to all this terrain and I feel like owning the bike has definitely opened me up to that, whereas before I wouldn’t have gone out as often. I was going to make a terrible segue into the show because of the electric bike and the bike you ride in the show… [both laugh]
CGM: Have you watched it?
NR: Yes, I watched the pilot and it’s sick.
CGM: Thank you!
NR: I want to know more. It’s like any good episode of TV, it’s setting up this world and leaves you with way more questions than answers at the beginning.
CGM: It’s an interesting world. Have you read any of William Gibson’s work at all?
NR: No, did you read the book?
CGM: Yes, I did. I read the book before going in and meeting with Jonah [Jonathan Nolan] and Lisa [Joy, creators of The Peripheral]. I remember reading Neuromancer when I was probably too young to take on such a heavy lifting of a book, but because my brothers were all into sci-fi I was like, “Okay, I’ll read it too.” It’s just so dense and expansive – he is the godfather of so much sci-fi. Especially the way he does speculative fiction.
NR: Is speculative fiction set in the short- term future with things that could be a reality relatively soon?
CGM: Yes, speculative fiction basically deals with the future that is right around the corner, it’s a realistic, tangible take on fiction that isn’t a dystopian future.
NR: So it’s a recognisable future.
CGM: Exactly, and it deals with plausibility, especially the economic side of it, which is what William really digs into in the book. We touch on it throughout the season, but I hope we’ll go deeper in season two. In particular, it really touches on healthcare and how unaffordable it is, what people have to do to make ends meet. That’s what Flynne and Burton [Moretz and Jack Reynor’s characters in the show] are trying to do the whole time – try and make the money for the medication their mother needs to survive. It really deals with a realistic future.
NR: It’s cool that it’s set in 2035 because it does seem all the more relatable. As a viewer, you’re watching it, recognising the world. There are obviously subtle changes, but it is something you can wrap your head around a little easier than something like Westworld. In season two I was like, “Wait, what?” [laughs]
CGM: This is from the creators of Westworld Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, and it’s interesting to see their departure from that. A lot of people have referenced the differences between the two shows, it is interesting how drastic they are. The way I describe this show is it’s sci-fi with a heart, in the sense that you don’t get so clinical because no matter how far you go into the future in 2099 London, you always boomerang back home to Flynne and Burton in their small town. You always know the reasons why you’re going into the depths of what you’re going into, whereas I think some other sci-fi can feel very clinical and sterile.
NR: Totally, I liked that. I also didn’t realise that London was set in 2099, I thought it was around the same time – I didn’t know you were actually time travelling. Spoiler alert!
CGM: So what we learn in episode two – just to give you a little nugget – is that she’s piloting a robot body in future London, and the people she’s working for kidnap that girl and use her eyeball in the next episode to get into the depths of the RI [Research Institute]. Flynne realises she’s being used as a pawn between the government, the RI and the Russian oligarchy. Then she decides that, as she has the information they all want from her, how can she use that to get what she needs?
NR: Cool, that’s good to know and you didn’t give too much away so I can continue watching!
CGM: There is still a lot more to learn. [laughs]
NR: Looking at sci-fi through a pragmatic lens and in terms of the economic incentives that would push these technologies to be as widely adopted as they are is a very interesting take, because it’s playing within the same rules as the present day. You’re not making up something entirely different. Did you like sci-fi growing up? Was it something you were drawn to as a kid?
CGM: I think you are a product of your environment in a lot of ways; I grew up with four boys in the house, so Star Wars was always on, and my dad was a huge Trekkie so I grew up watching Star Trek too. I was always surrounded by sci-fi, comic books and video games, I was just immersed in that world in general. Then as I got older I started getting my own interests in tech and sci-fi, the possibility of futurism, what that could actually look like and what’s tangible about it. Sci-fi as a genre in our medium is interesting because there are so many different facets. On one hand you have Blade Runner, on the other, you have Alien, so there are so many different routes and shapes it takes. It’s a huge banner of a genre that so many things are encompassed within, and I think it’s exciting to play with.
NR: I have a VR headset and I think it’s a fun toy, but this takes it to another level. Did you have any experience with VR before you went into this?
CGM: Yes, I had an Alienware PC that powered the first version of the Oculus headset, which was huge and bulky, but I had that back in 2014.
NR: You were an early adopter, you were OG!
CGM: I’ve always been into that.
“Any art form is based on so much of your personal self, it isn’t a sport or something that is statistically quantifiable in terms of what we can achieve.”
NR: That’s sick, I remember my first interaction with VR was this cardboard headset you could order from The New York Times that you put your phone into.
CGM: You put the phone in the slot, yeah!
NR: That was in 2016 and it’s crazy how far it has come even since then. So it feels totally plausible that ten or fifteen years from now you could be in a place where you have a headset somewhat similar to the show.
CGM: What really drew me to it, when I was reading the book, was the idea that time travel feels super implausible, it feels like it’s not able to be done and kind of silly. But when you think about time travel in the sense of data transfer – that it’s as simple as connecting computers to computers being able to transmit data – it feels like the only way we could possibly do that. This is a fun way into something that could feel alienating but, in actuality, it’s as simple as clicking a button transmitting data. That could be the way you communicate with the past or the future.
NR: That is pretty fascinating, I don’t pretend to know much about time travel but I know the whole theory behind it is that if you’re able to travel at the speed of light, then time no longer operates under the same rules. So as you said, if you could send data at the speed of light then maybe that is time travel.
CGM: I read an article recently about how they are now able to transfer the equivalent of all the data in the world currently online in a second, through lasers. It’s crazy.
NR: Oh my god, that is wild. Did you get to talk to any experts or tech people in the making of this?
CGM: That’s definitely something Jonah and Lisa enjoy about creating shows like this, they really allow the actor to have things that are tangible. Throughout the whole process, we weren’t working with a lot of green screens, we were actually dealing with a lot of physical reality. The same thing goes for the concept of the future, they work with scientific futurists to figure out what is the most realistic circumstance we could find ourselves in. All the phones we were using in the show are only now being realised, they went to Samsung and all these different companies to get the most advanced tech they could find. It was really cool to see the amount of in-depth precision they went into to show how the world might actually operate. One of the big things you’ll see when you watch more episodes in future London is that the past isn’t erased, so it’s not like people are going to take down their monuments and get rid of everything. The interesting thing about the reality of the world is we’re walking among ruins of the past all the time. If anything there is a sense of wanting to preserve the past the more we get into the future, and take care of our monuments. We rented out Trafalgar Square so we were filming there – all of the places we were filming in London were the actual locations, so that all made it feel more integrated.
NR: That’s very cool. How was shooting in London? You said it was eight months, was it all of 2021?
CGM: We got there for pre-production end of March and we started [shooting] a month after that. We wrapped in London on September 20th, then we went to Asheville, North Carolina, and filmed there until around 20th of October, and that’s when we officially wrapped. So it was eight months all in. It was really intense.
NR: I feel you, I did an eight-month job from 2020 to 2021 and it was intense.
CGM: I thought about you a lot during this actually, because I remember we were talking a bit during that time period when you were filming Maid. I’d never done TV, I’d only done guest appearances on Desperate Housewives when I was like seven years old. But I’d never actually been on a show every episode, and I remember you just being like, “It’s a really long time and it’s kind of intense.” That was the basis of what I felt the entire time, it was incredible and I felt really lucky to be a part of it, but it is a marathon. It was a 117-day shoot and I was in 113 of those days split between both worlds.
CGM: I was shooting episodes one through eight in a day, in both worlds with different directors.
NR: The thing I did was block shot, so it would be two episodes at a time, and it was one character. Having to jump back and forth between times and keep all of that in your head, did you develop a system? Did you have a giant calendar or binder somewhere? [both laugh]
CGM: I came up with this idea of colour-coding, so we had the massive one line then we had all the scripts. I had them break all the scripts into mini-scripts, and then I colour-coded them blue, pink, white etc. We would colour-code them to the one line, so when they printed the call sheet out everyday, or when I looked at the one line, I would know on a certain day I’d need to bring purple, yellow and green to set for example, which would mean three, seven and two. Having the mini versions on set meant I would read a couple of scenes prior, so I would know exactly what I was walking out of or if I was in future London and now I’m in [the fictional town of] Clanton, what did I just learn in future London and how would that pertain to what I’m going through now? What you also find out throughout the story is there is a very physical repercussion that happens every time I might die in the robot body, or something else happens, there is a physical consequence. So there was also this physical storyline I was trying to keep a hold of. That was probably the hardest part – trying to make sure that continued to make sense.
NR: Tracing not only your character’s mental state but the physical state as well.
CGM: In a short timeline too, it’s eight episodes but I think it’s only a two-week time frame.
NR: So it all has to track pretty directly. Continuity-wise, you’re talking about [a story across] days not weeks. That sounds intense but also a fun challenge, it sounds like you had the right mindset. It’s cool you had time to read stuff prior, so you at least knew where you were supposed to be in a scene, that is always helpful. Is every episode directed by a different director?
CGM: No, we only had two directors which was nice. I think any more directors would have been really intense! Vincenzo Natali was our first director and Alrick Riley was our second. Vincenzo actually brought this story to Jonah and Lisa, he has a very close relationship with the author William Gibson. Vincenzo was our guiding ship throughout the whole time and for any questions, he had the voice of William Gibson, so he would talk to him and bring information to us. He would also give us the blessing of William Gibson, which is a huge deal in a lot of ways, we were really hoping to have that. On top of it all, they really gave me a lot of trust in the collaboration, they allowed me to go there with Flynne in the ways I really wanted to. There were also a lot of synchronicities between myself and her, we’re very similar in a lot of ways, which they allowed me to feed into. The small town of Clanton was filmed in Asheville in a place called Marshall and it’s only a 40-minute drive from where my father’s side of my family is from in Hickory. So the accent and everything was pretty easy for me because it was what I grew up with… and had to get rid of. They all let me lead the accent and set the tone for stuff in Clanton which was really cool.
NR: I knew you were from Georgia, I remember you talking about starting out having a really think Southern accent and having to go to a dialect coach to lose it. So it was easy to slip back into?
CGM: Too easy. [both laugh] Now I have to work to get rid of it again.
NR: It’s like Pandora’s Box.
CGM: 100 per cent, I now can’t go back. I used to slip into it if I was tired or if I was drinking or fighting, the accent would come out. [both laugh] But now it’s around the corner at every exchange and I can’t really get rid of it. I’m having to actively walk back the accent which is funny.
NR: You’re back to square one, you’ve got to go back to your dialect coach.
CGM: Full fucking circle, Nick. [laughs]
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NR: Even this interview is a like a circle – we’ve worked together before, and we move in similar circles, and we were also having a somewhat similar experience with our eight-month shoots. I don’t know what the point I’m trying to make is! But I just thought I’d highlight that there are lots of circles.
CGM: This is hilarious. We’ve known each other since I was seventeen.
NR: I think I was nineteen or twenty, that was back in 2015.
CGM: Wow. We have been in the same circles for so long now, and it’s so cool we’re still doing it, and that we really love it, because I feel like it’s hard when you start young. I know you started young as well. You never know if the people you work with are still going to be doing it when you get older, so it’s nice to see we’re in the mid-and later side of our twenties now, still doing this and still really enjoying it.
NR: How do you keep the flame burning, so to speak? What it is that refills your passion towards acting? I’m asking for advice, basically. [both laugh]
CGM: Honestly, a few years ago, when I was about nineteen, I decided to take a little step back. I pulled out of the more studio side of things and from the obligations I had agreed to at the time. I wanted to figure out what I really wanted to do, and I think in a lot of ways it has taken those six years for me to implement the things I learned over that time period, and to grow up. I feel like when I turned 25 last February, something shifted for me. When you’re a child actor, so much of it is about doing as much as you can in the projects you’re offered and the opportunities you have. For me now, not working all year was such a juxtaposition because, on one hand, I was like, “Oh my god I’m never going to work again!” [laughs]
NR: There is always that fear, I do the same thing. But you did it, how did it feel?
CGM: It was horrifying in a lot of moments, and then at the same time it was really gratifying because I just listened to my heart. I didn’t listen to my head because my head was telling me I need to work and be out there. I listened to my intuition and my heart on what I connected to. I was able to sit in the quiet of that and figure out why. I thought about what else I could be interested in, and about things outside of this industry which interest me. Being able to travel, being able to be outside in the woods, being able to play video games for twelve hours, whatever it was I wanted to do, I had the opportunity to actually do it. I also got to take really great meetings, and sit down with really cool directors, wonderful writers and producers just to have the basis of communication to start relationships, which I feel I hadn’t done outside of talking about a certain project. Do you know what I mean?
NR: Totally. Building relationships and also just being able to reap the fruits of your labour in a lot of ways, for you to be able to be in a position where you can say, “Okay, let’s pump the brakes and figure out what it is that I actually want.” That’s a testament to all the work you did prior to being able to take a second to breathe. I think that’s really important and I applaud you for it, it’s a very brave decision.
CGM: Any art form is based on so much of your personal self, it isn’t a sport or something that is statistically quantifiable in terms of what we can achieve. So, what is wonderful, is that as you grow up and change, your interests should shift and what you really want to achieve should shift. Leaving the space to be able to figure that out is so important, especially with America’s idea of work and how we’re supposed to continue to grow. The question people always ask is, “So what’s next?!” And it’s like, “Fuck, I don’t know.” That is something people are so terrified of not having the answer to and I think it’s really important to confront that and ask, “Why do I feel like I have to have an answer?”
“The way I go about my roles and the way I go about acting has changed so much.”
NR: Totally. I think sometimes people conflate work for growth. Just because you’re working does not necessarily mean you’re growing. Sometimes it can have the opposite effect where it can feel really demoralising and stagnant, it can feel like you’re not learning anything. Then it becomes a question of, “What’s the point?” If I’m not growing from this experience and I’m just doing the same thing over and over again, then that’s not fun or interesting. What is exciting is being able to surprise yourself, and change your own point of view or perception of yourself through your work, versus finding a lane and sticking to it. I think that can be the mishap of starting out so young – it’s amazing being able to have this experience young, and have a head start, but it can also lead to feeling a little frozen in time because you do miss out on other experiences.
CGM: I feel like you’ve always had an interesting path, it was really cool to see when you went on stage. Did you find that really restorative in a lot of ways to get away from being on camera and push yourself in different areas?
NR: Yes and no, I found it to be restorative, but I also found it to be fucking exhausting. It was really hard, but it was something I really wanted to do. It was more my own experiment to try to reconnect with the medium I initially fell in love with and what made me love acting so much, to try to reconnect with that kid. I wanted to stoke the fire again. It was great, it was exhausting, it was fulfilling, satisfying and I am so glad I did it. I think acting is so much to do with how you are as a person, what experiences you’ve had, what experiences you can bring to a character. So, if you’re not allowing yourself to have experiences, you’re really selling yourself short, and it’s going to ultimately impact your work. It’s good what you’re doing. I don’t love talking about acting because sometimes I just feel like I get down a rabbit hole and people reading it are just like, “This fucking dude.” [both laugh]
CGM: The reason I bring it up is that it’s something I’ve been feeling like I really want to do. The last time I was on stage I was about seventeen in The Library with Steven Soderbergh and we did that at The Public Theater. The way I go about my roles and the way I go about acting has changed so much, I really want to get on stage as an adult and see what that feels like in an experimental kind of way. I know how exhausting it is but I want to jump into that.
NR: I think you should, my only advice would be to live close to the theatre because I stupidly lived two trains away and that was honestly one of the hardest parts.
CGM: Were you in Brooklyn?
NR: I was in Brooklyn and the L train was sketchy at the time because they were doing improvements. It was always a harrowing experience to even get to the theatre let alone get back home again.
CGM: Live close to the theatre, not metaphorically but physically. [laughs]
NR: Physically close, yes! Get an apartment next door to the theatre and you’ll be fine.
Interview originally published in The HERO Winter Annual 2022.
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