When interviewing an actor who is 20 (well, technically, now 21, but he was 20 when we spoke about a week ago), the subject of that actor’s death usually doesn’t come up. Maybe it’s on Ansel Elgort’s mind after playing a terminally ill teenager in The Fault of Our Stars, but I certainly didn’t expect the now 21-year-old Elgort to have his eventual, yet most likely not eminent, demise so on the forefront of his thought process when asked about his upcoming birthday. (I am still under the impression that people liked turning 21, maybe things have changed!) Then again, Ansel Elgort is a, let’s say, interesting fellow.
Elgort stars in this week’s follow-up to Divergent, a movie we will just call Insurgent. (Even though folks really want us to call it The Divergent Series: Insurgent.) In this sequel, Elgort reprises his role as Caleb, brother to Tris (Shailene Woodley) — a Divergent who can’t be categorized by the government — and is now on the run from the authorities.
Ahead, we spoke to Elgort about life, death, his love of DJing and the upcoming Mad Max movie, which he is not in.
I enjoyed Insurgent more than Divergent.
I like this one better, too.
Because the first movie had to establish the world.
And we’ve seen a lot of dystopian futures recently.
Exactly. So, in this one, the movie had freedom to really tell the story instead of just establish the story.
Watching Insurgent, you stand out more than you did in the first one – you have more to do and you’re really famous now. A lot has changed in one year.
You were even recently on Fallon.
I know, you’re right. It’s been pretty nuts.
Your public persona seems pretty self-confident, but you seem to play a lot of more introspective characters that don’t always seem as self-confident.
No, I know what you’re saying. I think what it is, is maybe just the way people want to be perceived as being confident and as being outgoing and friendly and humorous. So, when I’m in interviews and am in that mode, that’s how people see me. It’s only in movies, though, I’ll really let people see because I’m not letting people see me, I’m letting people see the vulnerability of the character. But, in real life, I have that, too, somewhere. It’s just that that’s not what I’m going to show in an interview.
So, when you’re on Fallon, that’s you “on.”
Exactly. It’s me “on.” It’s me trying to be funny and nice and warm and this and that; whereas, if I’m with my parents, I might be complaining about something or crying about this or that, you know?
Your persona does seem genuine though.
Well, it’s a part of my character, you know? Not a character like a fake character, it’s part of me.
Prior to Insurgent, you had a big role in Men, Women and Children, which no one saw.
I think what happens is, you never know what can happen with a movie. So many things go into the process of making a movie that people see just as much as making a good movie to begin with. And, you know, it just didn’t work out how everyone wanted it to — but, at the same time, in terms of the process, I still loved making it and thought it was a great experience for me and I learned a lot as an actor and a lot as a person.
What did you learn?
As an actor, from Jason Reitman, I learned something very simple: how to not smile all the time. Not even smile, I use some of my confidence and charm to my advantage when I’m acting and to win people over in scenes, I might smile or make a joke out of something.
A lot of actors have had a lot of success with that tactic. Tom Cruise smiles a lot.
Exactly, yeah, it’s just a little smile that can get you out of something. And this is in a scene, so there is no winning or losing, but at the same time, for example, imagine my character in The Fault in Our Stars without his smile.
When you mentioned smiling, I thought of Augustus Waters because he does smile a lot.
Yeah. And that made him endearing, even though he was sort of a little bit over the top and confident and cocky at the beginning of the film.
So if he doesn’t smile, we’re not going to like him.
Exactly… having a good director is so important, it can really guide your performance in a way and you learn a lot.
Is it disappointing when you give a performance like that, that you believe in, then the movie doesn’t hit, for whatever reason?
Well, you know, I think I can do it again.
See, there’s that self-confidence.
[Laughs] No, I already have three movies back to back. One of them is going to be the sequel to this. Two of them are going to be leading roles in great character pieces, so those are going to be more chances and I’m only 20. The fact that I’ve already had one in The Fault in Our Stars that people saw and appreciated is already more than enough — and then to be part of a franchise like Divergent.
You don’t get to say you’re 20 for much longer. You turn 21 soon.
I know. I’m excited, but I’m also not. I want to be young, you know? I wish I was still 18, it would be even cooler.
What? Why wouldn’t you want to be 21?
I mean, I do want to be 21. But it’s so cool when I can say how much time I have left.
Time until what? Do you mean death?
Until I’m dead. The fact that I’m young is great because it means I have a lot of time ahead of me to do more work.
Right. But at 21 you still have a lot of that time left.
I know, but I have one less year.
That’s a dour way to look at it, but you are correct. Do you have big plans for your birthday?
I think we’ll just have a party at a house with some of my friends and my family. And then I’ll be DJing in New York City as Ansølo.
You seem to really like DJing.
Yeah, it will be sick.
Don’t fall for that “let’s do 21 shots” plan.
That sounds awful.
Someone that night will say that to you and you should say “no.”
I will definitely say no.
You mentioned the other day that you’d love to work with Tom Hardy. Have you seen the Mad Max trailer? Get in the next one of those movies.
Oh my God, you’re right. Those look dope.
You’d get to work with Tom Hardy.
And Charlize Theron.
Get in one of those.
I’ll do it.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.