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Fast-rising star Ansel Elgort is 'soaking it all up'

Tom Long
The Detroit News

In 2013 Ansel Elgort appeared in his first film, the remake of "Carrie."

In 2014 Elgort appeared in three films. Two of those films earned more than $250 million each worldwide.

Last month, Elgort, who turned 21 last Saturday, was a presenter at the Oscars.

That's a pretty steep, fast climb.

"I'm just trying to soak it all up, for sure," Elgort says on the phone from Los Angeles. "I think the most important thing is to be able to, on my time off, not be doing fancy things."

And so he's not.

"I'm just doing what I always have done — enjoying myself with my family and friends. I make my music, I go rock climbing, play some video games, just try to stay myself and not let my life change too much – because it's already changing a lot, you know?" he says.

Elgort's on the phone promoting "Insurgent," the sequel to one of those big moneymakers from 2014, "Divergent" (the other was the phenom "The Fault In Our Stars"). In it he plays Caleb, the brother of Tris (Shailene Woodley, who played his girlfriend in "Stars"), a mutant of sorts trying to bring truth to a future dystopic society.

Caleb's heart always seems to be in the right place, but he consistently makes bad decisions.

"He doesn't think he's making the wrong moves. It's all coming from a place of sincerity. He isn't doing it to be evil, he's doing it because he believes that this is what needs to be done," Elgort says.

Even so, his decisions endanger Tris.

"There's a part of him that's freaking out inside; he's just lost both of his parents and it's eating away at him," Elgort says. "He's an idealist and he wants to do what's best for society and he wants society to be a peaceful place."

In the film, Caleb is intellectually oriented, not a warrior like Tris. So the 6-foot-4-inch actor had to clumsy up for the character.

"In terms of his awkwardness, I am in real life a physical guy – I don't run like that in real life," Elgort says. "But that was the choice, to show that he's not a superhero and he's not cut out for what the others are doing."

"Insurgent" is a fantasy, obviously, as were "Divergent" and "Carrie." But the New York-born Elgort says he's more drawn to straight dramas, like "Stars" and his other film from 2014, "Men, Women & Children."

"I want to do stuff that reminds me of theater. I want to do plays and the movie version of a play. That's the kind of stuff I love. I loved doing "The Fault in Our Stars" and "Men, Women & Children," I love doing scene work," he says.

"I mean it's really cool being part of a franchise like this as well — it's a totally different experience and something new to me. But my real passion since I was young is the theatrical stuff, like a straight play on camera," Elgort says.

He's signed on for two more "Divergent" sequels, and is about to start work on the crime drama "November Criminals," with his "Carrie" co-star Chloe Grace Moretz. He knows he's been lucky, but he also knows he's worked hard.

"You have to put yourself in a position to get an opportunity. Then once you finally get it it's about delivering on the opportunity," he says.

But there's also an element of chance.

"Then there's being in the right place at the right time – my manager found me at (drama) summer camp. She just happened to see me walking around and asked 'Who's that?'

"That was real lucky. Having parents who let me do what I wanted was lucky. Getting 'The Fault in Our Stars' instead of something else was really lucky," Elgort says. "Everything has fallen into place perfectly and I'm really grateful."