Vanity Fair features Ansel Elgort in their latest “Spotlight” section. In the interview, Ansel talks about working with Shailene Woodley in Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars. He also discusses his family life and growing up in New York City. Check out the interview below!
Did you ever think of going to N.Y.U. or Juilliard after studying theater at LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts?
I never really did that well in school because I was so absorbed with doing acting. I think for about nine years of my life I never was not in a production, [and] that got me really in that rhythm, but because of that, I didn’t love the idea of going to college, to be honest. It didn’t really make sense when I was clearly on a path to be a performer. In my head, I knew I was going to make it, so I was going to be fine and that was going to be my excuse to not go.
Were your parents O.K. with that?
Oh, yeah. I’ve worked really, really hard, but [where] I did get really lucky was with the parents I got to come from, because they were so supportive.
You have two movies with Shailene Woodley, The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent. Tell me a little bit about working and who you are in Divergent . . .
In Divergent, the story is about Beatrice Prior, and I play her brother. I think the people from Fault in Our Stars were worried. They were like, “Why does this kid have to be the kid we want?” Supposedly I did the best audition and they all wanted me, but, of course, I had to be her brother in Divergent.
Oh, the brother to the lover boyfriend . . . [Laughs]
As much as they wished that I wasn’t ever cast in Divergent, I don’t think they would have cast me if I wasn’t in Divergent. I think you have [to] take those steps, because that’s the way the business works—you take one step at a time and then eventually you get to star in a big movie opposite Shailene. That’s why I am starting to believe in luck a little bit.
What is the one thing in this process of working in big-budget movies that you didn’t expect growing up in Manhattan and coming from theater at Stagedoor Manor and Laguardia?
Really, everything surprised me. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started doing movies. When I chose to do Carrie, I never had done anything on camera before, I was always onstage, so everything surprised me. Just going on set and walking into a makeup trailer and seeing Chloë Moretz and Julianne Moore—Wow, I am part of this ensemble.
How was Shailene to work with?
She is obviously really good. I don’t think she ever really did any acting training, so she is just really present and there and just real. So it is pretty easy to just work off of her, like those scenes are going to be good, because every take is different. She sort of just lets it happen naturally, and that is what you want to be working off of. She definitely prepares and does her homework, but that non-rehearsal aspect of it makes it really raw and organic when it first happens. I definitely don’t mind working with her.
Did you grow up being photographed all the time? [Elgort’s father, Arthur Elgort, is a photographer for Vogue]
Yes. I have a ridiculous photo album of myself—albums and albums and albums. When I do movies and they ask for childhood photos and we send in all the photos my dad has taken of me, they are like these are the best childhood photos we’ve ever gotten. Even the candids of me sitting on the couch are beautifully angled and lit and on great black and white.
Is your sister a photographer?
Yes, she is, and she’s really good.
Were you named for Ansel Adams?
These are two huge projects—does the idea of becoming the heartthrob make you nervous at all?
It’s weird. Once or twice people have recognized me, and they go pretty crazy ’cause they think I’m Augustus Waters, and they start crying and freaking out and screaming and it’s crazy. But sometimes people are really cool about it, and a lot of people are too nervous to approach me.
How do you think growing up in Manhattan informs what you do now? Do you think you learned more, being in the city and absorbing all the personalities, people, and visuals?
Oh, totally. Yes, definitely—I think that real actors like to talk to weirdos sometimes. Jason Reitman said to me [that] every time he’s on a plane, he talks to someone for hours—I’ve gained so much from not being inside a bubble, where everyone around me is an actor. Everyone around me is a normal person and I am the rare actor, so I think that’s important. I spent some time growing up in Vermont, too. I compose electronic dance music, and I take that just as seriously as I do acting, and because of that I have a whole other group of friends who are all musicians, and I think it’s important to just keep yourself versatile, especially when your job is to be versatile and become anything.