Published January 5, 2012
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At the age of 14, Chloë Grace Moretz has already secured a special place for herself in the annals of youth culture. In Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, which was released last year, Moretz plays a pre-teen superhero named Hit-Girl who, brandishing a gun, utters a word theretofore unbandied about in the kiddie-hero genre, when she refers to her imminent foes—a roomful of drug dealers—using a colloquial term that begins with a C and rhymes with fronts and still isn’t allowed to be spoken on television. While there is indisputably a degree of evil genius at work in any movie where a group of ne’er-do-wells becomes instantly paralyzed by a pre-teen with a glock who has referred to them by the last great verboten expletive—Was it the gun that did it? Or the foul language?—the line, coming from a then-13-year-old, was a proverbial showstopper, and beyond the initial schlock-shock, occasioned some low-intensity cultural soul-searching. The responses, both negative and positive, were emphatic: The Los Angeles Times questioned why anyone would allow a girl that young to be involved in a scene that involved so many very bad things; the British newspaper The Guardian, in its more permissive English way, actually verged on heralding Moretz and Vaughn as quasi-revolutionaries for dragging the C-word into the popular vernacular. But regardless of where anyone stood on the spectrum of indignation, the attention also unequivocally announced Moretz’s arrival as a young actress who not only doesn’t quite fit the mold, but also might one day do something to the mold that makes us question the very nature of the mold—or if in fact there should be one.
Moretz has all of the stuff that makes studio executives drool: precocious talent far beyond her years, an expressiveness that can convey both wonder and worldliness, a wide-eyed beauty, an old-soulfulness, poise, enthusiasm, a Twitter account. However, her most basic qualities as an actor also perfectly match those of a role that Hollywood is constantly looking to cast: that of the teen actress who can do the kind of mature work that resonates with other teens as well as adults, and whose coming of age, both on screen and off, they can ride as far as it will take them (which is usually until college age). The list of actresses who’ve played the part successfully before maneuvering their way out is impressive, among them Kristen Stewart, Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, Kirsten Dunst, Christina Ricci, Winona Ryder, Jennifer Connelly, Diane Lane, Mariel Hemingway, Brooke Shields, Jodie Foster, Tatum O’Neal, all the way back to Natalie Wood and Elizabeth Taylor. But the list of actresses who’ve struggled to find creative life beyond this specific brand of teen stardom, or, more commonly, have had to work hard to find within themselves the fortitude to fight tirelessly as twenty- and thirty- and fortysomethings for the kinds of substantial roles they were being handed as adolescents, is even longer—and there are a lot of actresses on both lists.
So it isn’t easy being a teenage actress, especially today, with the premium that continues to be put on tapping into the ever-expanding international market of media-obsessed teens and twentysomethings—and it’s only getting harder. But it’s also important to keep in mind that old truism about adolescence—that whatever happens, good or bad, it’s all just a phase. And through that lens, Moretz’s very big upcoming year right now has all the makings of a very big future. This month, she stars as the best friend of an orphan boy living a secret life in the walls of a Paris train station in Martin Scorsese’s highly anticipated new film Hugo, a 3D adaptation of Brian Selznick’s best-selling children’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. She’ll also appear next year alongside Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s new big-screen adaptation of the vampy, campy ’60s soap Dark Shadows, and take a decidedly less fantastical and more dramatic and gritty turn in Derick Martini’s Hick, in which she plays a teenage girl who runs away from her drunken parents with her sights set on Las Vegas, and is taken under the wing of a grifter played by Blake Lively.
Drew Barrymore, herself a veteran—and triumphant survivor—of the young-actress ringer, directed Moretz this year in the video for Los Angeles band Best Coast’s “Our Deal.” They recently reconnected by phone in L.A.
I think Mr. Scorsese looked at me a lot as a daughter figure because he has a daughter who is, like, 12 years old . . . He was very fatherly towards me.Chloë Grace Moretz
DREW BARRYMORE: CHLOËËËËËËËËËËËËËËËËËË!
CHLOË GRACE MORETZ: Oh my god. How are you?
BARRYMORE: How are you? Where are you right now?
MORETZ: I’m in L.A. actually. We were moving all weekend. It was such a mess.
BARRYMORE: Are you moving into your new house?
MORETZ: Mm-hmm! It’s so cute. It’s this little place for Mom and me.
BARRYMORE: Are you in town for a while?
MORETZ: Yeah. I’m actually here the rest of the year because I’m taking a little break for a sec.
BARRYMORE: Oh, good for you. So I want to try and ask you questions that don’t suck, if I can help it.
MORETZ: [laughs] Thank god.
BARRYMORE: Are you ready?
MORETZ: Oh god . . . Yeah. I’m scared.
BARRYMORE: Do not be scared. You never have to be scared with me because I have the protection of laughter and safety around you at all times.
BARRYMORE: Okay. If you could go on a date with anyone, who would it be and where would you go?
MORETZ: Oh, no . . . This is hard! In my age range there’s not many people to date, so . . .
BARRYMORE: A lot of women would say the same thing!
MORETZ: [laughs] My date would have to be with . . . Maybe Ryan Gosling.
BARRYMORE: Oh! No kidding.
MORETZ: Yeah. We could just drive around . . .
BARRYMORE: High five. Good choice.
BARRYMORE: If you could blink and be anywhere at any time of the world, or in history, where and when would you be?
MORETZ: I really love the Elizabethan era, so probably I’d be in Elizabethan England—like living in the countryside. Either that, or in France or something. Or Renaissance Italy.
BARRYMORE: Wouldn’t it be wonderful for us to meet up in great old Italy? We’ll have to make a date to do so . . . Maybe we’ll be in a boat with Ryan Gosling in Italy, the two of us.
MORETZ: Yes! It’s happening!
BARRYMORE: Freckles or gap teeth?
MORETZ: Well, I already have a gap in my teeth—and I like it, actually, because it’s awkward and fun! So, I’d probably say gap.
In my age range there’s not many people to date . . . maybe ryan gosling . . . we could just drive around.Chloë Grace Moretz
BARRYMORE: Okay, you’re playing air guitar right now with a tennis racquet and a pair of striped socks, standing in front of the mirror. What band is playing on the stereo?
MORETZ: I don’t know . . . I think a pretty good air guitar sort of thing would have to be, like, Aerosmith or something, where they’re really going at it.
BARRYMORE: Any particular song? Or just anything by Aerosmith?
MORETZ: What’s the song with the music video that Alicia Silverstone did with Liv Tyler?
BARRYMORE: Was that “Crazy”? Oh, god . . . Here goes my ’90s brain. You’re picturing Alicia and Liv dancing around and driving—that’s what you’re picturing in your head as you’re listening to Aerosmith, playing air guitar in your striped socks with your tennis racquet.
BARRYMORE: If you were to do some other occupation in life, what would you do?
MORETZ: Hmmm . . . I don’t know if it’s exactly an occupation, but I’d probably, like, fly helicopters and airplanes, or something fun!
BARRYMORE: I did not expect that answer.
MORETZ: It sounds so fun.
BARRYMORE: Would you want to fly helicopters with Ryan Gosling?
MORETZ: Obviously. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
BARRYMORE: So, what woman makes you want to fall to your knees and bow in respect and awe?
MORETZ: Um . . . Drew Barrymore!
BARRYMORE: [laughs] All right, fine, I’ll play that. But if there was another woman?
MORETZ: Another woman?
BARRYMORE: Another woman who was as lucky as I get to be to be put in that category. If there was another woman on the planet who would be as graced . . .
MORETZ: I’d have to say probably Audrey Hepburn. I think she’d be the one where I’d just be like, “Uh, I love you.” So . . . Yep.
BARRYMORE: On the other side of the coin, what male figure would make you fall down onto your knees in respect and awe?
MORETZ: Ryan Gosling.
BARRYMORE: You know, in storytelling, we call this a payoff. [Moretz laughs] A payoff or a runner.
MORETZ: Ryan Gosling.
BARRYMORE: Five people at your dinner table, dead or alive. Who would they be?
MORETZ: Yay! Okay, it would be you, Audrey, and then I’d probably put Marilyn [Monroe] there, just for some giggles and some funness. And I’d say Natalie Portman, too. And . . . How many is that? Three or four?
When I was a little girl, I used to soak up everything . . . I would soak up like these huge, dramatic dialogues and start spewing them all the time.Chloë Grace Moretz
BARRYMORE: That’s four. Drew, Audrey, Marilyn, Natalie.
MORETZ: And Grace Kelly.
BARRYMORE: That’s a pretty fabulous group of women—me notwithstanding. But I’m thrilled that I would be invited. So I’ve been lucky enough to direct you—I got you to wear red lips for the first time. You looked so pretty. And you kissed a boy on top of a roof!
MORETZ: Shut up!
BARRYMORE: So there were lots of firsts. But I wanted to ask you: What was one key sentence or a key moment or a key phrase or a key piece of advice that you’ve learned from some of the other directors you’ve worked with. Let’s start with Mr. Tim Burton.
MORETZ: Oh, Mr. Burton . . . Well, that’s hard because no one actually, like, sits you down and gives you advice or anything, you know what I mean? But the thing with Tim is definitely the way that he really just focuses on his actors. If the actor says, “No, I don’t feel that’s right for the character,” then he takes that so seriously—and not many directors do that in the same way. So that was a very special thing, working with him.
BARRYMORE: That nice to hear, that he’s so honorable to actors.
MORETZ: Oh, yeah. Very much.
BARRYMORE: Okay, Mr. [Matthew] Vaughn, who directed you in Kick-Ass.
MORETZ: Oh, I love Matthew. I really appreciated the way Matthew was able to shield me from a lot of the crazy stuff in Kick-Ass—because that movie was pretty crazy. And, of course, I was a lot of the craziness. But he definitely shielded me from the stuff that was above my head, you know what I mean? If something was too much, he would be like, “Don’t do it. I want you to be comfortable and be able to do what you need to do.” So I definitely really respect him for that. He was really caring about my age.
BARRYMORE: Okay, then . . . Mr. [Martin] Scorsese.
MORETZ: Oh, Mr. Scorsese. You’ve probably never heard of him before.
BARRYMORE: Yeah, he’s an obscure director. I thought that people might not have heard of him, so if you could just illuminate one moment of your time in the private world of Martin Scorsese for everybody, it might be helpful.
MORETZ: Oh, gosh. I mean, there were so many moments. Mostly, I think Mr. Scorsese looked at me a lot as a daughter figure because he has a daughter who is, like, 12 years old. So he was very fatherly towards me.
BARRYMORE: Okay, finally, Mr. Marc Webb, who directed (500) Days of Summer .
MORETZ: Oh, Marc! I mean, I was, like, 11 when I did the movie with him, and I didn’t know much about boys and relationships and stuff, and my whole character was really about just stressing out with her brother, trying to help him out in his relationship—and that is not me at all.
BARRYMORE: That’s interesting because you do have four brothers. So he helped give you insight into the male mentality?
MORETZ: Kind of, yeah. You know, he started in music videos, so the way he was able to really bring this feeling into the scenes where the characters didn’t have to speak but everyone knows what’s going on. So that was cool.
BARRYMORE: What are some of your favorite films—both new and old?
MORETZ: A new film I love would have to be Black Swan  probably, and an old one would have to be either Gone With the Wind  or Breakfast at Tiffany’s .
BARRYMORE: [sighs] Such a romantic.
MORETZ: I so am . . . Oh, and I loved Drive so much!
BARRYMORE: If you had to get a tattoo today, what would it be?
MORETZ: Oh, my gosh. That’s so . . . Okay. [deep breath] Well, I used to have a sister, but I never got to meet her because she died after two days, I think. So if I got a tattoo, it would probably have to be something to do with my sister. I actually want to get a tattoo when I’m older of something about her. So it would probably be that.
BARRYMORE: That’s a beautiful answer. What was the moment where you said, “I have to do this—I want to act”?
MORETZ: I mean, I always had this really strong inclination. My brother Trev went to the Professional Performing Arts School in New York, and he used to do his monologues and stuff and rehearse in our apartment. So I used to hear him all the time doing these things over and over and over. And when I was a little girl, I used to soak up everything—like anything anyone did, I soaked it up. So I would soak up like these huge, dramatic dialogues and start spewing them all the time. I loved it so much. Then the minute I got in front of a camera for the first time—like, a big, full-on camera, in The Amityville Horror  when I was 6 or 7—I think that was the moment when I was just in it. I didn’t know how I was doing it, but I was doing it.
BARRYMORE: Okay, magic wand time. Fantasy clothes by any designer made especially for you right now. Go.
MORETZ: Oh, no! It’s like a ball gown or something amazingly huge and beautiful. It would probably have to be either, like, Valentino or Oscar de la Renta. And then if it was something beautiful that Audrey Hepburn might wear—you know, just perfect and cute and special—it would probably be either Givenchy or Chanel. And if it was crazy—like, amazingly psychotic—it would have to be Vivienne Westwood.
BARRYMORE: What is the best thing about having four big brothers?
MORETZ: The best thing about having four big brothers is you always have someone to do something for you. [laughs] No, no. I think number one would be that they always protect me. There’s someone to turn to. It’s like having four fathers, basically, because they all super-duper take care of me.
This is an excerpt of the cover story. To read the full Chloë Grace Moretz interview pick up a copy of the November issue of Interview.
Drew Barrymore is an actress, director, and producer.