The mounted film poster sits on a stand. On a deep blue background Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer as Elio and Oliver are neck to neck, their heads tilted back as if to gaze at an impossibly azure sky. The poster is as dreamy and swoony as the movie itself. I enter the suite where its star has been fielding press interviews all morning. Timothee Chalmet greets me and, yes, he’s every bit as charming and delightful as his character Elio in Call Me By Your Name.
Fans of Chalamet are getting a triple dose of the actor this awards season. He’s also stars in Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird and Scott Cooper’s Hostiles. We swap notes on his character in Hostiles, which he had seen for the first time the night before. “Boom,” Chalamet says with a laugh as I tell him my thoughts on the character. His energy is infectious and he lights up the room.
During our chat we talk about how he got attached to the call Me by Your Name, about working with Luca Guadagnino, and we delve into the the famous peach scene — because what kind of interview would it be if we didn’t talk about that? We wrap by playing a fun word association game. Our chat was brief but, world, get ready for Timothee Chalamet.
The film screened at Sundance and has been raved about ever since. I think there wasn’t a single day when I haven’t seen it get mentioned.
I know. That’s what’s so surreal about it all is that we shot it a year and a half ago and I was attached to it three years prior, so it’s thrilling and I’m so excited for everyone to see it. I’m excited for my friends to see it who have mercifully been indulging my talking about it. I’m relieved for it to be out.
You said you were attached a while ago. How did that come about?
I have to say I have the greatest agents in the world. Brian Swardstrom represents Tilda Swinton and that’s Luca’s most frequent collaborator. Luca was a producer on this project with James Ivory loosely attached to direct it. I met with Brian and Luca in New York. Here’s the thing: Luca doesn’t like to read his actors so they loosely attached me to it. It looked like it was going to come together that summer but it didn’t, and the same thing happened the next summer but it didn’t happen then. Finally, it did.
You’re reading the words of James Ivory. What was that like for you?
When I met with them there was no screenplay so I went to the library and went to get the book out and it wasn’t there. So, I got an edition from Harvard through this great sharing program and I never gave it back and got a $100 fine.
I fell in love with it. It’s a story with this character who is young and complex and confused and contradictory and you don’t really read stories about young people like this. It really reminded me of Perks of Being A Wallflower. I felt it was a similarly very apt lens into a young person’s worldview.
James Ivory wrote the screenplay and I spent a week with him and later I went to Claverack which is where he lives in New York and he has the old Merchant Ivory sets. We watched A Room with a View and I had a script reading. It really was the acting masterclass and filmmaking masterclass of my dreams just to work with Luca and to be around Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg and to be acting over Sufjan Steven’s music.
What were you told about Elio?
First and foremost, he’s a young person on the verge of a spiritual awakening that is as much about identity as it is sexual. The idea was to follow what a young person’s instincts sensations would be as a young person.
Was there a scene that was emotionally challenging?
I think all the emotional climaxes are challenging because you want to portray that honestly and you feel like the audience will call bullshit on it if you don’t bring an authenticity to those moments.
The piano sequences were nerve-wracking because they were one shot long takes and I was out there for a month and a half to learn the pieces and when it came time to do those, in particular, that one scene where I do the variations on Bach and Busoni, I thought, “Oh man, if I can’t pull this off it’s going to be so embarrassing.”
Did you know how to speak Italian coming into the film?
It’s a romance language and the syntax grammatical structure is somewhat the same as French. That was the great benefit of being out there for that month and a half and being able to order an espresso.
It’s always fun when you get to that stage and can order a full meal.
Yes. It’s like, you can do it and you feel one with the community.
You didn’t know Armie coming into this and you two have this great chemistry. Now you’re best friends, but did you do any bonding before you started shooting?
It was the luck of the universe that we hit it off as human beings and became greatest friends. He’s like an older brother. We spent the greatest time with each other before we started shooting and while we were shooting we were hanging out a lot riding to and from the set.
We got lucky that we liked each other as humans. We both have an attitude towards filmmaking where we are fans first and self-serious performers second.
I would get killed if we sat here and didn’t ask about the peach scene. What did Luca tell you and how was it to shoot?
The conversations with Luca and the conversation with Andre Aciman who’s the author of the book was that it’s such a fantastic part of the book, but there’s an anxiety that it worked better as a literary metaphor than a visual one. It freed me up as a performer because I feel Luca didn’t feel expositionally or narratively glued to this scene in the film. When it came time to do it, if it felt too weird it just wouldn’t be in there.
The only thing I had in mind when doing it was not to try to lean into the comedy of it and treat it as any actor would and that was to act as if there wasn’t a camera in the room.
It was two takes. I think we all got there thinking it was going to be eight or nine takes, but it was one that weirdly came easily.
You talk about having a masterclass of acting and filmmaking. What did you learn from Luca and working on this movie?
Just to see his confidence in his instinct. The belief he has in his instinct is awesome.
OK, let’s do this word association game with your movies. We have time for four:
Drama. Theater. Lily Rabe.
Greta and Saoirse. Being intimidated by Greta and Saoirse.
Wait, you were intimidated by them?
Yeah. They’re so intimidating. They’re such incredible actresses and Greta is such a great filmmaker. Lucas Hedges and I share the counter responsibility in that movie and there’s a shot where Danny gets crossed out and Kyle gets written in. I stepped onto that set and everyone said the shoot was going really well. I was there the last few weeks and thought, “Oh God. I don’t want to be the blip on the radar and throw the rollercoaster off track.”
Scott Cooper. Christian Bale. Hot. Horses. Cowboy Camp…
Sweat. Talcum Powder.