Timothée Chalamet by Xavier Dolan (VMAN)

Tuesday, Feb 6, 2018

Timothée Chalamet chats with film director Xavier Dolan on the realities of love and pain.

VMANThis article appears in the pages of VMAN39, available on newsstands February 22. Pre-order your copy now at vmagazineshop.com

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.

XD When I saw Call Me By Your Name, 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. 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 your films, 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 What do you look for in a film? The vision? Emotion, 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. 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 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 our relationship, the way it blossomed when we first met, was so conducive and helpful to what it is in the movie. I was way more inexperienced, and I knew seconds after meeting Armie that I was in the best hands. He’s an instinctual caretaker, which is part of 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 towards the end where I’m sleeping in bed, before the farewell 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 is Luca’s baby. Truer to this experience than in any 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, the town—culturally, if we wanted reference points it was with one another. There was pressure to do justice to the book by André Aciman, yet there was this beautiful feeling where there wasn’t pressure from it being 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 will be because it is. What excites me most as an artist is flow. That’s harder when the idea of show business or Hollywood is present. Maybe it was shooting in Italy, or preparing for a month and a half, or shooting with one lens, but there was flow!

XD [Did Luca want 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 spending time 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?

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. He’s really a blueprint for me, in terms of what I look for in a director.

XD Will this film make you more fastidious in choosing future projects?

TC I’ll be very careful with what I do 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. Luca has worked with his editor, producing partners, camera people, costume designer, etc. 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 Call Me By Your Name is a celebration of love. But do you feel it is equally, and perhaps even more, about pain? People say how mature this film is, and I wonder if “mature” is just a word we use for a movie that open-heartedly talks about pain, and celebrates it as well.

TC I don’t disagree. Pain, after all, is mostly what Michael [Stuhlbarg]’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 suffer. If it ever was about pain— the pain that relates to heartbreak or love—it’s about how to deal with it.

Read the full interview online February 22.