Timothée Chalamet On Acting, Life, And New York City Memories
Lifestyle

Timothée Chalamet Goes Electric

Tank top by Polo Ralph Lauren. Pants by Courrèges. Boots by Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello. Watch and rings (throughout) by Cartier. Necklaces (throughout) by Cartier High Jewelry.

In Chapter Three of our ongoing project, the young actor talks candidly about coming of age over the last few years — a process he calls “adultifying” — during which he turned a professional corner, discovered a cohort of colorful peers, and learned to embrace his spirit of rebellion.

“I don’t even know if I want to share this with you because it’s quite intimate,” Timothée Chalamet said, “but as an actor, you sort of live at a dining room table in your head, and you have about 30 personalities at the table, and you’re trying to attend to them, without going crazy.”

Assembled at the table were, yes, the many characters he’d embodied in films. But there were also the versions of himself that had been constructed in public and reflected back at him. There were the versions constructed through truth. The versions constructed through conjecture. The versions constructed through outright fabrication. And then finally—lastly—there was the person that he actually was and is beneath it all.

“And it was when that guy didn’t align with the first ones that things could get very trippy.”

The first of our five covers with Timothée Chalamet for the November issue of GQ. Photograph by Cass Bird. See the other four covers below. Clothing by Bottega Veneta.

One weeknight this summer, after when I typically go to sleep, Timothée Chalamet—the real one—came by my apartment building in downtown Manhattan. It was steaming hot and he had his hood up and a jean jacket on. Layers. He had a mask, too, a holdover for so many of his kind, even as a mask in public, at night, draws more eyes your way than it diverts. He was walking with pep, with freedom of movement.

He preferred to prowl his hometown at night these days, like Batman, when he can move readily in the shadows. Batman was hungry. “Do you know where I can get a sandwich?” he asked me.

After walking a little, he looked up. “I would just go there, but is there a better place than that?”

It was a grimy bodega that I know to be run by cats.

I persuaded him to get a bowl of pasta from a place that was willing to stay open late. We talked about his forthcoming blockbusters, Wonka and Dune: Part Two, and the transformation that had occurred both professionally and personally since the last time I saw Chalamet, in 2020.

“I bet I’m way calmer than I was talking to you in Woodstock,” he said.

Coat, jacket, and pants by Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello. Tank top by Polo Ralph Lauren.
Coat, vest, and pants by Valentino Haute Couture. Boots by Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello.
Suit by Umit Benan B+. Tank top and shoes by Gucci. Sunglasses by Acne Studios.
Clothing by Tom Ford. Boots by Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello.

That was the first COVID summer, which he’d spent between New York City and upstate New York, doing his best not to lose his mind. He was 24 years old then and an emerging Hollywood star, with all the opportunities laid out before him that he’d spent his early life fantasizing about. And yet there he was—there we all were—stuck, suspended mid-life, and bursting at the seams to get back to work. “I had spent a lot of time after high school with my head in the clouds, imagining a life as an actor, and totally oblivious to the life I was actually leading,” he said. “I was out of touch with an in-touch life. And during COVID, it flipped, and I was forced to become very in touch with my increasingly out-of-touch life. It was not good for me.”

But when I saw him this summer, he was three years older, three years wiser, and willing to indulge me with measuring the distance between then and now. For those keeping score at home, this is Chalamet’s third GQ cover, and the third story we’ve done in what has become a sort of longer-term project in progress. Six years ago, when I met him in his initial blush of fame from Call Me by Your Name, I saw up close a person in the last moments of their Before life. Three years ago, when we met for Chapter Two, I saw up close a person reckoning in real time with that rocket ship of fame and acclaim. And then this summer, here we were again, doing a version of what we’d done before—just walking around, hiding out, and otherwise taking stock of a moment in time in an early and extraordinary career.

“Even going to my friend Julian’s apartment,” he said, “there’s a Polaroid, ’cause he Polaroids everyone who has lived in the apartment, and there’s one of me from 2015, and when I see my expression there, I’m like: Man, I feel like I’ve lived seven lives since then.”

It was not just the stack-up of time—but the pivot he felt he was riding from one phase of his life and career to another. He brought up the recent bestseller Four Thousand Weeks (thesis: A good life is only 4,000 weeks, so how do you plan to not waste any of them?) and the 27 Club (he was now 27 himself) and the creeping fog that had slowly then suddenly enveloped people his age. “You start going on Instagram, seeing people from your high school getting married, friends having kids, and you start going: This balls-to-the-wall thing, even at this amazing level I’m at that probably couldn’t have gone better—you still start wondering, How long till you have to change?”

Material change was not that simple. This was, after all, one of the most beloved young actors in Hollywood. This was someone who had been told he was plenty good enough precisely as he was. This was a young man who, when he emerged—as though fully formed both onscreen and while promoting films, in both his talent and ebullient charm—went on one late-night show and was implored before a live audience to: Don’t ever change! Please don’t change!

“People are going to roll their eyes that these are actual problems to have,” he said, “but that is an interesting challenge to have to feel like for your life and your work and your art, that these are things where there actually shouldn’t be an evolution.”

“It’s like Bob,” he said, meaning Dylan, whom he’d been preparing to play in the forthcoming James Mangold film, A Complete Unknown, for over three years now. His head was in it, Dylan day and night, and he was attuned, as ever, to echoes between his own life and the stories he was training to tell. “The Dylan metaphor is going electric,” he said, referring to the infamous moment at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival when Dylan, that era’s one true acoustic god, plugged his guitar into an amp, brought out a band, and started to really rock. “Now, the great thing about going electric is that was in the name of art. That was an act of rebellion and a push in a musical direction that happened to be…. So I don’t want to say….” He wasn’t saying it—but he was straining to maybe connect the metaphor to some other things on his mind, as well. “God, it’d be so ironic to talk so much about acting and the art and the work, and then get caught in a loop about the demands of a public life. But…”

It went like this. The balance of indulging the aching artist’s desire, on the one hand, and navigating the blessing and burden of celebrity on the other. He took deep breaths. He knocked on wood a lot. On more than one occasion he broke into a confession with: “I definitely want to contextualize this with an attitude of gratitude—I heard Denzel say that on Desus & Mero.” He did not want to tread hastily, he did not want to toss any of it to the wind. “Every career is a miracle,” he said, with real gravity. But it might feel good, necessary even, for a little rebellion.

Coat by Jil Sander by Lucie and Luke Meier. Tank top by Hanro. Pants by Giorgio Armani. Brooches by Cartier High Jewelry.

As we strolled through the Village after his midnight snack, every block sparked a memory. Here was the theater where his grandmother, mother, and sister were all part of the same dance piece. Here was where the first party was where kids were drinking “Mike’s Hard.” Here was the bookstore where he first met Ralph Fiennes and proudly declared that he’d just done a movie with Luca Guadagnino. I shared one of my own. Here was where Jennifer Lawrence lives, I said.

“Really?” Chalamet said. “Should we see if she’s home?”

We kept on moving to the place he was staying during his time in town. It was getting very late, and was very possibly the stillest night of the summer. No Taylor Swift concert close by. No film set in production. No playoff game just let out. It was, I will say as a now longtime resident, the absolute last circumstances in which one would expect to spot a movie star. And yet there, out of nothing, came a male cry from down the street, out the window of a passing cab.

“Timothée?!?!”

He looked toward it, head down and shoulders hunched. “Whattup.”

“Oh! My! God!” the voice replied, having been validated with a bull’s-eye.

A few blocks later, it happened again.

“Oh, my God!! Can we…?!”

And he slipped into photo mode, like a robot butler whose switch had been flipped to the On position. “Where are you guys from?”

I apologized for leading him through the heart of NYU.

“These are my people,” he joked.

Despite getting hounded by photographers or stopped or recognized, he still loved walking around New York on his own. It was what he’d done all his life, as everyone else did. It was equalizing, he said, even the idea that an air conditioner can drop on your head at any second.

But in recent years, it was his intense familiarity with those daily rhythms of his in New York City that made him realize it might be time for a major pivot. “After one too many days of doing the same thing, I just got this overwhelming sense that I was still playing the same hand of cards I’d had for a long time—but that I had a better hand to play,” he said. “I was living in this rental place that didn’t feel like home. I was getting the same bacon, egg, and cheese at the same deli. Resisting any lifestyle change.”

All the while his circumstances had changed. He had grown older. The movies were bigger. His profile was immeasurably larger. But he was holding onto something—why? He had seen it up close in Hollywood. The man-child. The people who so loved playing characters that they played characters in their real lives, too, without actually transforming themselves into more mature human beings. He knew the cliché about celebrities staying developmentally the age that they were when they became famous. But how is a beloved movie star meant to change the right way? How is he supposed to grow up? How does he meaningfully evolve his life and art without killing his core? This was only the most important thing there was for Timothée Chalamet. It might be worthwhile to chart the course. “All I knew,” he said, “was it was time to level up.”

Shirt and pants by Acne Studios. Tank top by Polo Ralph Lauren. Boots by Gianvito Rossi.

After our time in Woodstock in the summer of 2020, Chalamet flew to Budapest for Dune: Part One reshoots and got sick immediately. It was a familiar story after that summer spent locked down: The moment they let us out of our cages, we caught everything else there was to catch. It was another false start for him, every cell crying out to work.

It had been so onerous getting into Europe during COVID that when Dune wrapped he stayed on the continent. He spent some time in the South of France with Hedi Slimane, in Paris with Haider Ackermann, in Rome and Milan with Luca Guadagnino. Guadagnino handed him a script, Bones and All, a cannibal love story, an addiction-parable road film set at the fringes of the American middle. “Luca said: ‘I’ll do it if you do it,’” Chalamet said. This was both a validation of their fruitful creative partnership—but also a statement that seemed literally true. In the few years since Call Me by Your Name, Chalamet had become the sort of Hollywood property whose presence in an otherwise borderline project could get it greenlighted, and made quickly.

Chalamet was staying in an Airbnb in Rome, wandering around the city, just living out “a sort of blank period.” One thing he does recall is that he watched Nomadland, thought it was the most amazing thing he’d ever seen, and wanted to do something like it. Bones and All was maybe that something. He went to Milan to talk things over with Guadagnino and committed on the spot.

In the meantime, he returned to the US, hosted SNL for the first time, and prepped for his brief role in Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up, alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence. He was in Boston for 24 days—14 of which were spent in quarantine and 10 of which were actually working. Chalamet, in his mellowest state, is a threat of energy, and here he was locked in another hotel room. “By the time I got to set I was buzz-ing,” he recalled, seemingly feeling the crazy in his body all over again. “That was the day Jennifer said was the most annoying day of her life, working with me and Leo. I exploded out of my room.”

He started prep on Bones and All right away that spring, still somewhat in the thrall of director Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland. Zhao introduced Chalamet to Derek Endres, one of the rootless travelers whom she cast to play themselves in the Oscar-winning film. Chalamet, who was born and raised in New York City and had spent no real time in the Midwest or the South, soaked up several blurry weeks driving around Ohio, Tennessee, and Nebraska with Derek, talking about life on the road and listening to folk music.

It’s difficult to underscore how polar the two ways Timothée Chalamet experiences time are. There are the long stretches during a movie production, during a press cycle, during a fashion campaign, when every minute is scheduled for days or weeks or months at a time. But there are other long stretches, in between the making of movies and promoting them, that are seemingly devoid of time as we experience it, with infinite expanses for developing a film character or developing himself.

Plan B producers Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner, who worked with Chalamet on Beautiful Boy and The King, have a unique, rolling conversation with him about film and music and books, with references that range to the philosophical. “I think there’s a dimension of him that maybe not everybody would know necessarily,” Kleiner said, “where he just has this really wide wingspan in terms of what he’s taking in from the world around him and how that factors into what he feels he should be doing with his time.” These periods between films were historically the intervals that Chalamet said he would sometimes get “existential”—for better or worse. “Restlessness can be a pejorative term, but I mean it in a good way,” Kleiner said. “There’s a searching, a seeking.” Even early in his career, Chalamet seemed to exact total control when he was working on a film and an evolving sense of control when he was not. Those weeks on the road with Derek, those were good, restless weeks of searching, seeking.

“It’s something I think about a lot with Dylan,” Chalamet said, “that life rhythms are different. When you’re raised in the city, going stir-crazy during the pandemic, your life rhythm becomes agitated. And driving through the middle of the country listening to Townes Van Zandt, your life rhythm adjusts in a great way.”

They filmed Bones and All in the spring and summer of 2021, really moving from place to place as the characters do. His life rhythm adapted. “I got my second jab in Cincinnati,” he said, of his COVID vaccine, like it was a long-lost love, or a lyric to a Townes Van Zandt song. Lee, his cannibalistic character, wore the clothes of his victims and dyed red streaks into his hair, an act of what Chalamet called “self-styling” that he could relate to—a guy trying to express himself through his hair and his clothes. Living out of a truck at the American periphery, that took some effort to get in tune with. I saw immediately why it appealed.

“His ability is just prismatic—in a way that it would by definition take him years for all the sides to show.”

Dede Gardner

Lee is an “eater,” a cannibal by blood, not choice. Chalamet plays him with an appropriate blend of swagger and self-loathing. During preproduction, reports revealed that Chalamet’s Call Me by Your Name costar Armie Hammer had been accused by several women of sharing sexual fantasies in which he represented himself as, yes, a cannibal. (Some DMs allegedly sent to one woman by Hammer read: “I am 100% a cannibal. I want to eat you.”) There were those who wondered if the seemingly ironic choice for a next film by Chalamet and Guadagnino was a little insensitive; there were those who wondered why Chalamet and Guadagnino didn’t lean into the insane confluence even more. “I mean, what were the chances that we’re developing this thing?” Chalamet said, reflecting on that strange period. When false reports suggested the film was inspired by the news, “it made me feel like: Now I’ve really got to do this,” he said. “Because this is actually based on a book.

Chalamet’s face went stiff when I asked him to describe how he personally experienced the allegations against Hammer. “I don’t know,” he said, reluctantly. “These things end up getting clickbaited so intensely. Disorienting is a good word.”

Lee was the first character Chalamet helped develop in a major way with a screenwriter. It was also the first film he produced from tip to tail. When he introduced Bones and All to the world at the Venice Film Festival, he did so with a backless red jumpsuit from Ackermann. “When you’re promoting a smaller movie, you can stir it up a little,” he said. The role was new, subtle, and strong. There were flavors to it that felt at once different from anything else he’d done, and yet built around a center of intense familiarity. When I asked Dede Gardner how “the industry” regards “Timothée Chalamet the Entity,” whose name and face you can put on a movie poster and get to promote your film, she seemed almost incapable of looking past the pure performer: “I suspect he sits at the top of the totem pole,” she said. “But he is just so good. His gift is ferocious. His ability is just prismatic—in a way that it would by definition take him years for all the sides to show.” Lee, then, had come and gone—never to be seen again. He was already down the road.

Suit by Umit Benan B+. Tank top and shoes by Gucci. Sunglasses by Acne Studios. Socks by Falke.

The day they wrapped Bones and All, Chalamet cut off his blood-streaked mullet, dyed his hair brown, and flew to Cannes for the premiere of Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch. At one point, he leaned over to costar Bill Murray and asked him what he’d whispered to Selena Gomez on the Cannes red carpet in 2019. Chalamet laughed, reflecting: “He said, ‘Fame is fleeting!’ ”

Chalamet tried to take some time off, to soak up some vacation, but, he said, “the Wonka factory pipes were calling.” Director Paul King, best known for the beloved Paddington movies, had met Chalamet in London around the 2018 BAFTAs when, like so many, he’d been bowled over and seduced by Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name. When Wonka came King’s way, Chalamet was really the only choice for the role, King said. “It was: This could be great—but it could also be great for him.” Still, King couldn’t help but wonder what this guy, whom he’d met just once, would be like now that he’d become one of the biggest stars in the world. “It’s not always a recipe for ‘charming and focused,’ ” King said. “I’m a neurotic workaholic who will sort of leave no stone unturned—and I really felt he was a kindred spirit.”

This Wonka is also a musical, and Chalamet sings and dances throughout. It is, Chalamet said, “a throwback to LaGuardia,” meaning his performing-arts high school. “We’re telling a story here. This isn’t, like, athletic naturalism. It’s a shot of earnestness and sincerity, without the cynicism or dread or all the stuff we’re exhausted by.”

He trained in New York and London with Tony-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli. “Sometimes with someone of that caliber, it’s almost like a chore to get them to do things, especially if it’s out of their comfort zone,” Gattelli said. “But he was the exact opposite—he wanted to go and go and go and do it over and over.” Chalamet hadn’t previously studied tap, among the hardest forms of dance to learn, but once he gained his confidence, Gattelli said, he couldn’t get him to stop. “He would Skype with his mom and his grandma, just to show them, because you could tell that he was genuinely proud of himself.” Of what he was picking up, but also of the way he was sort of carrying on this family tradition from his grandmother and mother—both trained Broadway dancers. “He would joke about it—like ‘It’s in my blood!’ And I was like: It is. It literally is.”

Tank top by Gucci. Pants and boots by Alexander McQueen. Scarf by Hermès.
Tank top by Gucci. Pants and boots by Alexander McQueen. Scarf by Hermès.

In Wonka, Chalamet plays a young Willy, fresh off a literal boat. It is pre-factory, pre–chocolate empire, pre–midlife trauma that curdles the previous film versions of the character, who’ve turned their backs on the world. “It would’ve been so easy to do an impression of Johnny Depp or Gene Wilder,” King said, “and it would’ve been sort of horrible. Because the people who’ve played Wonka before are brilliant and captivating and have done some famously wonderful performances that people have loved. So it’s really putting your head above the parapet.”

Between the choreography boot camp in New York and London, the voice training in LA, and recording songs at the Abbey Road Studios in London, there was considerable work before day one of filming. And then the already sizable shoot doubled in length due to COVID pauses. Every time someone on the crew tested positive, it was a mandated two weeks off. Production crawled, through the fall of 2021, the winter of 2021, and into the spring of 2022, with Chalamet posted up in the UK. It was, he said, a new challenge to keep his intense focus over that interval.

There was, as well, a distraction at home. His grandmother, whom he’d been especially close to all his life, had been sick and dying for some time—and it was becoming more and more evident that he might not make it home in time. “She was always so supportive of my career,” he said, “as she was also the voice in my ear to just live as normal a youth as possible.” Before he left New York for London that summer, Chalamet had her over to the apartment he’d been renting. He set up his laptop to film what he knew might be their final lengthy conversation. They just sat there for hours talking about stuff that she had never shared with him before. “But then when she left,” he said, “I saw that my laptop had died. And that was just a little metaphor for how scattered I was during that period—like, I was present to the conversation, but couldn’t even keep it together enough to chronicle it.”

It was a lot all at once that summer and fall—from Bones and All to promoting The French Dispatch to cohosting the Met Gala to starting on Wonka to promoting Dune. “I tried doing way too much, in retrospect,” he said. It was this awareness that he brought to Paul King when, with one major scene remaining, Chalamet asked to leave to be at his grandmother’s hospital bed. Chalamet had taken pride in the fact that he’d never shut down a production, but this felt like one of those moments in life. I asked King about it. “I think it’s sometimes easy because he’s a movie star and the lead to forget that there’s also a young man at the heart of this going through something,” he said. “And it’s very easy for the film to seem like the most important thing because everyone is turning up to work, but actually there’s something far more important going on.”

When he returned to London to finally wrap Wonka, he wandered the studio lot while they prepared the final scene. He stopped by the set of Barbie to say hi to his sometime collaborator and enduring caretaker Greta Gerwig. He bumped into Jason Momoa, in full Aquaman costume, walking to a soundstage. He looked at his own Wonka overcoat and top hat. “You start to realize you’re just another job on the lot,” he said, grinning. No matter the acclaim, no matter the fame, to the crews in Leavesden in the UK, Timothée Chalamet or anyone is just another guy in funny clothes, like the many who have come before and the many who will come again. It was good medicine. It was also a sign that it was time to go home—but where on earth was that now?

Jacket and pants by Junya Watanabe Man. Tank top by Versace. Boots by Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello.

“I don’t naturally feel this way,” he said, “but during the throes of COVID it felt like people that were in LA with a little more privacy had it better figured out than I did.” There were many months on movie sets ahead of him, but for the periods in between, maybe there was something more permanent to return to. So before leaving to shoot Dune: Part Two last year, he bought a house in Los Angeles on a bit of a whim. “I was able to spend 10 days in it before I went to Dune, and just having it as the home base, it psychologically helped.”

Chalamet had never had the ability to just pick right up with the same cast and crew, as he did with Dune—and the result was a uniquely complex enterprise made “remarkably smooth,” he said. “For Part One,” director Denis Villeneuve said, “it was for Timothée his first big studio-movie experience. He had assurance, but I was feeling that he was kind of vulnerable, trying to find his way on a set like that, trying to find his focus and discovering how to protect his own bubble. And on Part Two, he came to set the first day and learned so much between both movies about how to secure his focus and to own his space.”

Something else happened in the run-up to filming related to one of his new costars, Austin Butler. “It started on Zoom,” Chalamet said, “when we did a cast reading.” Was Butler still talking like Elvis? I asked him. “No, here’s the thing, he was already talking like Stellan Skarsgård.” That is, on day one of the first read-through, Butler had already dialed his way all the way into the character, the heir to Skarsgård’s Baron Harkonnen. “And you could see everyone was, like…”—he laughed a little nervously—“I can’t overstate how inspiring it was to me personally.” It persisted throughout the production. “Because here was someone who’s a little older than me, but generationally we’re similar, and I don’t know how he would put it, but his journey was different than mine.” Butler had come up via Disney Channel and Nickelodeon before breaking out in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood and getting nominated for an Oscar for last year’s Elvis. “But he takes the work incredibly seriously. And I feel like I hadn’t seen that among someone my age, whether it was in drama school or on set, that did take the work that seriously but then after ‘cut’ wasn’t, you know, in some show of how seriously they took it—and instead is this tremendously affable, wonderful man.”

Tank top by Polo Ralph Lauren. Pants by Courrèges. Boots by Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello. Watch and rings (throughout) by Cartier. Necklaces (throughout) by Cartier High Jewelry.

What Chalamet instantly recognized in Butler was someone who would challenge his own commitment—and force him to raise his ceiling. I suggested to Chalamet, a basketball fan, that the dynamic was like a star in the NBA who’d dominated straight out of high school but was suddenly confronted by a rookie who’d maybe cut his teeth in Europe and threatened his perch in the league. “Okay! Exactly!” he said. “I love that metaphor!” This was all just acting, of course. But here was someone who Chalamet felt could push him. Like: Man, I’d better practice harder.

After Dune, Chalamet received a note of encouragement from Tom Cruise. “He basically said, in Old Hollywood, you would be getting dance training and fight training, and nobody is going to hold you to that standard today. So it’s up to you.”

“I think any great actor has a competitiveness to them, and Timmy is no exception,” Dune producer Cale Boyter said. “Whether that’s something they carry on the inside, or just in paying attention to what their peers are doing, a scene only gets better when one actor really brings it and then everyone else elevates.” Boyter described for me the emotional climax of Part Two, an enormous set piece that took weeks to film, and that centers on a showdown between Chalamet’s Paul Atreides and Butler’s Feyd-Rautha. “You’re talking about two of the most talented young actors of our generation facing off. I would say Timmy’s level of preparation going into the scene—well, knowing he was fighting Austin enhanced it.”

When production wrapped, Chalamet’s interest in the Austin Butler Playbook did not end. “You asked me what I’ve been doing in LA this year?” he said at one point. “I’ve basically been working with his entire Elvis team for my Dylan prep. There’s a wonderful dialect coach named Tim Monich. Vocal coach named Eric Vetro. Movement coach named Polly Bennett. I just saw the way he committed to it all—and realized I needed to step it up.”

Jacket, pants, and shoes by Burberry. Tank top by Polo Ralph Lauren. Underwear by Calvin Klein. Watch by Cartier.

There was another person who had been in Chalamet’s ear—or at least his inbox—about the greater spectrum of training required for this new phase of leading-man-dom. “After I met Tom Cruise, right after finishing the first Dune, he sent me the most wonderfully inspiring email,” Chalamet said. It included a Rolodex of sorts of all the experts he might need for stunt training. A motorcycle coach. A helicopter coach. “He basically said, in Old Hollywood, you would be getting dance training and fight training, and nobody is going to hold you to that standard today. So it’s up to you. The email was really like a war cry.

While filming Part Two, in the summer and fall of 2022, Chalamet said he saw Top Gun: Maverick eight times. On one occasion, he bought out a movie theater in Budapest for two bucks a seat and took the whole cast and crew. “Top Gun was just hugely inspiring to me last summer when we were making Dune,” he said. “Some of the crew were kind of scoffing at going, but I just thought it was one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen.”

Dune: Part Two marked the beginning of a new sense of self and purpose for Chalamet, who clearly embraced the opportunity and the responsibility of standing in the center of the frame in these bigger films. “Action-wise,” Villeneuve said, “I felt that he was much more trained than in Part One, and ready for the fighting sequences. I was impressed by his level of discipline for Part Two. You know, when you are the lead on a movie, there’s a presence, the way you approach your work and your discipline will necessarily have a ripple effect on the rest of the crew. He was the first one on set, always ready. And I was super pleased and impressed with how Timothée really embraced that discipline and became, for me, a real leading actor on this film.”

It always feels rare for an audience to witness a real-life off-screen pivot in a movie—someone growing up, someone breaking down, someone redeeming themselves. Call Me by Your Name was one of those pivots: a true coming of age, a transformation before our eyes. And here now, it seems, was another. “In Part One,” Villeneuve said, “the camera was capturing the performance of a teenager—I’m talking about the character, someone who was learning about the world and experiencing a new reality. But Part Two is really about someone who goes from the boy to the man, and becomes a leader, and even, I will say, a dark charismatic, messianic figure. It was the first time that I witnessed someone growing in front of my camera.”

When Dune wrapped in December, Chalamet returned to his new house in Los Angeles. He spent most days since, he said, “Dylan-ing hard.” He’d been rereading Dylan’s Chronicles, and it felt newly important to him to protect the artists’ imperative Dylan lays out there: “You need your ability to imagine, your ability to observe, and your ability to experience,” Chalamet said. “And if any one of those is compromised, your ability to create is compromised in some way.”

The place in LA provided him new cover to do just that. It was a sanctuary—a key to novel comfort, peace, and freedom. The house used to belong to Kenny G, and Pete Sampras after that. It had a beautiful tennis court, over which Chalamet had rolled in a basketball hoop and a Ping-Pong table, on which he was training most days for a potential new film. He was always toiling on the next thing or things. Preparation for roles that may or may not come to fruition. And some new things outside of acting. It was all top secret, he said, but one of those new projects sparkled, the other got you drunk. This spring and summer, though, it was Dylan in Position A.

Chalamet was very aware that the last time we talked at length, he was also deep in his preparation to play Bob Dylan. He had been, both literally and metaphorically, carrying around his guitar with him for three years now. He teamed up with Butler’s vocal coach, Eric Vetro, first on Wonka and then again for A Complete Unknown prep. Vetro, who’s worked with a number of actors on their high-profile music roles, singled out Chalamet for his balance of anything-is-possible enthusiasm with reverence for the work: “He does everything with such a playful air, but there’s always that core of real seriousness where he is gonna nail it.”

That balance of spirited and sober, of young and old—it was the lightning running through his body and mind at all times. When we’d been talking about celebrities staying forever the age they were when they got famous, he’d joked: “The trouble with me is I had an 81-year-old mind when I was 17.” That duality will probably make a pretty good Dylan. The voice work, Vetro said, was not about creating a perfect copy: “It’s taking on all the characteristics of Dylan’s voice and his mannerisms and his speech patterns, and bringing that into the music—so that when you hear Timothée do the music, what you’re really getting is the essence of Bob Dylan. You’re not getting an impersonation of him. It’s breathing new life into that voice that we know so well.”

Clothing by Bottega Veneta. Boots by Adieu.

Chalamet has not yet met Dylan. “I didn’t want to three years ago, because I just didn’t want to for superstitious reasons,” he said. “Now I would love to.”

The study of Dylan was aiding him in ways large and small. “Bob is like my Fame for Dummies,” he said. “It’s a different thing now because there were so few people who were that well-known then that you could really just dodge everything and be unknown…. But I still try to learn from him.” Do the work. Then disappear. Do the work. Then disappear.

“The trouble with me is that I had an 81-year-old mind when I was 17.”

Chalamet spent much of the first half of 2023 keeping a low profile, disappearing. What was most important, for both him and his work, he said, was to protect the piece of his humanity that fuels performance. “You’ve got to have the experiences in your personal life that are usable to you,” he said. “The experiential rush of my career taking off was so new to me that those were the experiences that were feeding my work for a while. But you’ve got to have real experiences. Human experiences. You’ve got to fall in love, you’ve got to be bored. I talked about the crease in the cushion of the couch the last time we talked”—that is, in 2020, his bone-deep desire to get off his rocket ship and reacquaint himself with stillness, with just sitting on the couch for a minute—“but I never found the crease in that time! I never slowed down. I never disappeared from view. But this year, in LA, I feel like I have in a great way.”

On the occasions that he did pop up, the world took notice. The first time, in January, was in an Apple TV+ ad—where he experiences FOMO watching all his contemporaries star in hit Apple shows and films. The ad is charming, knowing, and cuts devilishly close to the old anxiousness I’d encountered earlier in his career.

The second time, in April, was when he was spotted filming a Bleu de Chanel commercial in SoHo with Martin Scorsese. When they first started talking about doing the spot together, Scorsese asked Chalamet if he’d ever seen the 1968 Fellini short Toby Dammit. Recalling it, he laughed (no, he hadn’t), but the first jolt of the 80-year-old director’s energetic vision was exhilarating. It didn’t let down during the shoot: “We were in Queens at four in the morning and he was bounding up the subway stairs,” Chalamet said. “It should’ve occurred to me sooner that I try to find something to work on with him. Yes, it’s a perfume ad, but for me it was an opportunity for an enormous education.” The result is another cunning facsimile of reality in which Chalamet sends up a caricature of himself. “It’s not lost on me that the only things I’ve shot since wrapping Dune,” he said, smiling, “are ads for billion-dollar companies satirizing a version of my life.”

Over the past six years, as Chalamet became famous and then very famous, he sometimes found himself measuring the distance between the real Timothée Chalamet and these varied perceptions of him. The dinner table of Timothée Chalamets. But this was precisely the sort of needle spinning that seemed to have subsided. This summer, it seemed the signal for true north was evident and clear and that the other noise was receding. He couldn’t control how the distortions traveled. He could only control who he was—and he was happy to own it.

Which related to the other time Chalamet popped up in early 2023. This spring, he was spotted on his way to Tito’s Tacos in Culver City. Notable only because the person he was supposedly with was Kylie Jenner, and the photos of each of their SUVs in proximity to the other spun around the world instantly and sparked rumors of a possible pairing.

Chalamet is not naïve about how celebrity culture works. In fact, besides living it every day, he is perhaps the foremost member of the first generation of mega-celebrity who himself was as internet obsessed with his favorite artists as people are with him. Kid Cudi. Leo. Et cetera. He is a product of that fever, in no way above it, and so he understands the desire to get close, to get all the way in. “I can’t say that this stuff doesn’t matter,” he said, “because my intense fandom has led me to where I am.” But he also bristles at the suggestion that he might not be entitled to a wholly private life.

When I told him that this is all a fair and practically inalienable right, but that if he really wanted to be left alone he might not spend time with one of the four most followed people on Instagram, he nodded and chuckled: “This reminds me of that recent South Park episode with the Worldwide Privacy Tour,” he said, referring to a send-up of Harry and Meghan flying around in a private jet and appearing on a talk show to demand: We want privacy! We want privacy! “Sometimes, people are going to be hella confused when you say you’re trying to live a private life.”

After months of dodging rumors, the pair confirmed them by attending a Beyoncé concert together in LA in September, then the US Open men’s singles final together in New York, and otherwise not shying away from being out and about and affectionate together in public. Due to the SAG-AFTRA strike, I couldn’t follow up to ask him what happened to his existential plea for this part of his life to be left offstage, but I imagine he might’ve just protested: “We want privacy! We want privacy!”


That night this summer, roaming around New York, we got back to the place he was staying, and a little before 1 a.m., we really started talking. Chalamet wanted to get into the difference between how he was three years ago versus how he was now—and why.

Three years ago, he said, life was spinning. This was the moment in the cabin in the woods in Woodstock. He felt quite alone with his budding fame; literally isolated, with no one around who could really understand what was happening to him. It was like being the first one to hit puberty. He’d been “pedestaled,” he said. He did not know how he was meant to live. He did not know how a person, a person in his lonely cabin, was meant to be.

On Dune: Part One, he’d attached himself to the older men on set, men who were more like uncles than equals, like Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, and Oscar Isaac. “I feel like for a while there, it was really just older people in the room around me,” he said. “People I love but just, generationally above. And there was a moment when I—I don’t want this to come across wrong, but I felt like I was without peers.” Whereas on Part Two, he was with his contemporaries. Other actors who understood as well as—if not better than—he does, he said, how to balance the improbable fame with the life’s desire to act well. There was Zendaya. Austin Butler. Florence Pugh. And even Tom Holland, who dates Zendaya and would visit the set.

Jacket by Balenciaga. Tank top by Polo Ralph Lauren. Pants by Dries Van Noten. Sneakers by Air Jordan at Stadium Goods.

“It was so incredibly valuable to spend so much time with Zendaya and her assistant, Darnell, and when Tom would come to set too,” he said. “They’re level. They’re good Hollywood. They’re good-energy Hollywood. And then Austin and Florence. I feel like I’m creating a community for myself of people who care about the right things.”

“In Part One,” Villeneuve said, “Timothée was a little puppy with big dogs. The younger actor with the older mentors. In Part Two, he was with friends.”

“Look at Zendaya,” Chalamet said. “Just how much she’s able to achieve while also sort of letting everything roll off her back is mega-inspiring. She’s just doing.

Here now was his class. The people his age who’d joined him in his strange circumstances, but who’d seemingly figured it out, whom he could look up to. It brought him peace. It gave him the comfort, the fellowship, the confidence, the inspiration, and the competitive motivation to do what he needed to hold onto what was worth holding onto and move on from the rest. It was time.

Vest and pants by Valentino Haute Couture.

“At 24, I could have been content with the way I was doing things,” he said. “But that period of being stuck or stopped ended up being tremendously beneficial. It wasn’t just being isolated. It was actually a place to sprout from. And to bring more tenacity.”

It came up again and again from those I spoke to who’d come in contact with Chalamet these past three years. Here was this actor who had been elevated in such a way that he might’ve come to believe that his immense talent was enough, that his personhood alone was worth strangers’ obsession, that he inherently deserved the center of the frame. Instead, those people who knew him well said, he insisted on bringing even more effort, as though compulsively resistant to resting on his laurels. Not me—every rehearsal, every take, every interaction seemed to say. Let other people take this for granted.

“It’s this mix of challenging yourself and trying new things and venturing into new terrain—and so there’s that evolution,” producer Jeremy Kleiner said. “But there’s also a center—there’s a moral center, an aesthetic center. Whenever we spend time with him, it’s as it was, but it’s different. And you feel that mix of continuity and evolution—”

Yes, that was it exactly. Precisely the sensation of tracing my time with Chalamet from Chapter One to Chapter Two to Chapter Three. The way in which time passes, change occurs, but the center holds. That’s how you keep your mind, body, career, reputation, and integrity as an artist intact while still welcoming the rest—somehow performing the necessary surgery to shed that which needed shedding, while taking care to preserve it.

The efforts to push higher in his work dovetailed with the efforts to push ahead in his personal life. In both cases, the antagonist was the status quo—even if the status quo was much lauded and much loved. It was all part of growing up, of actively electing to evolve into the next version of himself. Of adding new versions of himself to that dinner table, or perhaps just asking some of those versions to head home for good. “When I was sitting in my grandma’s hospital room at Mount Sinai, and I knew I had two weeks left swimming in a chocolate tank to go back to, I was like, Wow, I’ve really gotta start putting some caissons into the earth or I’m going to be in trouble. I have no real solid footing to land after all this to spring forth from again. This is why people who turn 27 and refuse to start pulling the handbrake end up dying. It’s the last gasps of your youth hitting a wall. Your body is actually adultifying.”

Chalamet had asked me if he seemed calmer than when we were in the woods together three years ago—and the difference this summer was palpable. He had, it seemed, passed through some rough air but found clearer skies. He’d taken his ship higher. Leveled up. Things were simpler there. “Yes,” he said. “It had to become simpler in order for it to become really complicated again. And I hope that when I do this next movie, and you talk to me at the end of it, I’ll be in ruins.”

He had to change something to get out of a temporary storm. As a human and as an artist. He started treating his acting even more seriously. Embracing being a leading man. Training like he’d never trained before. He ditched his apartment in New York. Bought a house in LA. Started spending time with whom he pleased. But what happens when you eschew the things that made your career what it’s become? What happens when you deliberately defy the moves that led you where you’d always wanted to go, and try something altogether different? It was a risk. But it made perfect sense. It happens. Your family members start to die. Your elders get replaced by your peers. You pack up your life and plant roots elsewhere. You put down the instrument that made you known and pick up another one instead. You plug it in. Do you hear that? That’s the buzz of something new. Wait till you hear what it sounds like when you strum.

Daniel Riley is GQ’s global content development director.

A version of this story originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of GQ with the title “Timothée Chalamet Goes Electric”


PRODUCTION CREDITS:
Photographs by Cass Bird
Styled by Heidi Bivens
Grooming by Ward Stegerhoek for Home Agency
Skin by Karina Milan for The Wall Group
Set design by Hans Maharawal
Produced by Boom Productions


This article was originally published on GQ.

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