Timothée Chalamet, the breakout star of 'Call Me By Your Name', is on the up and up as the next generation's leading man. Read his intimate chat with Frank Ocean and a special extended interview with Xavier Dolan.
Timothée Chalamet, the breakout star of 'Call Me By Your Name', is on the up and up as the next generation's leading man. Read his intimate chat with Frank Ocean and a special extended interview with Xavier Dolan.
A version of this article appears in the pages of VMAN39, available on newsstands now. Order your copy now at vmagazineshop.com.
Timothée Chalamet by Frank Ocean
“Elio, Elio, Elio,” hums Timothée Chalamet’s character in Luca Guadagnino’s romantic dreamscape Call Me By Your Name. Over the course of a fleeting yet formative summer in early 1980s Italy, Elio falls in love with an older visiting houseguest, Oliver (Armie Hammer). Based on André Aciman’s beautiful novel of the same name, the film illustrates a narrative of grueling desire and devastating passion. Chalamet also stars in Greta Gerwig’s lauded directorial debut, Lady Bird. As the youngest Oscar nominee for Best Actor in nearly 80 years, Chalamet is redefining the role of the leading man. And, as Frank Ocean finds out, Chalamet isn’t afraid of failure. DEVIN BARRETT
FRANK OCEAN Hello? This Timothée?
TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET Yeah, man. This is so exciting. It is an honor to speak to you, man. I’m such a huge fan. This is going to be a real test to keep my voice level and keep this as normal of a conversation as possible [laughs].
FO You got this. Where are you, man?
TC I’m in L.A. I’m from New York, but I’m here right now for the film, doing the last legs of promotion.
FO I hear you. I’ve been in your hometown the past few weeks. I’m furnishing my apartment here, sticking out the cold and paying my dues to become a New Yorker, at least part time. Do people really call you Timothée all the way?
TC My whole life I was Timmy and then as I got older, it seemed like Timmy was youthing me out, so it’s been Timothée since. I tried Timo and Tim, too. The real pronunciation is Timo-tay, but I can’t ask people to call me that; it just seems really pretentious.
FO That’s cool. Where is that from?
TC My dad is from France, so it’s a French spelling, but it seems like too much of an obligation to ask people to call me that.
FO That’s sweet. Very selfless. Has anyone on the street called you Elio yet?
TC That’s been happening. Though riding the 2 train or taking the M12 bus around the city, that hasn’t changed; I guess people don’t really give a fuck in New York. I actually get more people stopping me for Lady Bird, and going, “Is that the douchebag from Lady Bird?” So that’s awesome. I’ve seen certain actors, or musicians like you, keep a sense of integrity and mystery. That’s ultimately what’s been really awesome about Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird as an introduction [to me]: I was up for bigger, more commercial projects, but I didn’t get them. They just didn’t choose me, and it’s been gratifying, coming from more of a place of artistry and not just pure exposure.
FO Those films are excellent. I just finished Call Me By Your Name, the novel, yesterday, for more insight before we talked. It’s a really special role and an opportune, appropriate time right now in popular culture. I think it’s also good for you that this is your opening song. It’s such a proper foundation, to do roles like these that have so much heart and vulnerability in the very beginning, completely boutique or small, but on the lips of so many. Congratulations for the work and its effect and how it’s made people feel; it’s tremendous. Tell me about growing up in New York. I’m assuming this is you in high school, the statistics rapper Timmy T.
TC Oh, fuck. [Laughs.] I can’t believe you saw the statistics video. That’s embarrassing.
FO [Laughs.] I saw it on Ellen. I figured if Ellen’s talking about it, then it’s fair game. Tell me about that time.
TC That’s true. I went to LaGuardia, a performing arts high school. Without being “that guy that enjoyed high school too much,” a trope I don’t want to fall into, it was a really amazing place to go to school. I got to work creatively— I’m an over-exuberant guy and I can go a mile a minute, so having a place to channel that energy was really great.
FO What should I see while I’m in New York? I still just Google “top five places to get pizza.”
TC Mud is one of my favorite coffee shops, and Tompkins Square Bagels makes the best bagels in my opinion. East Village is my favorite neighborhood. Where are the good L.A. spots?
FO The place that I go to as soon as I get off the plane usually is Ohana, this little Hawaiian Korean BBQ spot in a Studio City strip mall. It’s been the same staff for the past 10 years. There are [photos of] struggling actors on the wall in frames and they have the best chicken potstickers, grilled fish, and short ribs in L.A.
TC A year ago, I was in Hell’s Kitchen, [eating] bacon, egg, and cheeses, kicking it at my buddy Will’s—tonight I’m going to the SAG Awards. It’s been a nonstop, weird-ass six months—a lot of fun, but trippy, too.
FO What’s the fit going to be for the SAG Awards?
TC It’s going to be...“Please don’t touch my Raf, please don’t touch my Raf” [laughs].
FO We’re giving Raf [Simons] this evening. I love it.
TC I’m such a fan boy. [Being involved] with fashion has been really fun, just as a fan. I don’t want to work with a stylist or anything. I’ve been following designers like Raf, Haider Ackermann, Hedi Slimane—these guys are like rock stars. They’re artists.
FO Yeah, they’re artists. There’s this really great connection between all these [creative] fields. You’re finding your own creativity and being excited about that; it’s cool. I’ve been into photography for six or seven years. It’s almost like this quiet search for joy. It actually provides me with the same feeling that making a record does: imagining or dreaming about something, and then it being in the real world.
TC “Dreaming a thought that could dream about a thought. / That could think of the dreamer that thought. / That could think of dreaming and getting a glimmer of God.”
FO [Laughs.] Don’t do that. When you’re on set, are you method acting?
TC I try to be super careful. The danger is you can end up focusing more on what’s going on off-camera than on-camera. You don’t want to be entertaining for the sake of being entertaining. The work should be the work. If it resonates, it’s going to resonate, and then people are naturally curious about how you got to that destination. It can’t be about how you’re getting to it.
FO People say you get to do some movies for yourself and others you do for the studio: how do you feel about making movies that aren’t as full to the brim with emotion and real feeling as the last two movies you made? Like, how do you feel about making Transformers?
TC As Kanye put it, Guillermo del Toro made Pacific Rim and that’s one of his favorite movies. His latest movie, The Shape of Water, is amazing. Christopher Nolan is tied with Paul Thomas Anderson [as] my favorite director. If one of those auteurs has a $200 million film and wants me to be a part of it, fuck yeah.
FO It seems like a good change of pace sometimes to do physically demanding films—the space, superhero, aggressive, big-budget action films.
TC Exactly. The project I’m jumping into is exactly that. I’m going to put on 25 pounds—I’m like a skinny little shit right now. Listen, I saw that one of your favorite films is The Master.
FO Yes. Joaquin [Phoenix], man.
TC Dude, that is my favorite actor. There’s five or six artists I’m really trying to follow in the footsteps of creatively. I get the opportunity to be on the phone with one right now [laughs], but on the acting side, Joaquin is number one for me.
FO The time period of 20th Century Women seems close to Call Me By Your Name, that ’80s time period. Did you get into these past eras of fashion and shit when you were doing the film?
TC Absolutely. I’m a total “nostalgist” and Call Me By Your Name’s director, Luca, grew up in that time period. In fact, the book is set in ’88 and he changed it to ’83 because he said that was the year in your life you can hear music from. In the movie, there’s Talking Heads, The Psychedelic Furs, or just the Bach or Beethoven—those are all songs from Luca’s youth, what it was like for him in Italy in the ’80s. Also, in 1988, the AIDS crisis had already hit and that was part of the reasoning for making [the film] a little bit earlier too, so it wasn’t as intense, and could be a little more utopic. What a tragedy for movies now that if you want to be contemporary, phones have to be involved, with texting and FaceTime. I don’t know if [the characters in] Call Me By Your Name would ever have that relationship if there was passive-aggressive commenting and “likes.” They actually had to talk, figure each other out, and struggle with their emotions.
FO And they had to wait to talk. You couldn’t just talk instantly, which I think is sometimes good for the conversation. I want to talk to you too [about] learning languages, in Call Me By Your Name. Can things be expressed or even felt differently, because of the language?
TC When I act in French, it’s really shocking to me how it feels more grounding than acting in English. I grew up speaking French with my dad, but it’s not a language I have as much command over, so when I speak or act in French, the words mean so much to me; I’m so focused. So much of Call Me By Your Name is silent and plays out physically; there’s kind of a push and pull. Acting in Italian, I’m really winging it: memorizing how lines sound phonetically, just trying to get the intonations and mannerisms right, so the lines ring true to Italian audiences.
FO When you were speaking Italian, was there somebody on set to call you out if it felt fake?
TC We had someone on set that could correct me. Same for [playing] the piano and guitar. I did a movie called Beautiful Boy this year that involved a lot of drug sequences, and that also felt very important to get right. I had a consultant on set for that.
FO You had a consultant for the drugs?
TC Exactly. It felt like a big responsibility to get that right. The movie is about addiction, and to get the actual using wrong would betray anyone’s experiences walking that path. It was very helpful.
FC I could see how it would be. You have the opportunity to learn all these things—seems like the best profession in the world for the curious spirit and mind.
TC I was in college for a little bit and it felt like a clear decision to not [finish]; it was scary because I didn’t want to rob myself of growing as a human. But it’s been the exact opposite: going from set to set, working with creative, open people, having mentors rooting for you. There’s education within that, I guess.
FO That [Call Me By Your Name] soundtrack is super good.
TC We listened to Sufjan Stevens [included on the soundtrack] with Luca and Armie [Hammer] right before we started shooting—that was an experience, to listen to that and, like, hold each other after. It’s awesome to hear you say that about the soundtrack. You’ve got to score a movie.
FO Yeah, one of these days. How many hours of piano went into it?
TC I had an Italian teacher, Roberto Solci, who had a painting of himself composing above his piano. He was absolutely brilliant and instinctual. I played a little bit of piano, but nothing like it was in the book or the movie. I worked with Roberto every day in a small apartment below Luca’s villa, and formed a really special relationship with [Solci].
FO Which school of thought are you in: that what you do is kind of in you, like a gift, this thing you’re really good at? Or, do you feel like whatever you decided to do and really believed in, you would’ve been good at?
TC I think I have to go with the first. I had this feeling I couldn’t not act and yet to get there I really needed teachers, and one teacher in particular, to make me comfortable with failing. To be bad and get over it—that opened the floodgates. I did a play in New York when I was 15, after this really difficult but ultimately helpful sophomore year in high school; that’s when it kind of took off for me. I’m also really passionate about music. I want to pursue other things creatively, not so much music, but definitely writing and directing. I’m going to be very, very patient about that. The dream as an actor is to be economically self-sustainable and what this year has been is beyond that now. I’m getting a creative license of sorts.
FO Cool. Well, I’m going to sign off. Best of luck tonight.
TC Thank you so much for this. It’s been such an experience, sharing personal thoughts about artistry and acting with someone that’s influenced me in many ways. This means the world to me.
Timothée Chalamet by Xavier Dolan
The artistry of filmmaking has always preoccupied Timothée Chalamet. Fittingly, the quality of the craft is more than apparent in his first major leading role, Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. To prepare for being on set, Chalamet has long immersed himself in complex cinema— movies like critically-acclaimed Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s I Killed My Mother. Here, Chalamet and Dolan meet up in Paris to discuss Chalamet’s creative sights for the future, his relationship with Armie Hammer, and the realities of love and pain. LISA MISCHIANTI
XAVIER DOLAN I don’t know where to start!
TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET [Laughs.] Well, thank you for doing this. It is not lost on me how lucky I am to have you opposite me doing this.
XD Of course, the pleasure is mine! When I saw Call Me By Your Name—my introduction to you—I had this sort of unconscious, although I guess quite voluntary, need to become close to you and befriend you, and Armie, and Luca. For that, I am a dangerous person who should be locked up!
XD But seriously, leaving the film, I had the feeling I knew you. Although I guess that’s what movies are trying to achieve: To connect us, strangers, and make us feel that we know the characters we’re presented.
TC Absolutely. I’ve been the biggest fan of your work for years. You direct films that make really strong, clear choices…the moment, in Mommy, when the actor opens up the aspect ratio—wait, I don’t want to ruin it!
XD Oh, everybody has spoiled that already. Thank you, you’re very sweet. Hearing you discuss film, clearly you’re very curious and cultured, and not an actor for any random reason. You talk about film in a vocabulary that, at your age, I wouldn’t been able to understand or use myself. So, what kind of artist are you? What are you looking for in your experiences with directors?
TC I look for a certain feeling, and I wouldn’t know how to describe it, but I know I’m always chasing it. I don’t quite know what it is that I’m after. I always like to think that the art doesn’t take place on screen, but in the audience member’s head. At a certain point I was able to come to grips with the idea to just “be.” That’s why I’m so impressed with Mommy or I Killed My Mother or Heartbeats, because you’re doing an incredible job just “being,” which is all I’m focused on while working. But you’re also weaving and keeping the story synchronized.
XD I hate the concept of a “generation”—we’re all different individuals…But do you feel that you belong to a generation of artists, and if you do, are there friends your age who share that same curiosity in the craftsmanship and fabrication of a film, rather than just people who dream of being wrapped in time to party after work?
TC Absolutely. Actors my age that I know have an understanding of how you can be shooting the most ecstasy-filled love scene of a movie at 5 AM on day six of the week. But I agree with you, generational definition doesn’t relate to film—such an old art form is kind of stringent. What’s really awesome about having a conversation like this with you at 22 years old as opposed to 19 or 20 is that I feel my understanding of what I like, my vocabulary, is more developed now. Luca is one of my favorite filmmakers—I hope to work with him again, and he has, in many ways, gifted me a career—yet, the Bertolucci passion of cinema that he has simply isn’t mine. I love those movies, but it’s not what made me want to act; it’s not something that feels intrinsic to me. So now at 22, when somebody asks me, Who are your favorite directors? Who do you aspire to work with? What do you like as a viewer? I can immediately point to filmmakers that work within my cultural vocabulary and my experience as a young person, like the Safdie brothers, because Heaven Knows What and Good Time are movies that feel so tonally new and refreshing.
XD What do you look for in a film? Is it the vision, the emotion, the uniqueness?
TC My favorite movie is James White by Josh Mond, and it’s a testament to the filmmaking that I couldn’t tell where the filmmaking was, anywhere. It felt like watching a man’s journey. Josh has his finger on what it is to be alive now. You keep seeing stories told with similar tropes, and that, as a viewer, is what’s scariest to me. I’m not worried about being bad in anything, because I know I’ll be bad in things, and that’s fine. But what scares me is the idea of being boring, and being part of stories I feel too familiar with, or being cynical for the sake of being cynical.
XD I’m curious to hear about Armie and you. It’s a very intimate story, and the whole movie revolves around the central piece of your relationship.
TC I wish everybody could hang out with Armie, because the nature of our relationship, the way it blossomed when we first met, was so conducive to what it is in the movie and so helpful. I was younger, way more inexperienced, and I knew seconds after meeting Armie that I was in the best hands. He’s an instinctual caretaker, which is so helpful to his incredible performance in the film: his character wants to succumb to his love and desire for another human being, but also doesn’t want to hurt him. It’s best epitomized in this scene where I’m sleeping in bed towards the end of the film, right before it cuts to the farewell scene at the train station. Oliver sits on the bed next to Elio and you see about 6,000 emotions go across Armie’s face: love, empathy, regret, and fear. There’s so much Armie in that moment; so much love there. We were also in Luca’s hands—this movie really is Luca’s baby, and any success it’s found is principally thanks to him. There was something truer to this experience than in any other movie I’ve been in. It felt like, hey, we gotta be into the director, but we gotta be into each other…
XD And you were.
TC We were! It was the setting, it was the town—culturally, if we wanted reference points it was with one another. There was the pressure that we had to do justice to the book, to André Aciman, to the book’s fans, yet there was this beautiful feeling where there wasn’t pressure because it was something really popular, or because there was an actor in it that sells a certain number of tickets. There was this idea that if this is gonna be good, it’s gonna be good because [it is good]. What excites me most as an artist is flow. That’s harder when the idea of show business or Hollywood is present. Flow here maybe was Italy, or preparing for a month and a half, or shooting on film and with one lens, but there was flow!
XD Was there a desire on Luca’s end for you to absorb the spirit of that space of creation?
TC Yes, which is Luca’s genius. Europeans know how to waste time better than Americans do! If we had shot the film the day I stepped off the plane from New York, it would’ve been manic and maybe half as long, because we would have been running through all the beats, instead of being there for a month and a half, and being in tune with a vision and experience of Europe.
XD How has your relationship with Luca evolved now that you have not only shot the film but also traveled with it to so many places, and it’s been so celebrated?
TC I’m figuring out adulthood as I’m figuring out these relationships. I had an excellent, intimate relationship with Luca through the process, and we were always in each other’s ears, but it wasn’t what it is now. It’s certainly nothing close to being peers, but I just get him more now. The amazing thing about Luca is that there are so many layers there. He’s really a blueprint for me, in terms of what I look for in a director.
XD Do you think this film will mold your tastes and make you more fastidious in choosing future projects?
TC It seems like a gift from the universe to be working on very artistic projects at a young age, so I’ll be very careful with what I’m doing next. But I understand how difficult it’ll be to replicate the experience [I had]. With Luca, we were shooting in his town, sitting in his screening room, watching movies he loves and knows a lot about. Luca has worked with his editor, producing partners, camera people, costume designer, and make up artists for 25 years. So you’re stepping into a system. It’s almost like the Warhol factory. That’ll be difficult to find and match.
XD You’ve said that Call Me By Your Name is a celebration of love and that it isn’t cynical. But do you feel that it is equally, and perhaps even more, about pain? I have a feeling that the most beautiful things in this film, the moments of pure bliss and simple loving and tenderness, are building up, inescapably, to that scene between you and Michael Stuhlbarg. People say how mature this film is, and I wonder if “mature” is just a word we use to talk about a movie that open-heartedly talks about pain, and celebrates it as well.
TC I don’t disagree that it’s perhaps more about pain—or equally about pain—than it is about love. Pain, after all, is mostly what Michael’s monologue is about. During that scene, I had a little voice at the back of my head saying, Hear this. Fucking hear this. When you’re suffering, or grieving, the only thing you can control or protect yourself from is the added layer of shame, beating yourself up over heartbreak, or forbidding yourself the pain. But there is no right way to grieve or to suffer. If it ever was about pain—the pain that relates to heartbreak or love—it’s about how to deal with it.