Ansel Elgort: there’s no fault with this star
Ansel who? Elgort what? The suddenly red-hot 20 year old hearthrob from Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars talks Twitter and truthfulness
Which male actor has broken through most dramatically in 2014?
You could argue for Chris Pratt, but the face of Guardians of the Galaxy has been plugging away on Parks and Recreations for years. Jack O’Connell may yet secure mainstream fame in the upcoming Unbroken. But the answer to the question is likely to remain young Ansel Elgort.
If you are old, you may say “who?” If you are a certain class of teenager then . . . Nurse, could we have some smelling salts over here?
The son of photographer Arthur Elgort and opera impresario Grethe Barrett Holby, the well-connected Ansel had a hit with Divergent, but it was the smash weepie The Fault in Our Stars that really helped him colonise space on bedroom walls.
Ansel and Shailene Woodley play two young people with cancer who fall tragically in love among the canals of Venice. It’s the Love Story of its day and Ansel is even better looking than Ryan O’Neal. Just look at him on the cover of the US edition of this month’s GQ magazine.
“That opening weekend, we were all: what the fuck?” Elgort says in a rare moment of profanity. “This is not what we expected.”
So, how did it happen? What was the appeal?
“I think I know. It’s because it was real,” he says. “It gave young people a voice. The problem with young people in art is they are often not really seen as people. It’s also important that it talks honestly about cancer. One studio wanted to introduce a third character who wasn’t sick as the main character – because people who have cancer can’t be the heroes of movies. We were more honest.”
If you seek evidence as to the cultural power of The Fault in Their Stars, look to the UK trailer for Ivan Reitman’s Men, Women and Children. An array of characters come a cropper in many different ways: pornography, online dating, foul online abuse. Yet the current promo features little else but cuddles between Ensel and Kaitlyn Dever. The film is being flogged as Fault II.
“The internet has changed the world a lot,” he says. “Whether it’s for better or for the worse. I can’t really remember a time before it. I had my first cell phone when I was 12. I had my first smart phone when I was 15.”
Elgort is an extraordinary position to consider these unavoidable new technologies. Currently the master of 2.3 million Twitter followers, he can, with a flick of his thumb, speak to an entire Elgort nation. It must, however, be impossible to communicate meaningfully with an audience that size. Every tweet receives several hundred replies (many pleading “please follow me!”).
“Well, I try to make it as meaningful as possible,” he says. “Keeping in mind that a lot of the people I am communicating with are very young, I try to be encouraging. I don’t tweet mad rants. I don’t spout out negativity like some celebrities do. You must be aware that you’re being followed by young people.”
There’s no training for this, of course. The technology is changing so fast that the movie studios don’t know quite what how their stars should interact.
“That’s right. There’s no training,” he says. “There’s no election process as to who gets a huge voice. In my case, I just happened to be the star of a big movie. If I was a total asshole I could easily tweet negativity. And there would be two million people influenced by me.”
Hold on a second. When talking to Elgort, you have to keep reminding yourself that he is just 20 years old and that, just six months ago, his only serious claim to fame was a supporting role in the remake of Carrie. The poor guy, when at home in Brooklyn, can’t legally buy a drink. Tall, immaculately dressed, supremely articulate, he exists as an elegant rebuke to the slovenly, grunting morons most of us were at his age.
Mind you, Elgort has had a special upbringing. There’s the fact that he attended the same performing arts school in Manhattan as Jesse Eisenberg and Britney Spears. We remember that his father is one the most admired photographers for Vogue magazine.
His parents’ age is also worth noting: mom (46 when he was born) is now in her mid-60s; dad (an eye-watering 54 at Ansel’s arrival) is nearly a decade older.
“It’s hilarious,” he says. “My dad doesn’t own a computer. He doesn’t give a shit about all that. But he gets by. I like having older parents. I grew up watching old movies. So, my heroes are Paul Newman and Marlon Brando rather than younger guys.”
So, Elgort’s birth was a sort of miracle then? He’s a wonder of our times? “Well, my mom is Norwegian. Those are good genes. Ha ha.” Did I say he was just 20? It’s just not fair.
Men, Women and Children opens on December 5th