Most twenty-year-olds are counting down the days to turning 21 when they can finally claim certified adulthood. Timothée Chalamet, an admitted New York theater kid, had other plans. He was spending part of his transitional year in northern Italy filming the adaptation of Andre Aciman’s novel Call Me By Your Name and in an extraordinary way, declaring his own claim to cinematic adulthood. That summer experience just yielded the actor his first Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor (Drama) for his role as Elio.
To anyone who knows the actor’s genealogy, this path was a foregone conclusion.
His grandfather Harold Flender was a screenwriter and novelist. His mother Nicole and sister Pauline are both actresses; his Uncle Robin Flender is a director while his aunt Amy Lippmann is a screenwriter. “I was cursed,” he laughs, referring to his maternal creative pedigree. “I am kidding but really, throughout my childhood, as a consequence of living in New York City, I was smitten with acting.” Though he had a passion for soccer, Timothée started acting in commercials at age 9; though the experience left him a bit disheartened. That initial discouragement was set aside when he entered the LaGuardia School for the Performing Arts, the same institution that inspired the film Fame.
“When I got there, I realized acting was something to be taken seriously,” Chalamet recalls about those formative years. By his senior year, the then 17-year-old had been cast in the TV series Homeland; and after graduation, made his film debut in Jason Reitman’s Men, Women, And Children followed by an appearance in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. On stage, he appeared in the play Prodigal Son, earning himself the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play.
But it has been his performance in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name that has brought unanimous accolades. The film takes place in 1983 and Elio Perlmann (Chalamet) is a precocious 17-year-old who is enjoying his summer break in Italy with his mother (Amara Casar) and father (Michael Stuhlbarg), an eminent professor specializing in Greco-Roman culture. Upon the arrival of Oliver (Armie Hammer), a 24-year-old American graduate student, Elio begins to forge a unique relationship with him; experiencing his first true feelings of love.
Though Hollywood has been slow in presenting mainstream films that explore all forms of sexuality, Chalamet saw this role at first a challenge but ultimately a blessing in presenting characters so complex. “Here is a teenager blossoming sexually that takes the shape that it takes,” he notes. “As an actor, I wasn’t restricted. What makes the film so special to me is that it is about the people that love you most are the ones you are most vulnerable to. It is like pulling your heartstrings. And a summer love that is as passionate as the one we present in the film is very rare.”
With a French father, Chalamet spend many a similar summer in Europe, with Paris being his adolescent playground. One such seasonal excursion, he experienced his own crush, with the object of his affection back in New York. “I was filled with so much angst that summer thinking about her,” he now recalls. “I walked around the city listening to Edith Piaf and other moody French singers but ironically, that same summer, I was about to jump into a play back in New York at the Second Stage. Acting had been a hobby up to that point but when I got back to the States and did the play The Talls, it changed everything for me. I was so in love with acting that I knew this was the real start for me.”
Showcasing two other noteworthy performances in 2017, including Hostiles and the Golden Globe nominated Lady Bird, Chalamet is not slowing down as his 2018 slate includes the films Beautiful Boy with Steve Carell and A Rainy Day In New York directed by Woody Allen. One might guess his childhood dream of playing professional soccer is just going to have to wait.