Timothée Chalamet talks to one of his inspirations, Frank Ocean, about film, music, and the art that influences them.
Timothée Chalamet talks to one of his inspirations, Frank Ocean, about film, music, and the art that influences them.
This article appears in the pages of VMAN39, available on newsstands February 22. Pre-order your copy now at vmagazineshop.com.
“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.
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.