Is Timothée Chalamet the new Leonardo DiCaprio?

By
Photography Craig McDean

Published April 5, 2018

PHOTOGRAPHY BY CRAIG MCDEAN. SWEATER AND NECKLACE: SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO.

For a string of about eight films, from The Basketball Diaries [1995] to The Beach [2000], Leonardo DiCaprio was inescapable. A cherubic pin-up with a cheshire grin, DiCaprio was courting both fans and the press as a cheeky neophyte who flirted with MTV host Daisy Fuentes and partied with “The Pussy Posse.” That posse included magician David Blaine, actor Lukas Haas and Tobey Maguire. Their regular hangouts were bars and clubs like Jet 19, Shine and Sky Bar in New York.

Sure, DiCaprio was a Vermeer painting come to life, but until his breakout in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape [1993]—after which he appeared on Interview’s June 1994 cover—he went virtually unnoticed. “Even at the Basketball Diaries party at the Hard Rock Café, no one was paying much attention to him,” a gossip columnist told Nancy Jo Sales in her famous 1998 New York magazine profile of DiCaprio.

A New York Times feature in 1995 around the release of The Basketball Diaries described him as follows: “It’s not that DiCaprio is magnetic or studly: a growth spurt two years ago left him more gangly than statuesque, and his eyes, though piercing, are vacant. Idling on a playground set, he’s unremarkable, an empty vessel; his co-star Mark Wahlberg (formerly Marky Mark of underwear fame) has a far more electric physical presence.”

In the late ’90s, the ideal male physique was more Versace beefcake than nebbishy boy toy. He was cute, but sidelined to play roles of a tortured dreamboat.

DiCaprio worked his way into hearts by other means. He said all the right things when a microphone was shoved in his face, turning to raise a brow at the camera while a journalist in drag asked him a question and talking through taboo subjects like sex and masturbation. “I notice that when I’m being consciously cool and I talk slower and wink or give a little smirk, people seem to like me more, and I think that’s how you get phony attitudes about things,” he told Ingrid Sischy in ’94. “Whenever I notice myself doing something just to please somebody else, I try to stop it.”

But it couldn’t be stopped. Not once James Cameron’s Titanic [1998] was released. Titanic had teen girls everywhere mopping up saliva off their Leo-plastered Trapper Keepers and arguing that the door was big enough. Every one of DiCaprio’s films leading up to that point was more or less a box office disappointment. “The actor, in fact, had such a knack for signing on to flops, you almost had to wonder whether, for all his cleverness, some petulant teen part of him wanted to fail,” wrote Entertainment Weekly in September 1998. “No other budding sex symbol would have jumped to play the bisexual, absinthe-swilling Rimbaud in Total Eclipse.”

No one, perhaps, until budding sex symbol Timothée Chalamet deflowered a peach.

Timothée Chalamet, 22, has instigated a Chalamania akin to the Leomania of DiCaprio’s late ‘90s apex. His trajectory mirrors that of a young DiCaprio—Chalamet first appeared on TV series like Royal Pains and Homeland and in arthouse films like Men, Women & Children [2014] and Miss Stevens [2016] before his own Titanic—Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name [2017]. Last year, months before the film’s release, something took place that could only happen in the age of reposts and double-taps: Timothée Chalamet’s path to millennial pin-up was intensely expedited. His fervent fan base emerged, fully formed, from what most thought would be a fringe indie movie. It peaked long before the public had even seen the trailer.

“Something about this story is impacting me in a way I’ve never experienced [before]—even without seeing it yet, I know that,” one teenager explained to i-D three months before the film’s U.S. bow. Chalamania was already taking hold after reviews out of Sundance Film Festival—where the film had its debut—began worming their way into the public consciousness.

Once people started seeing CMBYN, the comparisons to a young DiCaprio grew louder. “Actually I think he’s one of the best actors in the world,” Call Me By Your Name’s producer Rodrigo Teixeira told Variety on the red carpet earlier this year. “Maybe he’s the new Leonardo DiCaprio? He’s a great actor, a great person, and he’s given everything he has to do this film. We’re so proud and happy to work with him.”

The Ringer’s Andrew Gruttadaro made the argument that “both actors came up on television; both were nominated for Oscars at young ages for their first true acting showcases (DiCaprio was nominated at 19 for What’s Eating Gilbert Grape); both bring their moms everywhere; both make questionable sweater choices; both probably vape.”

The buck doesn’t stop there, either. Timothée Chalamet learned the piano for his role in Call Me By Your Name. Leonardo DiCaprio used to play the organ when he was young. Chalamet dated Madonna’s daughter Lourdes. DiCaprio stacked his dating CV with big name models like Bridget Hall, Naomi Campbell, Bijou Phillips and Helena Christensen. More than a wink to camera, Chalamet has asserted his cool, switching effortlessly to French in interviews, shouting out Cardi B in acceptance speeches and gabbing over the phone with Frank Ocean. Is his own Peach Posse next?

DiCaprio was a constant fixture on the New York party scene, which he’d discovered after first coming to town to film The Basketball Diaries. “He hits Manhattan clubs … and brawls with the locals,” said Rolling Stone. “He seldom sleeps, so intense is his partying,” wrote Liz Smith. Chalamet was recently spotted at the second anniversary party for the downtown movie theater Metrograph, turning up around 10 P.M. and making a beeline for Greg Krelenstein, formerly of DJ trio the Misshapes, who now works as a talent booker and recently got him a V Man cover. He then spent the rest of the night with Good Time [2017] director Benny Safdie. Chalamet has also cut a rug at grotty FiDi restaurant China Chalet for cool fashion party Glam and attended a dinner for the launch of L’Officiel USA, where he chatted up singer Oyinda.

As the appeal for the muscle milk actor waned in the aftermath of heroin chic in the mid-’90s, room was made on screen for a more slender body type among male leads. Now, Hollywood is overrun with twinks. Similar to the Times’ description of a 20-year-old DiCaprio’s body as “gangly” and “unremarkable”, GQ described Chalamet as having a body that was “stovepiped like a Stroke, the sort of frame that’s forged in high schools without football teams.” (Chalamet attended LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, the same one attended by Lady Gaga and Al Pacino).

Dates, parties, and slim frames notwithstanding, it’s his fearlessness as a young actor that warrants the most comparison to DiCaprio’s chameleonic abilities. Chalamet does broody better than anyone (see Ladybird, Homeland), and his unwavering confidence and wounded posturing in Call Me By Your Name proves he can act. He was even nominated for the highest award at this year’s Oscars.

Drawing parallels from one actor to another aren’t anything new. After all, in that same 1995 NYT profile on DiCaprio, the subheading reads: “Is this 20-year-old actor the next River Phoenix? If not, why do we like pretending he is?” But we like pretending because we wish to flatter our idols, even though they are their own talents. It’s just been a minute since a hot, young actor has captured our imaginations quite like this twink Adonis.

So is Timothée Chalamet really the new Leonardo DiCaprio? “I think Timothée Chalamet is Timothée Chalamet,” says director Luca Guadagnino, with a note of finality, over the phone. “The distinctive qualities, his incredible talent, his [ability] as an actor makes him be who he is without any comparison to anybody else.”