Timothee Chalamet on Sundance Gay Love Story ‘Call Me by Your Name,’ Chemistry With Armie Hammer

Film festivals have been good launching pads for the great modern gay love stories, from “Brokeback Mountain” (Venice) to “The Kids Are All Right” (Sundance) to “Carol” (Cannes). So there’s been considerable anticipation at this year’s Sundance for Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me By Your Name,” based on the celebrated 2007 novel. Fueling the positive buzz was news that Sony Pictures Classics beat out several other distributors to land the project early, ahead of its Sunday premiere.

The movie stars Armie Hammer as an American academic visiting Italy in the 1980s, who strikes up a romance with a 17-year-old local played by Timothee Chalamet. The book is known for its intense sex scenes, including an explicit act with a peach. Chalamet, the 21-year-old actor from “Homeland,” spoke to Variety about the project.

Would you say the movie is a faithful adaptation?
I haven’t seen it! I don’t know. I’m trying to hold out. I want to see it in the theater too for the first time.

Did you have to audition?
Luca just offered it. I met with him over two years ago.

How did you prepare? Did you read the book in addition to the script?
I read the book a couple of times. I went out to Crema, Italy, which is where Luca lives and shot the film. I went out there a month and a half early and worked diligently on my Italian, which was OK but wasn’t as good as I got it by the time we shot. And I worked on the piano and guitar playing. I spent a lot of time in a small town in France, growing up. I had an understanding of what small-town European life was like. But the Italian version of that would be different. I would literally sit in the town square to see what life was like out there. I met a group of young kids my age that didn’t know I was an actor, and I got to go out with them on weekends.

Was it a challenging role?
The hardest part was getting into the gym when I was there. I’m not someone who frequents the gym, pretty much ever.

How did you and Armie find the chemistry between your characters?
Call it by luck of the universe. Armie and I really hit it off. I haven’t had a friendship like that with someone that I’d worked with. There was something about being plucked from our respective areas and being brought to this small town in Italy where we really had to depend on each other. This wasn’t the plan, but we became such good friends that it made the chemistry onscreen palpable, because we really did like each other in real life.

The book is detailed about their affair.
That wasn’t a huge concern of mine. I felt very safe in Luca’s hands and Armie’s hands. The book is a love story, and it happens to have those detailed scenes.

On the page, there’s ambiguity about your character’s sexual orientation.
I think the book, and I hope the film, is a story about love. The sexuality of the characters isn’t the story so much.

Is the peach scene in the movie?
We certainly shot it. I think they would have told me if it was cut. I’m 99 percent sure it’s in there.

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