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“It’s a dream come true in many ways,” says the 22-year-old actor Timothee Chalamet as we sit down at the offices of The Hollywood Reporter to record an episode of the ‘Awards Chatter’ podcast and begin discussing the last year in his life. During that time, he has appeared in three widely acclaimed films — Scott Cooper‘s Hostiles, Greta Gerwig‘s Lady Bird and Luca Guadagnino‘s Call Me by Your Name — two of which are nominated for the best picture Oscar (Lady Bird and Call Me by Your Name). Moreover, for his portrayal of Elio, a young man who falls in love while on summer holiday in Italy, in Call Me by Your Name, he recently became the youngest best actor Oscar nominee in 78 years (since Mickey Rooney was nominated for Babes in Arms) and the first person born in the 1990s to receive a nomination for that award. On Sunday, March 4, he could become the youngest person ever to win it. The specialness of what Chalamet is experiencing does not escape him: “This is a great moment,” he says with a smile.
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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below [starting at 21:30], following a conversation between host Scott Feinberg and Roger Durling, the executive director of the ongoing Santa Barbara International Film Festival, about Santa Barbara’s recovery from recent fires and mudslides, the fest’s evolution during Durling’s 15 years on the job and highlights of the nominee-packed 33rd edition.
Click here to access all of our 204 episodes, including conversations with Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Lorne Michaels, Gal Gadot, Eddie Murphy, Lady Gaga, Stephen Colbert, Jennifer Lawrence, Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Elisabeth Moss, Jerry Seinfeld, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Kate Winslet, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Aziz Ansari, Jessica Chastain, Denzel Washington, Nicole Kidman, Warren Beatty, Amy Schumer, Justin Timberlake, Natalie Portman, Tyler Perry, Judi Dench, Tom Hanks, Jane Fonda, J.J. Abrams, Emma Stone, Guillermo del Toro, Jennifer Lopez, Michael B. Jordan, Mandy Moore, Ryan Murphy, Alicia Vikander, Jimmy Kimmel, Greta Gerwig, Robert De Niro, Claire Foy, Bill Maher, Kris Jenner, Michael Moore, Saoirse Ronan & Jordan Peele.
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Born and raised in New York, Chalamet began acting — in school productions and a few commercials — before he was even a teenager. His appreciation for the full possibilities of acting, however, only came later, through three “really formative” spectator experiences: seeing Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight, and specifically Heath Ledger‘s performance, when he was 12; seeing a performance of Mike Nichols‘ Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman, which starred Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield, at 15; and catching up with Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Punch-Drunk Love while he was still in high school.
Chalamet’s first screen credit came in 2009, when, in the middle of eighth grade, he briefly appeared on an episode of Law & Order. Shortly thereafter, he enrolled at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts — the place that inspired Fame — where one of his classmates was Ansel Elgort, who beat him out for the leading role in many school productions, and one of his teachers was Harry Shifman, who became an important mentor. “Simply put,” he emphasizes, “I wouldn’t be acting without LaGuardia … I would not be acting without public arts funding.”
Throughout high school, Chalamet continued to juggle classes with professional jobs. He appeared in the off-Broadway production The Talls at Second Stage Theater in 2011 (“My first gig that I feel like was an actual acting gig”); on Showtime’s Emmy-winning drama series Homeland (he was cast just before his senior year, forcing him to withdraw from Jason Reitman‘s Labor Day); and in Trooper, a pilot, directed by Craig Gillespie, that ultimately wasn’t picked up, in 2013. Then came an opportunity to play Matthew McConaughey‘s son in Nolan’s Interstellar. Chalamet appeared before cameras for only 10 days, but spent months on set, during which McConaughey became something of a father figure to him, a relationship that continues to this day.
A “good source of tension for a number of years” in the Chalamet household was whether or not he would step away from acting for four years to pursue a college degree. Fellow actors Claire Danes and Cynthia Nixon urged him to go for the degree, so he enrolled at Columbia University and, for a while at least, juggled school and work. During his freshman year, his agent Brian Swardstrom, who is married to Peter Spears, one of Call Me by Your Name‘s producers, arranged a breakfast for him with Guadagnino, and for a subsequent meeting with screenwriter/then-co-director James Ivory, as a result of which he became attached to Call Me by Your Name — for three years, while its backers tried to bring it to fruition. (In the meantime, he also auditioned for — and lost — the parts that Tom Holland ultimately played in Spider Man: Homecoming and that Lucas Hedges played in Manchester by the Sea.)
Eventually, Chalamet decided to step away from Columbia for a while to pursue work. He wasn’t getting much — until he was. In 2016, he played the lead in the indie Miss Stevens; then made Hot Summer Nights, which is due out this spring; then starred in the off-Broadway play Prodigal Son, which was produced by Scott Rudin, and for which he won the Lucille Lortel Award for best actor; then, through Rudin, came to meet with Gerwig for Lady Bird and was told he’d play one of the two male roles; then went to Italy to make Call Me by Your Name; then, during preproduction for that film, auditioned for and was cast in Hostiles; then, after a week off following Call Me by Your Name, shot Hostiles; then came back to New York and started his second semester of college, now at NYU; then went to Los Angeles for two weeks to shoot Lady Bird; and then returned.
Chalamet suggests that all of these experiences were special, but that Call Me by Your Name, in which he plays 17-year-old Elio — who he describes as “contradictory, complex, confused, lost, brilliant, precocious, talented piano player, awkward” — especially so. “For Call Me by Your Name, the preproduction [which lasted for a month and a half, involved] an hour and a half of piano lessons every day, an hour and a half of Italian lessons, an hour and a half of guitar lessons and, depending on the day of the week, workouts, too.” He was paired for the film — without so much as a camera test or a chemistry test — with Armie Hammer, who in real life is almost nine years his senior, and it proved perfect. Hammer arrived in Italy weeks after Chalamet, so, much like their characters, Chalamet showed Hammer around and they quickly became close. “The relationship in real life was analogous to the film in many ways,” Chalamet acknowledges, before adding with a chuckle, “Obviously, not in every way.”
Once the cameras stated rolling, Chalamet started shining, in a part that calls for little dialogue, but much skill. The “most daunting” scene for him was one in which Elio plays several versions of Bach on a piano; Guadagnino insisted that Chalamet really be playing, and that the whole scene be captured in one take. He also has the much-discussed “peach scene.” And then, perhaps most impressively, he is in close-up for four minutes, mourning the departure of his lover, as the end credits begin to play over his crying face. (Three different takes, each with different aims, were filmed, he explains.) Audiences — and, clearly, Academy members — fell in love with Elio and the film about him, which has prompted some to ask Guadagnino if he would consider making a sequel in which the story continues. The filmmaker has said he is open to the idea. As for Chalamet? “I’m super-down,” he says. “I would operate a boom-mike on a movie for Luca. I would love to pick back up with these characters.”
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