At just 21 years old, Timothee Chalamet is already experiencing the kind of acclaim that many actors wait much longer to achieve. Just in the past few days, he has won Best Actor from the Los Angeles Film Critics, New York Film Critics, and National Board of Review for the film “Call Me By Your Name.” He has also received breakthrough actor prizes from the Gotham Awards and Hollywood Film Awards.
In this Sony Pictures Classics film, Chalamet plays Elio Perlman, a 17-year-old American living with his family in Italy during 1983. An older American graduate student named Oliver (Armie Hammer) arrives to stay with the family and work alongside Elio’s father Lyle (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Greco-Roman culture professor. Elio and Oliver begin a romantic and then sexual relationship throughout the summer. The movie is written by three-time Oscar-nominated director James Ivory (“A Room with a View,” 1985; “Howard’s End,” 1992; “The Remains of the Day,” 1993).
We recently interviewed Chalament about his new movie. Watch the exclusive video above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby: Timothée, I’m interested to know off the top of the bat here, when you first saw “Call Me by Your Name” all put together after you had shot it and they had edited it, what was your first reaction?
Timothée Chalamet: Well I got the advice to see the film before it premiered at Sundance because it would be too surreal an experience to see it there for the first time and was totally shocked by the experience, because I was watching this film I had dedicated three months but really had been built up for three years to with 1,100 people for the first time so I wasn’t able to really actually see it and appreciate it for what it was, but when I saw it a month later it was at another film festival. That time I got to see myself in a Luca Guadagnino film and what that means is to be in a boundary-less expression of an idea, the way in I “Am Love” Tilda Swinton has a very famous lovemaking sequence in the grass. It’s kind of a combination of nature and celebration of love and within this film, this boundary-less film lent itself to a pure celebration of love where there’s guys with guys and guys with girls and guys with peaches, and it’s simply in the name of, like I said, purely celebrating joy, purely celebrating love without an ounce of cynicism and finding all the joy in love but also treating it with the heartbreak that also accompanies love and not extinguishing it as Michael Stuhlbarg’s character says but actually delicately nurturing it and savoring the experience for what it was, which is kind of how I think of the film.
GD: Well we were interviewing Luca just a few minutes ago and he said it wasn’t a difficult search for this title character, for the main character, you. They fell in love with you right from the beginning and it was your role. Why were you such a great fit, do you feel, for this particular character?
TC: Well, to some extent, I have a European background my father’s French so I speak French, and so I think a small town understanding of European life in such a way that was specific to France but there’s a European sensibility that I just wouldn’t be as instinctual to other American actors and also I’ve done a lot of stage work at a young age and had already handled some lead roles and things so I think that was attractive to Luca as a filmmaker particularly because with younger actors often you don’t really know what you’re getting, unless you’re Brooklynn Prince in “The Florida Project” and you’re like the greatest revelation in the last 30 years. That movie’s awesome (laughs).
GD: Don’t promote other movies!
TC: Yeah I know, right? I’m gonna get in trouble.
GD: She’s not in your category for awards so you’re okay there.
GD: The movie’s set in 1983. What’s it like being on the set and you’re reliving a timeframe that was long before you were even around?
TC: Well it was a responsibility for almost everyone from that time period to fans of the book, to fans of the book that lived in that time period. And certainly as an actor, I’m not biggest purest about these things. The parts of yourself as a human that bleed appropriately into the character I think are always fine but when you’re going period you do have to be careful about not doing anything that contemporaneous or would strike, most important, somebody who lived through the ‘80s or a fan of the book as false or unreal.
GD: And now that you’ve worked with Luca and you’ve spent those weeks with him, he’s such an incredible filmmaker, what’s he doing that you’ve seen up close that maybe other directors aren’t doing? Why is he so good?
TC: Because similar to the boundary-less expression that love takes in the film, it’s not defined. The house is a character in as much has a human is a character in as much as the food is a character and they all bleed into each other and it’s very unclear. As a filmmaker he very much desires his actors. He desires the set design. He desires his cinematographer. So more than anything you lose any sort of anxiety about, “Oh, does this guy think I’m any good?” He doesn’t read his actors. I was 17 and he attached me and I really hadn’t been in anything yet and that gives you a tremendous sense of belief in yourself ‘cause you think, “Okay this guy really knows what he’s doing because his other movies are incredible and he wants me to be in this one and he clearly has little reservations about it.” He was so confident on set, he’d roll his eyes at me but like, he could be on his phone setting up a shot ‘cause he just knew so specifically what he wanted.
The name of the game for me at a young age and particularly as someone that’s not very well known, people watching this probably have no idea who I am, but it’s just to keep working with great directors, telling great stories, working on roles that are challenging and complex and push the boundary in such a way that it’s not not believable but rather just new and exciting. Lucas Hedges in “Manchester by the Sea,” or I just saw “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” with an actor named Barry Keoghan in it, he’s a little bit older than me and these are young performances that are really inspiring. As a young actor you can often be the son or the brother in a family, so dealing with roles of substance and that are complex, it’s a great gift.
GD: A couple of the things about your role, I’m guessing you had to learn, you said you already were speaking French but did you have to learn to speak Italian?
TC: I mean, they’re both romance languages so the syntax and the grammatical structure is similar. Conjugations are different, some of the rules are different, so I worked with an Italian tutor an hour and a half every day leading up to the film just trying to get the structure right and something that helped even in the common conversation in town, getting espressos, things of that nature, ordering spaghetti. But I would maybe have approached it a little bit differently and certainly if I work in a dialect or a language that’s not my own in another film I think I would memorize phonetically as opposed to really trying to tackle it as a language ‘cause the recent languages take years to learn. And certainly the piano playing, I worked with a really brilliant Italian composer his name is Roberto Solci, very well-respected in that region of Italy and we worked on Ravel and the Bach, about an hour and a half every day and he lives in the apartment right underneath Luca’s and has a big oil panting of himself composing above his piano. So, not every day you have that experience in New York so I was happy being there.
GD: And Armie Hammer, I’m sure you were already familiar with his work right before you did this movie. What’s he like, opposite him acting in scenes?
TC: You know, for a young actor it’s the biggest gift in the world because particularly with the spontaneous nature of this story and the way these characters play out, there’s a lot of actors his age, of Armie’s stature that could have brought some sort of ego or would have just been less generous with their acting and their humanity. I learned so much from Armie as an actor before I ever worked with him, watching “The Social Network” with Andrew Garfield, Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Johnson, Rooney Mara, that’s like the generation above me, they really set the tone for us newcomers and what is really boundary-pushing filmmaking. But then work with him too, the experience in life but particularly in filmmaking and acting is the greatest teacher and there’s just some habits that Armie has, or Steve Carell I just worked with on “Beautiful Boy,” that come with years and you can try to pick it up as a new guy but it’s just tough. It comes rightfully with the passage of time.
And then just as a man, Armie’s become one of my best friends, just the way he carries himself as a husband and a father. The roadmap for male actors can be a little suspicious at times, just as it is for any artist I think in any business, it can be hard to be financially sustainable and mentally sound at the same time while making great work. And yet Armie, by luck of the universe I’ve been presented with a roadmap that is very much very attractive as a family man. That was my experience working with Steve too, last spring.
GD: We enjoyed seeing you at the Hollywood Film Awards the other night. You got the Breakthrough Performer of the Year award. Are you ready for this awards track where you’re at every event, every reception, all these red carpets, are you excited about that?
TC: Well look, it’s a day at a time and what the experience of shooting this film was is the cake and what I learned as an actor, I really came of age as an actor, really as an adult in many ways, I went there in one position, I came back with this film under my belt, that’s the stuffing. And the reception at Sundance and all that, that was like the icing on the cake. And now this stuff now, that you’re alluding to, that would be so appreciated but really, like you said, “What’s it gonna be like being on this track,” I really don’t assume any sort of track. To assume at 21 and to assume two years out of a play audition that might have gone wrong or something one that I didn’t get, that seems surreal or something, so, day at a time.
GD: Well we’re an awards website so we love asking these awards questions. I just told Luca, and I’ll tell you, if James Ivory wins an Oscar for his screenplay he’ll be the oldest Oscar winner ever. You could be the youngest Best Actor ever. What do you think about those kinds of scenarios?
TC: Well I think James is long overdue.
GD: He is, it should have happened a long time ago. His films are incredible.
TC: To claim to have been around them contemporaneously would be a flat-out lie, but this man created a genre of filmmaking almost, and had Daniel Day-Lewis and Helena Bonham Carter as discoveries, and not the titans that they are. So I would be… to get to be part of the James Ivory that finally gets its recognition, that would be the greatest honor or thing I can imagine related to this experience.
GD: And that question I said about you becoming the youngest Best Actor winner ever, you kinda glossed over that.
TC: Yes, I’m getting more savvy at these things. No, I’m kidding. I really mean it when I say the experience of doing this, what it was, in addition to the way it’s been received or even a project like “Beautiful Boy,” Jeremy Kleiner and Felix van Groeningen are the producer and director on that, they had a chance to see “Call Me by Your Name” before they ever cast me in that, so in relation to projects like that it has already helped so much. So to being just included in the conversation with these legends, I mean, guys I’ve been studying and watching very closely for years, that’s already insane to me, the idea that it would go any further than that is preposterous.
GD: I understand. You don’t wanna jinx it but listen, we do this for a living and I think we’re gonna be seeing you on a lot of red carpets over the next few months.
TC: (crosses fingers awkwardly) That’s supposed to be fingers crossed but it ended up looking like an alien disfiguration.
GD: That’s harder to do on a computer camera.
TC: Yeah, on a webcam.
GD: Listen thanks so much, thanks for bringing us, you and Luca and everybody such a great film for us to see this holiday season.
TC: Thank you for showing it love. The desire is for it to be seen by as many people as possible, and hopefully it will.
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