'Beautiful Boy' Timothée Chalamet aims to keep level head

The 22-year-old actor has been on a roll and aims to keep his hot streak going

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Toronto — Timothée Chalamet is wearing a crisp white dress shirt with a floral pattern on the shoulder, and he lights up with excitement when he's told it's reminiscent of Atlanta rapper Gucci Mane's outfit at this year's MTV Video Music Awards. 

Timothee Chalamet attends the UK premiere of "Beautiful Boy" during the 62nd BFI London Film Festival on Oct. 13 in London.

"I'm Googling this right now!" says Chalamet, seated in a conference room inside Toronto's Omni King Edward Hotel during last month's Toronto International Film Festival.

He whips out his rose gold iPhone SE — "I like the size of it, I'm sticking with it," he says of the 2016 model, ancient in iPhone years — and while searching he waxes on Mane's work with Atlanta hip-hop producer Zaytoven, the importance of Gucci and Young Jeezy to Atlanta's trap music scene, and the way Jeezy's ad-libs influenced artists like Travis Scott. 

Yes, he’s one of Hollywood’s hottest actors, but Chalamet also is just a 22-year-old who loves talking about hip-hop.

“It’s lit!” Chalamet says, perfectly appropriating Scott’s top catchphrase.

He could also be talking about his career, which took off thanks to his star-making roles in last year's "Lady Bird" and "Call Me By Your Name," the latter of which landed him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. 

Now he's starring in "Beautiful Boy," a gritty family drama in which he plays a young drug addict. The film, which also stars Steve Carell and Amy Ryan, opens in theaters Friday.

Timothee Chalamet and Steve Carell in "Beautiful Boy."

Chalamet's rise largely began at last year's TIFF, where the New Yorker had both "Call Me By Your Name" and "Lady Bird" in the festival, as well as the bleak Western "Hostiles." It was his second trip to the fest, after 2014, when he was there to support Jason Reitman's "Men, Women & Children."

"I was essentially cut out of that film, so the first time I was at TIFF was basically for a movie I wasn't in," says the actor, who when he's not discussing Atlanta hip-hop, speaks in a quiet, reflective tone. "So last year felt like a dream come true."

That dream followed several years of building his résumé in Hollywood and on stage.

Born to a Broadway actress mother (his father, who is French, is a publishing editor), Chalamet attended a performing arts school on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

At 13, he was offered in an episode of “Law & Order.” A few years later, he did four episodes of USA’s “Royal Pains.” He went on to portray the vice president’s son on the second season of “Homeland,” and he appeared as Matthew McConaughey’s son in 2014’s “Interstellar.” 

Matthew McConaughey, Mackenzie Foy and Timothee Chalamet in "Interstellar."

Growing up in an artists’ building in Midtown Manhattan, Chalamet saw firsthand the difference between being a working actor and making it as an actor.

"When there's some sort of economic self-sufficiency, that's like you already made it," he says, recalling a conversation on the topic he had with John Goodman while shooting 2015's holiday comedy "Love the Coopers."

"I've seen what it is way more often than not for actors, which is a lot of unemployment. And if you are employed, sometimes you're working on things you're not passionate about artistically — or, literally, commercials." 

Chalamet was worried about his chosen vocation while working off-Broadway in a play called "Prodigal Son" in 2016. He said it was one of his favorite things he's ever done, "but I didn't feel like anybody my age saw it," he says. "I started to have an insecurity where I thought, is this like opera or ballet or something that I'm getting into, is this an art form that is slowly expiring?"

Then “Call Me By Your Name” and “Lady Bird” came along and thrust Chalamet head first into the spotlight.

Timothee Chalamet in "Call Me By Your Name."

He was proud of the work he did in them, but he didn’t expect the attention they wound up generating. Both were nominated for Best Picture, and “Lady Bird” grossed nearly $50 million. 

“These were independent films, they weren’t blockbusters,” Chalamet says. “I was hoping they were going to get some sort of love, but I really didn’t imagine that ‘Call Me By Your Name’ and ‘Lady Bird’ would get the kind of love and acceptance and embrace in pop culture that they did.” 

Chalamet’s Academy Award nomination made him the youngest Best Actor nominee since 19-year-old Mickey Rooney in 1939, and his boyish good looks made him a superstar on the internet. His mop of brown hair became an object of fixation: Tumblrs were erected in his honor, and Marie Claire began running a recurring “This Week in Timothée Chalamet” feature. 

To combat the weirdness of becoming a meme, Chalamet dove into his work immediately after awards season, playing Henry V in next year’s Shakespeare adaptation “The King” alongside Joel Edgerton and Robert Pattinson.

“I was both literally and metaphorically back in the mud, and I felt like I was learning again,” he says. “It was a clear reminder of why I’m doing this.”

Chalamet hasn’t had to chase work for paychecks, so he says he felt no desire to rush into an action blockbuster or a superhero vehicle or take other jobs he wasn’t passionate about.

"I don't feel any guilt about the work," he says. "I feel a tremendous sense of pride, especially for the people I'm working with. The fact that I just made a movie with Steve Carell, or that I made a movie with ("Call Me By Your Name" director) Luca Guadagnino, or I did a movie with ("Hostiles" star) Christian Bale. These are heroes of mine. I did these films for the right reasons. It was to lend myself to telling stories of youth in the most authentic way possible and to become better as an artist." 

Now, "I'm almost suspicious of how much I enjoy it," Chalamet says. "Like, I pinch myself a little. I hope I don't bite my tongue, but where I am right now, I honestly feel full of gratitude. Like, am I not supposed to be enjoying this or something?"



'Beautiful Boy'

Rated R for drug content throughout, language, and brief sexual material

Running time: 120 minutes

Opens Friday