Interviewing Timothée Chalamet—the breakout star of this year’s awards season for his roles in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name and Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird—is both a marathon and sprint. A marathon because I first tried to speak with him back in August when I saw an early preview of Call Me by Your Name, and he’s been so busy that we weren’t able to find a time this week, roughly five months later. And a sprint because once you’ve got him on the phone, he has so much going on—and so many exciting things to talk about—that, if you are a mere mortal like me, you may feel unequipped to keep up.
Chalamet, 22, is right smack dab in the middle of the hectic glow that is the minting of a Hollywood star, and there is a real chance his good tidings will extend to walking home with the Oscar for Best Actor for his turn in Call Me by Your Name.
If he does win that statuette, it will be richly deserved. Though Chalamet has been a recognizable presence onscreen since his supporting role aside Matthew McConaughey in Christopher Nolan’s 2014 epic Interstellar, it seemed like he exploded this past fall with his performances in Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name. He is completely different and incredible in both, a nihilistic bad boy in Lady Bird and an earnest and innocent lovestruck kid in Call Me by Your Name, based on an André Aciman novel with the same title. It’s the latter role that proves that he’s not just a great new star, but a great new actor: He inhabits young Elio, infatuated with an older man, Oliver, played by Armie Hammer with such sensitivity and subtlety and honesty that you may be deeply—and maybe even painfully—transported back to the moment when you yourself first fell in love and obsession as a kid.
Chalamet’s character sighs and acts shy and steals glances and gets huffy and bats his eyes like a real boy, and though it’s a strange surprise to see a 22-year-old actor with few other notable roles appear in front of you so fully formed, that’s exactly what it’s like to see Chalamet for the first time in Call Me by Your Name.
He’s also been a welcome and fun presence on the Hollywood circuit, shouting out Frank Ocean and Cardi B at awards shows and bromancing with his co-star, Armie Hammer. In between charming Jimmy Fallon and an airport drop-off, Chalamet found time to call me twice for two conversations of about 15 minutes.
This time last year you were just a regular New York guy, and now you’re in the thick of awards shows. It must feel weird.
Timothée Chalamet: It’s funny that you use the word “weird,” because in some parts it is. But ultimately it’s gratifying. I’m really a fan of acting and storytelling. I grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, I love the theater; that’s how I fell into movie acting. The design has just been to challenge myself with great roles and work with good directors, and avoid the pitfalls for a lot of young actors.
What are those pitfalls?
Just more studio-oriented filmmaking. There’s nothing wrong with that, and certainly that’s on my radar. If there was something of a Christopher Nolan caliber, I would leap at that opportunity in a heartbeat. But a lot of these younger roles that are available to actors and actresses are CGI-heavy and press-heavy, so the acting experience of the job is kept to a minimum, and the special effects is high, and the exposure is crazy.
And what’s exciting about Call Me by Your Name is that it’s just a small movie that we humbly embarked on, trying to stay as faithful to the book adaptation as possible, trying to hope to make something that André Aciman was happy with. And Lady Bird was the same thing: It was just trying to do justice to Greta’s love letter to her hometown.
There was no design that they would come out at the same time or get this reception. I’m very young, but I’ve been at it at least for a little bit. I’ve been in projects that literally don’t work or don’t work on the level of anyone seeing them. So to be in things of dramatic value and integrity that people are responding viscerally and positively to, that’s what you dream of. Every actor’s career is full of peaks and valleys and I take that to heart.
That he’s an amazing human being. His generosity of spirit is unparalleled. I mean it. The roadmap for young actors and actresses, particularly when you are having a moment, can be not so healthy. I don’t have to wade into all the stories that are common knowledge to all of us. So to have a brother and role model and an incredible actor and a family man and a father and a husband who I’ve gotten to know so intimately—we were at the National Board of Review event and he was moving me to tears with what he was saying. I’ve never had the experience of meeting the famous actor and then totally transcending that, but I’m on the other side of it now. I know the human.
This will only make sense to people who have already seen the movie, but should Oliver have eaten the peach?
Listen, we did takes where he did. That’s just where that take landed naturally, where I was breaking down in his arms before he ever took a bite.
You grew up in New York—how old were you when your parents let you ride the subway alone?
What’s the weirdest New York thing that’s happened to you in the city?
Getting chased by a naked guy throwing his feces at me.
Wow. How old were you?
I’m so sorry.
I don’t see it as bad—it’s New York.
Best kisser: Armie Hammer, Saoirse Ronan, or your former girlfriend, Lourdes Leon?
[Laughs] No comment.
I wrote a piece about the film in which I labeled the characters gay, and people chimed in that they actually thought I was wrong, that the characters are bisexual. What do you think?
That’s the beauty of the movie: It does away with these stringent Western definitions of sexuality that we’ve all been constrained by, and presents a more organic view of these things.
You’ve been memed: There’s a photo being passed around of your face when you realized you were sitting next to Tonya Harding at the Golden Globes.
I was trying to tell myself: “Timmy, you’ve watched these awards shows, you could be on at any moment.” And yet, when Tonya Harding is sitting right next to you, that is my genuine reaction.
What was it like being a new actor in the room for this big #MeToo moment?
That was my first awards show, period, and I was really proud to be at an awards show with a tremendous sense of purpose and momentum and a feeling that there was an objective, and not just an annual event. I was super happy to be there with my sister, who is super proud of me, and get to share that moment with her. To be part of this moment and generation that changes things.
The Oprah speech was significant. You could feel it in the moment. And certainly there was a presidential tone to the speech that I felt like was palpable in the room.
Your director Greta Gerwig recently said she would no longer work with Woody Allen because of abuse allegations against him. You’re starring in Allen’s upcoming film, A Rainy Day in New York—do you feel the same way as Greta?
It’s going to be important for me to talk about that, but Call Me by Your Name is a movie about consent and love and it’s depicted in such a beautiful way that I don’t want to let anything take away from that right now.
That’s fair. How many takes of the now-famous shot of you crying by the fire did you need to do?
We were three days from finishing shooting, so living what we had just experienced, the scene took on a nostalgic quality, and it just felt like what the character was going through in the moment. We did three takes. One that was guarded, the second that was less guarded, and the third that was waterworks. And he used the second take.
What about the speech scene with Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays your father? That moment, in which he offers a really moving and intimate bit of advice after realizing what you’ve been going through, has resonated particularly with LGBTQ audiences.
The speech—that was one of the most joyous experiences on set for me. I remember not memorizing his dialogue, which I usually like to do with the other character. But I remember on the day that I just wanted to live that and hear it. It was a great moment of play, too. The description of the character in that moment was to just listen. To take on this idea that when we suffer, the worst thing to do is add another layer of suffering by beating yourself up about it.
What kind of reactions have you heard from people in the LGBTQ community that have stuck with you?
It’s been incredible. At Sundance, it was the first moment I had an instinct that the movie was resonating and inspiring a visceral reaction and it was when someone raised his hand and said, “You know, Michael Stuhlbarg in the movie was the father that I never had and the father that I needed.” Armie and I also both got a message from someone who came out to their parents after seeing the film. It’s a tremendous honor.
Update 5/16/18: In an Instagram post, Timothée Chalamet announced that he would be donating his salary from Woody Allen’s upcoming A Rainy Day In New York to three charities, Time’s Up, The LGBT Center in New York and RAINN.