VARIETY – “I wouldn’t be the actor I am without New York,” says Timothée Chalamet. The 21-year-old breakout star of three upcoming movies with Oscar buzz (“Call Me by Your Name,” “Lady Bird” and “Hostiles”) grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, graduated from LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, studied at both Columbia and NYU and now resides in the East Village. On his way to work these days, to shoot the (still untitled) Woody Allen movie starring Selena Gomez, he rides the subway instead of taking a chauffeured car.
Doesn’t anybody recognize him? “Not at all,” says Chalamet, who appeared in character parts in Showtime’s “Homeland” and “Interstellar.” But his anonymity is about to end with the release of Sony Pictures Classics’ “Call Me by Your Name,” which opens on Nov. 24. In Luca Guadagnino’s coming-of-age drama, Chalamet plays Elio, an American teenager in Italy who falls for an older man (Armie Hammer). Critics have been raving about the art-house film, comparing it to “Brokeback Mountain.” And Chalamet could be the youngest man to be nominated for a lead-actor Oscar since Mickey Rooney for 1939’s “Babes in Arms.”
He spoke to Variety about his career so far.
What was it like seeing “Call Me by Your Name” for the first time at Sundance?
It was really overwhelming. All the advice I got was to watch it beforehand, so I wouldn’t be in my head while watching it with a group of people. That proved to be true. In the Q&A, some people were responding so positively to Michael Stuhlbarg’s monologue toward the end of the film. It was the first moment where I thought, “Oh wow, people might be affected by this.”
Armie Hammer said he almost turned the role down because of the nudity and the subject matter. Were you worried about that?
It was never the physical intimacy that was scary, nor was it the type of sexuality that was being professed, but rather, the emotional intensity and the pressure of how well it was described in the book. As a young actor, you don’t come across roles this complex or layered.
Had you read the book?
When I was 17. It was a window into a young person. I had a similar experience reading “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” except maybe that book isn’t as out there. Nobody has sex with a peach.
That scene is getting a lot of attention.
I was quite nervous about being able to do that in any way believably. The fact that it has made it in and people are curious about it, I’m happy to talk about it.
I noticed you use the peach emoji when posting about the movie on Instagram.
The fierce inner debate that rages within me is whether to use the peach emoji or use the Kimoji that’s a little bit more graphic. But for now, I’ve been holding back.
Have you always wanted to act?
Not particularly. My sister was in ballet growing up. I spent almost the entirety of 7 through 12 backstage at Lincoln Center, just running around, waiting for “The Nutcracker” to end. I feel like I’ve been around performance my whole life. My mom and uncle had done plays.
How did you end up in so many big movies this year?
I did “Prodigal Son” at Manhattan Theatre Club. Scott Rudin had produced that, and he was producing a movie called “Lady Bird” that Greta Gerwig was writing and directing. I read for her and some producers. We set aside the idea of doing it. And then I went to “Call Me by Your Name” in Italy. A month after being there, I taped [an audition] for “Hostiles.” I came back to New York, then I was off to Santa Fe for four weeks of boot camp to understand what it would be like to be a cowboy in the 1800s.
Variety and the New York Film Festival will celebrate Sony Pictures Classics’ “Call Me by Your Name” and our New York/New Jersey issue on Wednesday, Oct. 4.