Ansel Elgort

I got into movies, watching old films my dad had, the old Elia Kazan movies. It was those old movies, actually, that really got me started. Marlon Brando, Paul Newman-—straight-up legends. Ansel elgort

Ansel Elgort is what is traditionally called a triple-threat-he acts, dances, and sings. The 20-year-old New York native and theater-camp vet who started performing in ballet class at age 9 and crafts bass-thumping electronic dance tracks under the nom de musique Ansolo made his screen debut as pretty-boy high school jock Tommy Ross in last year’s remake of Carrie. He recently appeared in this spring’s young-adult dystopian juggernaut Divergent, and in June gets leading-man status as Augustus Waters, one half of a pair of star-crossed, terminally ill teenage lovers in The Fault in Our Stars alongside fellow Divergent alum Shailene Woodley. His fourth movie, Jason Reitman’s dramedy about modern love, Men, Women & Children, due out later this year, has him sharing the screen with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Garner. It’s been a packed two years for Elgort, but he doesn’t seem to be letting up soon.

COLLEEN KELSEY: You went to LaGuardia High School, the Fame school. Did you always want to act?

ANSEL ELGORT: When I was nine, I started doing ballet. That’s when I knew that I was down to keep doing it. Eventually I came into acting and LaGuardia and straight play-acting turned into movies. I always did workshops. I would be at theater camp, doing shows, or after-school programs. Then I was doing shows in school. It was nonstop. I was never not in a show from ages 11 until 18. It was a great creative atmosphere but also a professional kind of atmosphere. When I finally went into the professional world, I felt ready. I was prepared for work.

KELSEY: What was the movie or play that made you want to be an actor?

ELGORT: Les Miz and Oklahoma! I was a big musical guy. Then I got into movies, watching old films my dad had, the old Elia Kazan movies, like On the Waterfront [1954]. It was those old movies, actually, that really got me started. Marlon Brando, Paul Newman—straight-up legends.

KELSEY: What was your first role?

ELGORT: The first show I did was The Nutcracker ballet. I was one of the kids who comes out in the beginning. In fifth grade, I did Oklahoma!, but I didn’t get a leading role. I knew the whole play and could sing it already, but they were like, “The sixth-grader has to get the lead.” I was really discouraged. Then I went to the Professional Performing Arts School.

KELSEY: Have you had any auditioning experiences that bring you back to that first rejection in Oklahoma!?

ELGORT: I guess so. I did seven auditions for Carrie. I just kept coming back and doing the same thing over and over again. I guess they just wanted to see if I was consistent. I was a total nobody. I wouldn’t have hired me to be the lead in that movie either.

KELSEY: Really?

ELGORT: Not at first. Not off a couple auditions. I would want to see proof that I could do it.

KELSEY: You were in Carrie, a horror movie; Divergent, a sci-fi-action movie; and now you have The Fault in Our Stars, a fairly unusual love story. Have you diversified your acting skill set fairly quickly in your career?

ELGORT: It’s not like I’m pulling a Christian Bale and getting really fuckin’ skinny. I’m not playing a woman. Doing those kinds of things—that’s diversity. I want to do that. I think that I could pull it off. I think that a theater background really helps with that.

KELSEY: Do you have actor role models?

ELGORT: Paul Newman. He could play a lot of different roles, even people who were villains, and no matter what, you love him. He was always such a relatable character—the smile, the blue eyes. Brando was just really real. James Dean was always a tortured soul. It’s cool to look at the old guys. But when I’m looking at someone’s career, I’m not trying to be, “Oh, whose do I want?” I don’t really want anyone else’s. I don’t just act, and that’s really important to me. I don’t want to just be an actor forever. Right now I’m really into music. I want to score movies. I could be an actor first, but I don’t only want to be an actor.

KELSEY: Who do you want to work with the most?

ELGORT: I think it would be ridiculous to work with Tom Hardy. I hear some crazy things about him, and he’s also really good. I like the movie Warrior [2011] a lot and Gavin O’Connor, who directed it.

KELSEY: Have you ever been starstruck?

ELGORT: Less and less recently. It’s so sad, you get less starstruck when you start realizing that it’s not a big deal. I got starstruck not by someone who is famous, but by someone who’s famous in the miniature painting community. When I was a kid, I used to paint miniatures. There were famous people in the miniature community from forums online. I went to some big event and I saw them in real life and I was so starstruck. So silly, right?

KELSEY: With The Fault in Our Stars, the book has such a cult following. Have you been aware of what people’s expectations are for the movie?

ELGORT: Definitely. Especially since I’m really big on social media stuff. I get it firsthand, which I think is important. It’s important to be there.

KELSEY: How close are you with your followers?

ELGORT: I’ve been Skyping with them, one on one, with people who have been winning a competition for my new EDM [electronic dance music] track “Unite.” I have this raffle you can enter to promote the song. It’s cool. They actually ask me a lot of questions about music. They really do care. And that’s why social media is so important, because these kids, a lot of them had never known what electronic music was.

KELSEY: What’s the event in history you wished you witnessed?

ELGORT: The ’50s; the whole greaser time in Hollywood. I would have liked to have been there when they were like, [in an old-timey accent] “Oh, we’re making pictures now that have sound and color!”

KELSEY: What actor, living or dead, would you want to play you in the movie of your life?

ELGORT: Paul Newman. I trust him.

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