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Listen: Timothée Chalamet on ‘Beautiful Boy’ and His Generation’s Response to the #MeToo Movement

PLAYBACK is a Variety / iHeartRadio podcast bringing you conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films. New episodes air every Thursday.

At just 22 years old, actor Timothée Chalamet has skyrocketed quickly as one of the most popular and in-demand performers of his generation. On the heels of a whirlwind year that included an Oscar nomination for “Call Me by Your Name,” he’s following things up with a dive into real-life addiction drama “Beautiful Boy.” Starring as Nic Sheff, whose memoir “Tweak” formed one half of the script’s inspiration along with father David’s “Beautiful Boy,” Chalamet says the ambition wasn’t to top the rawness of films like Uli Edel’s “Christiane F.” or the Safdie brothers’ “Heaven Knows What,” but to bring the matter-of-fact authenticity of the situation to the fore. A huge part of unlocking things, he says, was of course meeting Nic himself.

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“When I met him I had read ‘Beautiful Boy’ and ‘Tweak’ and was already configuring how I was hoping to play it,” Chalamet says. “The thing that struck me is he is an extraordinary spirit and [has] a huge warmth of character. That’s how he’s described in ‘Beautiful Boy’ from the lens of David, his father. But in meeting him I went, ‘Wow, this is an incredible human being.’ His quick wit — you can see the machinery in his mind at pace. That was enlightening. And in playing it, he said, ‘This is a representation of my family’s story. I don’t expect this to be exactly what it was.’ To hear that was, man, what a gift. It was understood that we weren’t doing a biopic.”

Speaking of that whirlwind year, it’s fair to say Chalamet’s explosion onto the scene was a rare one indeed. Debuting a film at the Sundance Film Festival and promoting it for 14 months, straight through the awards season, would be an incredible haul for the most seasoned of actors, let alone a young man just finding his footing in the business. And in addition to “Call Me by Your Name,” of course, he also starred in Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird,” Scott Cooper’s “Hostiles” and Elijah Bynum’s “Hot Summer Nights.”

“It was an exercise in keeping it fresh, when I was talking about the movie, certainly,” Chalamet says of the unending “Call Me by Your Name” press tour. “But to this day there’s so much gratitude for that movie. The fact that a lot of people and especially young people saw it and connected with it, that was really a dream come true. It was all so thrilling and so new. I think Armie [Hammer] and Luca [Guadagnino] were aware of how long it was, but I’m realizing now, ‘Oh, that’s not your go-round each time!”

Next up Chalamet will star as King Henry V in David Michôd’s “The King.” It’s a huge change of pace for him and more to the point, it has proved to be an exceptional learning experience (right down to shaking the fear of rocking a bowl haircut).

Timothée Chalamet photogrpahed exclusively for the Variety Playback Podcast
Dan Doperalski for Variety

“The young man in me and the young actor that’s still learning and is soaking up information and studying how people around me work, that was the best thing I could have done for myself, was that movie,” Chalamet says. “It’s a hallmark of a good story when you feel a little out of your comfort zone. There was anxiety in that regard. I feel like I could have done something that was more expected after last year, but when I read that script I thought, ‘Oh, wow, this is an actor’s actor’s role.’ And the legacy of it — it was all beautifully challenging. It was really good to play a role where, as opposed to Elio in ‘Call Me by Your Name’ who is on the precipice of understanding himself in some way, and as opposed to Nic Sheff, who is, like, moment to moment just trying to get by, somebody like Good Prince Hal, as a consequence of being in that position as a king, let alone at a very young age, required a channeling of stoicism and muted-ness that’s not very close to me as an actor. It’s not my instinct.”

Finally, the conversation comes around to the #MeToo movement. Chalamet took the step of donating his salary from Woody Allen’s latest film to organizations fighting the cause, and he finds himself part of a new Hollywood generation that’s coming to grips with a house that needs cleaning.

“I don’t know if the house is show business. Maybe more like the world or the United States right now,” Chalamet says. “I’ve heard things like ‘activist generation’ before and it’s exciting to be a part of that movement and be an ally to it. I think of a Maggie Nelson quote, and I really do not want to butcher it in any way, but it’s something along the lines of how convenient do social progressive movements find their voice piece with a straight white male. So I’m weary in that regard, because I don’t ever want to be cavalier. But yeah, there is a cleaning house feeling.”

For more, including discussion of a huge upcoming project for Chalamet, Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune,” as well as speculation on the percolating sequel to “Call Me by Your Name,” listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

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