Ansel Elgort is the kind of name fit for a Norse god or a character in Lord of the Rings. However, there’s nothing mythical about the actor who bears the name. In fact, he’s a your typical 19-year-old street-slick Manhattan kid, bursting with so much energy that he can’t bring himself to do one thing at a time. Elgort not only acts, but DJs, produces his own music, and aspires to score a film someday.
And now he’s on a press tour to promote a couple of the most anticipated films this year, Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars. Both films are adaptations of successful young adult novels, and so they’re expected to catapult Elgort into Josh Hutcherson/Rob Pattinson-like fame. Sure, the kid’s not a god, but he’s about to be worshipped by thousands of teenagers around the world.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
How long have you been acting?
I’ve been acting a long time, not professionally but on stage and at school. Since I was nine, I’ve training to be a performer, but I just started doing movies about a year and a half ago.
You’re from New York. What’s a typical day for you growing up in the city?
If it was a Saturday—those were the best days. No one likes Sundays because you’re worried about school the next day and Fridays were fun, but you just had school. On Saturday, hopefully I would just have had a sleepover with my best friend who I’ve been best friends with since pre-school. We’re on very different paths now. He goes to Harvard and I’m an actor, so you know, we’re different people.
Anyway, we’d go to a pancake shop, and then go paint pictures for a few hours. Then we’d go rock climbing in at Brooklyn Boulders, before going back into the city. If we still weren’t tired, we’d go to Trinity Boxing Club and box. After that, we’d go back to his house or my house and eat cheese wedges or cereal bars and watch Hell’s Kitchen or Jersey Shore. Nothing is better than watching a bunch of guidos being idiots when you’re really tired after boxing and rock climbing.
You’ve been playing a bunch of nice guys. Do you relate to the characters that you play?
I don’t know if I’m allowed to just go out and say that I am a nice guy. [Laughs.] I hope I am. I try to be a nice to people. Tommy Ross in Carrie is obviously an idiot and he’s a normal guy. He’s a LAX bro but he’s nice. And then in The Fault in Our Stars, Augustus is more nerdy, and I have that side of me too, where I paint pictures and make music on my computer.
I like to do a lot of things in real life to keep myself versatile because when you do end up playing a character, you can pick parts of yourself and make it real and relate to it. I’m not knocking anywhere else, but I think it’s really nice coming from New York where there’s so many people and so many different experiences that you can have. It’s important to surround yourself with that, especially as an actor.
When you were first introduced to acting, was there a movie that you saw or an actor that really inspired you?
When I was younger, I wanted to be more of a Broadway dancer or singer/actor. I loved Gina Kelly, Fred Astaire, and Savion Glover. As I got older, I got in to Marlon Brando and Paul Newman.
I have an old father who inspired me and showed me all those films and wanted me to be an entertainer of some sort. He didn’t care what I would do as long as I worked in something in the arts because he’s an artist too.
What kind of artist?
He’s a photographer. His name is Arthur.
Do you remember going to his galleries as a kid growing up?
He was a fashion photographer, so he’d have photo shoots and I would go to them sometimes. I don’t think I had any clue when there’d be famous models around. It was always just fun seeing my dad work.
When you’re at a photo shoot now, do you remember being on your dad’s sets and emulating those poses that the models would do?
Yeah! Also some photographers aren’t as camera crazy as my dad. He actually has a book called Camera Crazy. He’s never without a camera around his neck. Growing up, he’d take a million pictures of me and that might have something to do with me being comfortable around the lens. We actually did a team photo shoot together for The Fault in Our Stars, so it was great to work with him.
What has been the best advice your dad has given you?
He has always just been like, “Do what you love and don’t worry about money—the money will come later. Whatever you love to do, put your entire self behind it and you will be successful, because most people are scared to do that.” He did that with photography and it worked pretty well for him, and it worked pretty well for me so far with acting, so I’m really grateful for that advice.
Is getting behind the camera, whether it be for photography or film, something you want to do?
Who knows? Right now what interests me the most is acting and music. One of my dreams is making a movie and producing it and scoring it.
You make music?
I produce house music under the name Ansolo. There are a few remixes online, but I have more original music that I am doing. Nowadays, with the whole EDM thing, you have to DJ in order to play your music out in clubs.
Do you DJ?
Yeah, I did a gig recently at Pacha in New York City. That has been my biggest gig so far. That was a lot of fun; there were like a thousand people.
Speaking of Jersey Shore, Pacha’s got an interesting crowd.
Yeah, they like Pacha, speaking of Jersey Shore. [Laughs.] The nice thing about Pacha and some of the other nightclubs is that, as a DJ, people go there to listen to music, and dance, and really enjoy themselves. Whereas some of the other nightlife places, people aren’t there for the music and it’s depressing. I’m not just a club DJ, I am a producer, and I’ll only DJ when the crowd is there to enjoy the music.
In Divergent, you’re in Abnegation. If you could pick, which faction would you join?
It would be fun to be in Dauntless. It’s a little crazy and cutthroat, but as a 19-year-old boy, it’s fun to be physical. It’s in our blood. I played varsity basketball in high school and some of those games felt like going into battle. That really physical, really masculine part of me definitely exists and I don’t get to express it that often because I’m always acting or making music or being an artist.
You’ve been in a couple of movies with Shailene Woodley now, and she seems very in touch with the Earth, herbalism, living a healthy life. Is there anything that you learned from her after spending all this time together?
Totally. Whether I want to admit it or not, I definitely eat different because of her. I’m more conscious of it. There are different opinions on her lifestyle, but she’s passionate about it and she definitely influenced me in a good way.
The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent have the power to become those coming-of-age stories that kids now will look back on with the same fondness people did with, like, Say Anything. Are there any movies you saw growing up that affected your outlook on life?
I don’t know if this is a good answer, but when I was really young, I watched Billy Madison like a hundred times. I knew every line from that movie. I watched it with my brother and sister and we loved it!
Maybe it’s being a little silly, but I think Billy Madison has a great outlook on life when he cleaned up his act and then he gives the company to Carl at the end. Carl’s a great guy!
And by the way, I just did a movie with Adam Sandler called Men, Women, and Children. I played basketball with him one-on-one for like an hour. That was pretty surreal. But I didn’t tell him my obsession with Billy Madison.
Dreams do come true.
[Laughs.] Yeah, they do.
Have you read any other John Green books besides The Fault in Our Stars?
I haven’t yet, but I am looking forward to it. I’m not a big book guy, but I read The Fault in Our Stars in half a day and I loved it.
And did it make you cry?
Yes. Very much.