Ansel Elgort displays his natural charisma in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, portraying Augustus Waters, a confident, witty and charming teenager. Recovering from cancer, Gus is now in remission and attends a local support group with his best friend Isaac (Nat Wolff). There he meets Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), a pretty and intelligent girl, who is battling cancer. Hazel is immediately taken with the funny, philosophical and highly attractive Gus. They strike up a friendship, which soon turns into something deeper and eventually Hazel and Gus set off on the adventure of a lifetime. The young actor was looking stylish in a gray Kenzo suit when he sat down in Los Angeles to discuss The Fault In Our Stars.
Q: How did you get the role?
A: “I did an audition tape on my iPhone, with the help of a friend. I did it in my stairwell. They sent it back and said: ‘okay do it a little differently now.’ So I did another tape. And then months went by. Eventually I heard that they wanted me to go to LA to audition with Shailene. We did a bunch of scenes, including the one where I first meet her at the support group and the one when I tell Hazel we’re going to Amsterdam. I also did a very emotional scene. It was a tough audition but I got the part”
Q: How exciting was it when you learned that you had landed the role?
A: “You know what? I was very excited. I was like, ‘okay; now I have a big responsibility and I have to do a really good job. I thought, ‘this is going to be a great experience but it is going to be a tough one.’ I knew I would have to focus on the role.”
Q: Who is Gus, what kind of boy is he?
A: “Gus is an idealist. He wants to leave his mark on the world and when he realizes he can’t do that, it really brings him down. Then he realizes that he can make a mark on Hazel and affect one person, and that’s a beautiful discovery in the movie, which is very important for him. Gus is theatrical in the way he lives. He is into honor and justice and revenge, which he gets from the video games and the books he loves. But when you strip all that down, he is an emotional boy. He isn’t perfect, he is flawed, he’s a real human being, and I think that’s why people can relate to him.”
Q: It is interesting that you played Shailene’s brother in DIVERGENT and now you are her boyfriend – her leading man.
A: “I’m a big admirer of Shailene and it was nice working with her on DIVERGENT, but my character was not big in that film. I only had three or four scenes with her. Working with her on THE FAULT IN OUR STARS was the real deal, because I’m the leading man and she’s such a good actress. Also it’s a totally different kind of movie. This film involved long, hard, emotional scenes. But it was fun to do DIVERGENT first; it was great to be part of a big blockbuster like that. I’m glad I got to work with Shailene on both films, especially on this one.”
Q: Do you think young love is as valid and real as love between older people?
A: ‘I definitely think it is as real. Love is different for everyone, and I don’t think it’s fair for people to judge other people’s love and say, ‘oh your love isn’t important.’ If two people are in love, they’re in love. I have been in love myself and that helped me with the role, because if you haven’t experienced love, it would be tough to portray those emotions. That’s why people say young actors have a harder time than older actors, because they’ve experienced less. I’m lucky that I have experienced a lot of things, even at a young age and love is one of them. That was very beneficial and important for me when it came to playing Augustus Waters.”
Q: How important is humor in the film? THE FAULT IN OUR STARS deals with a serious subject, but Gus and Hazel aren’t portrayed sentimentally. They are normal teenagers and are often very funny and sarcastic.
A: “It is important because the teenagers in the story are human beings and when suffering hits them, they handle it well. Hazel and Augustus have cancer looming over them, but they also have a beautiful love story. They are young and they don’t have many worries (other than health) or responsibilities, so they can focus on their love for one another. John Green depicts them in the book as regular kids who are humorous and who constantly make a joke out of their disease. It is the same in the film. They have bad days and they’re not always happy and joking around, but they don’t want to be treated like patients. They’re just kids.”
Q: You and Shailene have fantastic chemistry, was that natural?
A: “We got along very well. I think chemistry is all about comfort and trust and friendship, and we had all those things. It was very important in playing a role like this that is dependent on trust. We became good friends and off set we’d go out to nice dinners together.”
Q: What was it like working with the older actors, like Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe?
A: “It was so cool to work with them. You know, I’m just a kid. When I was making the film I was 19. So it was really awesome working with those amazing older people, because this was only my third movie and I learned such a lot. Willem seemed like he approached the work in a very scholarly way. He seems like a guy who has never stopped learning. He is a great actor and he leads by example.”
Q: What was it like working with Josh Boone, the director?
A: “Josh is very chill, which is nice because he set a good vibe for the set. This is a story about a beautiful friendship and relationship, and Josh just let it happen. He was relaxed. He didn’t seem like a big-time, scary movie director guy. I like him a lot.”
Q: What do you admire about John Green’s book, on which the film is based?
A: “I think it empowers young people. It shows that sometimes young people are smarter than older people [give us credit for], because we’re still learning and our brains are sponges. We’re still at this stage in our lives when we actually think a lot about a lot of things. I think John Green acknowledges that and he doesn’t write dummy books for young people. He writes really smart books. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is a great book and it isn’t just for young people, it is for everybody.”
Q: How did you prepare physically for the role?
A: “There was a lot of preparation. Augustus has lost his leg, so I learned how to walk as if I had a prosthetic leg. I worked with a 17 year old kid called Tanner Boatwright [from West Virginia] who has a prosthetic leg. He lost his leg in a hunting accident; he got shot in the back of the knee. Tanner was great. That kid had so much pride and he was so confident and he is in amazing shape. He has not slowed down at all. He came to New York City and I showed him around for a day; I felt good being with him. He has so much pride in being a prosthetic user and he inspired me and my creation of Augustus Waters, who is also very confident.”
Q: Did you learn how to walk in a different way?
A: “I learned how you move the leg and how you control it. It is like a machine and you have to learn the commands, so I knew exactly what it looked and felt like to have a prosthetic leg. There is a certain way you go upstairs. Then they gave me a knee brace, which kept my foot flexed. It was somewhat uncomfortable and sometimes it wouldn’t fit into the pair of shoes the costume department gave me, so I would have to keep it tense all the time.”
Q: What were your favorite moments making the film?
A: “I loved Amsterdam, it was like a foggy paradise. It just didn’t seem real and I think back to it all the time. I love it when you only spend a couple days of your life in a place, but you can remember every moment. I can remember in detail everything I did there, whereas a day goes by in my normal life at home, and I can’t remember any of it. I spent a day or two with Shailene just walking around Amsterdam. It was great because we had just been filming in Pittsburgh. I like Pittsburgh, but we were working so much that we didn’t have time to hang out after filming, besides going to dinner. In Amsterdam we had three or four days to spend together, which was really nice. We explored that magical city together.”
Q: You are starring in a Jason Reitman film next, how exciting is your career right now?
A: “It is amazing, it’s crazy. I feel very lucky. I think that luck is when preparation meets opportunity, because you’re going to be given opportunities in your life and if you don’t prepare for them, you’re not going to make it. I worked very hard for years and years and when I was given the opportunities, I think I did a good job.”
Q: How did you get started? I believe you were a talented dancer when you were younger?
A: “My dad is a fashion photographer and my mom is an opera director; they’re both in the arts in New York, which is nice. They are both very supportive. My mom sent me to an audition for ballet school when I was nine, and I got into the school. I was never really good at dancing, but I worked hard five days a week doing ballet. It was an important phase of my life because it put me on stage and that’s what made me know I wanted to be a performer. My first time on stage was in THE NUTCRACKER at the Lincoln Center. And that was amazing. I was like, ‘wow, this is what I want to do.’ I loved being on stage, being a performer, being an actor, and then the movies came about. CARRIE was the first.”
Q: How did the acting begin?
A: “I did my first professional play while I was still in high school and I got lucky, because for whatever reason they couldn’t find the right kid to play this 19 year-old youth from the 50s, for a play called REGRET at the Manhattan Theatre Club. My manager suggested me for the role. I went straight to the audition after school. It lasted ten minutes and I was reading off the sides, (the papers with the lines on them) because I didn’t have time to memorize the role. Then the next day they said, ‘you’ve got it!’ The opportunity fell into my lap, and I felt like I did a good job in the room. So I played the lead in my first play, I never left the stage the whole time. There was an amazing cast of actors and I learned so much. That is how I got my agent, because someone from Creative Artists Agency saw me in that play, and then I auditioned for CARRIE two weeks later. I got that role after seven auditions, I am so lucky. I have already worked with Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet, Willem Dafoe …and Shailene Woodley: some pretty amazing people. It’s a dream come true.”
Q: Who are your role models?
A: “I love Paul Newman. He’s a good role model. Everyone loved Paul Newman and everyone says he was a really, really good guy. He played so many different characters, each one is different, but there’s something about every character that is amazing. He had a revolutionary way of acting. I love COOL HAND LUKE (1967). He plays this prisoner who is a mess up, but for some reason, you just love him, and there’s a glint in his eye. That was Paul Newman. I want to have a career like Paul Newman’s; that would be great. But I also want an artistic career that extends beyond acting. I produce electronic dance music. My first club record has just come out, it is called UNITE. It’s a cheesy name (laughs). But it is the first one of many. I also want to score movies. I’m really into music.”
Q: You are also a DJ?
A: “Yes for some reason if you produce music, you usually DJ. But what I love is the production of music. I started by playing the piano and writing a lot of music. I loved John Legend and then my cousin showed me some electronic dance music, and a program called Ableton [music production software] that is very popular and very complicated. It took me a year to learn it, between filming CARRIE and DIVERGENT, because I had seven months when I didn’t work. My parents weren’t the kind of parents to say: ‘go get a job.’ They let me sit in my room and learn Ableton for months. I learned it, now it’s finally paying off. I could score music for movies with that program.”
Q: How are you coping with all the attention right now? You are so talented and good-looking!
A: “I don’t know (laughs). Hopefully I won’t believe my own hype. I’m a person. I’m a human being. People will be obsessed and excited with the character in THE FAULT IN MY STARS, not me. If I hadn’t played Augustus Waters or been in any movies, no one would care at all about me. No one would be screaming ‘Ansel’ at the MTV Movie Awards, and I wouldn’t be going to the MTV Movie Awards if it weren’t for the characters that I’ve been lucky enough to play. So it’s not going to go to my head, because I know what is important. This is not happening because I am special. It is happening because of the book and the film.”
Q: How would you sum up what audiences have to look forward to in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS?
A: “This film is about doing what you have with the time allotted to you and appreciating the little moments in life. Augustus Waters is obsessed with the idea of leaving a mark on the whole world and when he realizes that he can’t do that, he just does a little thing for Hazel, and it’s the most beautiful thing. It is a very moving story. Hopefully it will make people think about the time that they have in their life and what they want do with it.”
The Fault In Our Stars hits local cinema Friday,6 June 2014.