Upstairs in the Crosby Street hotel in New York, 20-year-old Ansel Elgort has been talking about himself all day. Down in the basement, film journalists pick at the buffet. One of them, speaking with an air of special knowledge, tells me Elgort is very tired. “You should take him some cookies, he’ll need the sugar,” he advises firmly. He’s so unequivocal that when I’m ushered upstairs I find I’m holding three choc-chip cookies wrapped in a napkin.
Elgort and Shailene Woodley star in The Fault in Our Stars, based on John Green’s cultish bestseller about two teen cancer patients who meet at a support group and fall in love.
When the trailer was first released on YouTube, it clocked up a record-breaking three million views in 24 hours; when the movie was released in the US last week, it sped past Tom Cruise to the top of the box office. It looks to do for Elgort what Twilight did for Robert Pattinson. But while Pattinson graduated to adult roles after Twilight, Elgort is there already, as the lead in Men, Women and Children, Jason Reitman’s latest, opposite Adam Sandler and Emma Thompson.
As I enter the room, he’s standing on the windowsill regarding Manhattan below him. So, is he exhausted after this day of press?
“I’m never exhausted; I’m a crazy m’fucker,” he says, in a confident torrent, as he dismounts with a leap. “This is the beginning of this journey.”
I offer him the cookies anyway. His comically movie-star-perfect features squish into a quick frown.
“Are these poisoned?”
I’m a bit taken aback. No, they’re fine.
Woodley and Elgort work sweetly together on screen. She’s wry and shrewd – a counterbalance to his easy swagger. The audience at the press screening I attended turned swiftly into a noisy orchestra of weeping. My irritation over the heartstring pulling was only compounded by how impossible it was to resist.
So did he cry when he watched it? “Yeah, of course,” he shoots. “Big time. The first time I cried was I think …” He chews a cookie while he thinks. And then: “Well, I cry whenever I watch an emotional scene that I did, just because it brings me back to that moment. It’s like I remember being there, I remember feeling what I felt. It’s really weird, right?”
Mawkish though it is, I tell him I’d left the screening feeling lucky to be healthy. “There are so many things to be lucky for,” he agrees. “Lucky to be healthy, lucky to be, like, beautiful. Lucky to be living in America. It’s like: what the fuck. It’s crazy. I feel like I have more luck than 99.999% of people in the whole world.” A pause. “I’m a lucky fuck.”
He is indeed. That he acknowledges his gilded upbringing is heartening, too. He is the youngest son of an opera director and a fashion photographer; his sister, Sophie, is a photographer, and his older brother, Warren, a film-maker. The whole family looks like a walking Ralph Lauren ad.
When Elgort made his first chat show appearance on Jimmy Kimmel earlier this year, the host whipped out an image of the supermodel Karolína Kurková. Lying on the floor beside her is a profoundly unbothered little boy: the photographer’s son. “My dad said to always do what I loved and not worry about the money or anything, because if I do what I love then the money will come.”
Encouraged by both parents, he began ballet classes when he was nine, then went to LaGuardia High, a performing arts school whose alumni include Jennifer Aniston and Adrien Brody.
His first movie role was in last year’s Carrie remake, as the smooth jock who also happens to be sensitive enough to woo the school wallflower out of her shell. (Somewhat of a rehearsal, then, for The Fault in Our Stars.) Being on a film set for the first time seems not to have fazed him one bit.
“It wasn’t scary, that was the thing. I was totally confident because I’d worked so long training and stuff. I knew how to act.”
Then came Divergent, another Young Adult smash, in which he played Woodley’s brother. “Shailene,” he says, “is a very different person to most people. She’s very unique. She has, some would say, odd ways of living.”
Like what? “Like she eats only certain types of food, she cooks a certain way. But the nice thing was that she was able to speak about life spiritually and I think at that point in my life – I was 19 – I’d never thought about any of that kind of stuff. So I was like: wow that’s interesting. I’d never talked to anybody like that but I guess Shailene talks to her friends like that all the time.”
“Shailene and I share a certain love,” he says, “but it’s a friendship love.” This, he thinks, is also what their characters in this new film enjoy. “I think it’s more than a love story, it’s like the opposite of Romeo and Juliet – it’s not lust; it’s real love. And, y’know, they have sex just because they’re in Amsterdam and are probably never going to have sex otherwise – so let’s do it, I guess. But really, they’re there just because they love each other. That’s why it’s refreshing because it’s not, like, cheesy luurve.”
It’s curious Elgort’s conception of “real love” seems to sideline sex. Particularly since his Instagram account (1.5m followers and counting) does little to discourage the female gaze.
“It’s important power,” he says of his online reach. “Because there are some celebrities who have millions and millions of people following them and they don’t lead by example. I think one of the best people on Twitter is John Green [author of The Fault in Our Stars]. He leads by example and he encourages millions of people to do good things. And there are people who don’t, and it’s a waste, y’know? I look to John as a role model and whenever I’m unsure of something I’m like: ‘Would John tweet this?’
“I’m happy to be a role model because I think I can do it over other people. I think my parents raised me well. And I’m pretty straight edge. All my friends make fun of me for being straight edge. Like we go out and I’m not really drinking. But they understand why – I’m doing really well, I’m really focused always on the prize. I want to keep creating and making important things and that’s what I want Ansel Elgort to be about.”
It’s a bit of a shock, the third-person reference. But such brand-awareness is presumably part and parcel of being a pin-up in 2014. For Elgort, this savvy seems to come naturally; perhaps more so to him than his peers.
I ask how he feels about the Pattinson comparisons and whether he’s ready for that level of attention. “I don’t compare myself to anyone, but yeah, in certain ways it’s really nice because a lot of people like Robert Pattinson. I think I’m a lot more ready than a lot of people. I’m willing to hopefully encourage people to do good things.”
Fame at this pitch holds no fears for a man apparently allergic to anxious introspection. Or, perhaps, just a 20-year-old self-aware enough to know he’s on top of the world. And making the movie did change his perspective, he says. Sometimes, luck runs out.
“I think one of the biggest things is that … it just happens.”
“It”, of course, being cancer. He quotes the film – “The world is not a wish-granting factory” – then sits back. “That’s how it is. It could happen to anyone, y’know? As young people, we think we’re invincible.”
The Fault in Our Stars in released in the UK on 19 June
-Source: The Guardian