At the tender age of 22, when most of his contemporaries were just beginning their careers, US thespian Timothée Chalamet was fêted by Hollywood as the youngest actor in almost 80 years to be nominated for Best Actor at the 2018 Academy Awards. Yet, much like Cinderella when the clock struck midnight, the following day saw Chalamet hit with the realities of his everyday life in Manhattan with no credit card, no roof over his head, and barely a few dollars to his name.
Yet, his perseverance in the face of such adversity has yielded huge rewards. Subsequent performances in big-screen productions such as Beautiful Boy, filmed later that year, and Little Women (2019) went on to garner critical acclaim and cement his status as a rising star.
Despite being something of a staple at red-carpet events lately – he sported white sweatpants and sneakers to what was dubbed the biggest fashion event of the year, the Met Gala – his rather recent entry into the limelight means that for the most part, his personal life remains an enigma. As Chalamet returns to the silver screen this month in the long-awaited film adaptation of cult sci-fi novel Dune, we delve into some lesser-known facts about the Call Me by Your Name star…
Timothée Hal Chalamet – to give the now 25-year-old his full name – was born in the Big Apple to real-estate broker Nicole Flender and Marc Chalamet, an editor for UNICEF. Given his French-American roots, young Timothée spent many summers in his father’s hometown of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and speaks fluent French.
Speaking to the duality of his upbringing, the actor explained: “Once I was there, I became the French version of myself. I was completely imbued in the culture and I even dreamed in French.” A talented linguist, Chalamet Jr also picked up a smattering of Italian prior to filming Call Me by Your Name, which was set in Lombardy.
Bitten by the acting bug at an early age, Chalamet attended LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, one of the most prestigious such establishments in New York City – luminaries like Jennifer Aniston and Nicki Minaj are alumni. While there, he partnered for the first time with his Little Women co-star Ansel Elgort. Not only did the two prodigies share the stage there, they were also on the same basketball team. Remembering their personalities, their former drama teacher Harry Shifman said: “They were both like rock stars, in a school full of rock stars. Everybody recognised them as being particularly gifted.”
Elgort wasn’t Chalamet’s only high-profile schoolmate, though. He also met Madonna’s daughter Lourdes Leon while attending LaGuardia, and after years of speculation about their relationship, the latter admitted earlier this year that the two had been an item when they were students.
In addition to starring in various high-school productions, Chalamet also dabbled in rap while attending LaGuardia. Under the alias “Lil’ Timmy Tim”, he created a music video in which he waxed lyrical about how much he loved his statistics teacher, Ms Lawton. Although said teacher only gave him a D+ grade for his effort, the clip went viral after he shot to stardom, with talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres even playing it during Chalamet’s guest spot on her show. Later, when he appeared on The Late Late Show with James Corden, he lamented: “I am never going to live this down. This is going to follow me everywhere.”
After graduating from high school, teen Timothée was accepted at the prestigious Columbia University, where he studied cultural anthropology. However, his enrolment coincided with the launch of his career, and he dropped out in 2014 after his freshman year, just before the release of his feature-film debut in sci-fi hit, Interstellar. Recalling the struggles of managing his acting commitments with his academic schedule, he said: “I just couldn’t figure out the balance, so I left school after a year, got an apartment in the Bronx… and have since been getting a steady stream of work.”
Young & Gifted
As mentioned, when the Call Me by Your Name breakout star was nominated for an Academy Award, he became the youngest actor to be so honoured since 1939, when then 19-year-old Mickey Rooney got the nod for his role in Babe in Arms. The event also made him the third youngest Best Actor nominee in Oscar history. While Chalamet has yet to clinch a major award, he has racked up a host of nominations for his CV, including three BAFTAs, two Golden Globes and four Screen Actors’ Guild Awards.
When #MeToo garnered global support in 2018, director Woody Allen was among the many Hollywood giants who faced backlash for his questionable past treatment of women. Chalamet was working with Allen in A Rainy Day In New York at the time, and in solidarity with the movement, the young man announced that he would donate his entire salary from the film to a list of charities aiding sexual assault victims and championing equal rights, such as Time’s Up, the LGBT Centre in New York, and RAINN. Explaining the move, he posted on Instagram: “I want to be worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with the brave artists who are fighting for all people to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”
Even before he was attached to the newly released Dune, Chalamet was so keen to work with its director, Denis Villeneuve, that he set up a Google alert to track the film’s production and began reading the novel on the off chance that he would be cast. “I was about halfway through the book when he asked if I could come out to meet him, so I quickly busted through the second half of the book… And then I had that meeting, and it was such a joy,” he recalls. He certainly aced the face-to-face, nabbing his dream role as protagonist Paul Atreides in what will be an epic, two-part space odyssey.