Ansel Elgort on Breaking Out, Juggling Gigs, and Staying Sane

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Ansel Elgort interview DJ Ansolo
Ansel Elgort interview DJ Ansolo

Only a year ago, few movie fans knew who Ansel Elgort was. But thanks to the back-to-back hits Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars, the 20-year-old actor has amassed a legion of new fans, including more than 2 million Twitter followers, and directors like Jason Reitman, who cast Elgort in this week’s Men, Women & Children. In the ensemble drama, Elgort plays Tim, a former high-school football star whose tough home life leads him to escape into a world of nonstop video gaming. Yahoo Movies recently spoke with a chatty and chipper Elgort, who called us during a break in London.

You recently said that it’s hard to be a good actor if you get too affected by fame. What’s keeping you grounded these days?

Right before I did The Fault in Our Stars, I was living a normal kid life. And now, it’s like I live the life of a businessperson. I’m always running around. It’s important to try to keep your normal life. There are obviously the dangers of becoming a quote-unquote celebrity — you start going to parties, and that’s not good either because normal people don’t go to fancy Hollywood parties. You can’t let that change you. The fancy lifestyle is fun, so I want to experience a little bit, but at the same time, it’s not what life’s about.

What’s been the biggest perk of your newfound notoriety?

Now I have all these people supporting me. No matter what I do creatively, I’ll have an audience, and people will care about what I do. So many opportunities have opened for me.

What has been the most difficult part of transitioning into film?

My first scene ever with a camera in my face was in Carrie with Chloë Moretz. The director was like, “OK, Ansel. You can’t walk in front of the camera like that.” I had no clue what I was doing. To be honest, I don’t love scary movies. I only saw Carrie once and closed my eyes for most of it. The director, Kimberly Peirce, was so helpful, almost teaching me how to camera-act on set.

You’re still starting out, yet you have 2.1 million followers on Twitter. Are most of those The Fault in our Stars fans?

Absolutely. I’d say probably 2 million. The point-one comes from Divergent and Carrie.

I read that on the set of Divergent,Kate Winslet advised you to curtail your online presence. Why didn’t you follow her advice?

She doesn’t need to do that because she’s Kate Winslet, she’s huge, she’s proven herself as an artist, and she’ll continue to work — easily. For young actors, it’s just part of the business now. I also don’t think it’s bad, I don’t dislike it. It’s great that social media [facilitates] things like the [ALS] Ice Bucket Challenge. It raised millions of dollars for a disease that doesn’t usually get that much attention. So you better not have a problem with that.

Take a movie like The Fault in Our Stars: In the past, a movie like that [would never have had] that big of an audience. We want an audience. We want people to see the work we did, and I think it’s due to social media that the movie blew up.

Ansel Elgort in Men, Women and Children
Ansel Elgort in Men, Women and Children

In addition to being an actor, you have this other career as an electronic dance music (EDM) DJ, recording under the name Ansolo.

Five years ago, I got really into listening to house music. When I like something, I want to figure out how I can do it. I made Carrie, and then I didn’t have a movie for about eight months. So I spent every day making music or auditioning. It was in that time, between Carrie and Divergent, that Ansolo started.

How do you fit music-making into your schedule?

It’s easy. I have to. I have to make music every day. It’s one of my biggest creative outlets. This whole weekend in London I had off, and I made music. It’s very accessible. I can just be on my computer making it on an airplane on my headphones. I’ve already been in the studio once since I’ve been here. I’m going to go to Amsterdam tomorrow, and I’ll be in a music studio there, and I’m playing a show in Amsterdam, too.

[During the filming of the Divergent series], I spent most of my time making music in my trailer. They’re, like, “OK, we’ll be half an hour,” and I’m sprinting back to my trailer with a tune in my head. I can be making music on the low all day. And Divergent is technical at times: You might be doing an action scene, so you can just be in the background. On a day like that, I can just put a lot of my creative focus into music. And the next day, I’ll have a big scene with Shailene Woodley, and it’s an emotional scene. So it’s the best of both worlds.

You and Miles Teller seem to be in parallel acting universes — doing multiple movies with Woodley, appearing in blockbusters, like Divergent, and then introspective dramas, like Miles in Whiplash and you in Men, Women & Children and The Fault in Our Stars. Do you hand scripts to one another?

No. We have the same agent though.

Miles told us he’s being very “precious” about building his résumé, even turning down big paychecks when he feels a script is bad. Are you being careful about that, too?

I just want to be part of projects that challenge me creatively and tell a great story… I never know how much people are trying to pay me to do a movie. My agents tell me, “OK, Ansel. I think this is something you’ll really like.” And then I read it, go meet with the director, and then maybe they’ll say, “We want you” or “We don’t.” That’s what happened with Men, Women & Children. I had no clue what I was getting paid. I’m 20. I don’t have to make money yet. I just have to keep doing what makes me happy.

Your father is a Vogue photographer, and your mother is an opera director. How does having successful, creative parents influence you?

It’s very inspiring. My dad is really happy, and he’s had such a long, rich career. I look up to him for that reason. Having amazing experiences, and he was still able to have a family. He started late. My dad is 75 now. Same with my mom — she didn’t have her first kid until she was 38. I look up to my parents that way: Being able to have a great and rich creative life and then have a family later.

[Related: Watch Elgort’s Father Arthur on a Photo Shoot With Emily Ratajkowski]

What’s their main career advice to you?

Just do what you love.

Do you know what you’re doing next?

I’ll definitely keep busy. But even if I don’t make a film until Allegiant [the final Divergent sequel and Elgort’s sixth would-be credit] — which is coming up in March, so that’s not too far away — I have a feeling I’ll get a movie in between then. If not, that’s fine. I’ll just make music.

Photo credits: Vera Anderson/WireImage, Paramount Pictures