The role of Teri, a street-worn sex worker and the female lead in The Equalizer, a $50-million action picture starring Denzel Washington, was supposed to go to someone in her 20s. But Chloë Grace Moretz wanted Teri. So she hustled for an audition with director Antoine Fuqua. A second audition followed. Moretz started calling Fuqua. Texting him. Emailing him. They spoke on the phone all the time. There was a third audition. A fourth. She kept calling. Texting. Emailing. One day, Moretz saw Fuqua’s name pop up on her cell. “He was like, ‘You’re the one,’” Moretz says. “I freaked out. I was freaking out.” She was 16.
The Equalizer is Moretz’s 28th movie. While her contemporaries—the sisters Fanning, Saoirse Ronan, Abigail Breslin and Hailee Steinfeld—have doggedly stuck to drama (with the occasional romance or actioner thrown in), Moretz shows astonishing range. She’s spent the last decade working her way through the genres, from tongue-in-cheek action (Kick-Ass and its sequel) and moody horror-drama (Let Me In) to smart TV comedy (30 Rock) and marquee fantasy (Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows adaptation). A work ethic nonpareil means she has five films coming out soon. In addition to The Equalizer (Sept. 26), she plays a shy cello prodigy in YA romance If I Stay (Aug. 22); a cynical teen palling around with Keira Knightley in Laggies (Sept. 26); the young Diondra in an adaptation of Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places; and a spoiled starlet in Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria.
When writing a celebrity feature, you need to find directors and co-stars willing to chat about the actor. It can be a struggle, but not this time. Everyone wanted to talk about Moretz. Even Scorsese, arguably the World’s Most Important Living Director, shared his love for her: “I think back to my time working with Chloë on Hugo and I have to smile to myself, because she was soyoung, so talented, so dedicated. I loved coming to the set every morning and working with her, watching her discover her character and the magical world we were trying to create, day by day. She has the devotion, she has the focus, she has the talent … and she commands the screen. You just have to watch her.” (Italics all Marty’s own.)
Much of her command comes from the tiny smirk that curls her bombshell lips, how she’s in on the joke years before other kids even know there is a joke. (What other 11-year-old could brandish the Kick-Ass call to arms, “OK, c-nts, let’s see what you can do now!” with such glee, such panache?) She plays funny better than actresses twice her age.
Moretz has also mastered the fashion game, stunning in coveted designers like Dior, Chanel and Christopher Kane while remaining enough of a relatable real girl to retain a rabid teenage fanbase. As I watched her emerge from her car in an elegant sheer black Marios Schwab number at the 2014 MuchMusic Video Awards, the prolonged blast of weeping-girl screams was immediate and ear-splitting. If the Fannings are the chicer-than-thou cool girls and Steinfeld, Breslin and Ronan the endearingly awkward little sisters, Moretz is the one you’d want to have a drink with. (Once she’s legal.)
The day after the MMVAs, I meet Moretz in a suite at the Four Seasons Toronto. She’s dressed like a typical 17-year-old: Urban Outfitters army-green flannel jacket, relaxed tee (albeit by Alexander Wang), J Brand jeans. In person, she is, as her Laggies director Lynn Shelton puts it, “exquisitely beautiful and totally real at the exact same time.” Moretz has a teen’s bubble and fizz—flopped on the couch, she’s all nonchalant slouch, a little bit of bra poking out, and intriguingly free of the usual polish or poise of older stars. She gushes about her If I Stay co-star, the charismatic Brit Jamie Blackley, in a most adorable way. Reminisces about nights spent gabbing with pals in her rental-apartment hot tub while shooting the movie in Vancouver. Squeals over her favourite Toronto wing joint (Duff’s). Yet she’s also restless with excitement regarding her plans for later this afternoon, a special meet-and-greet with … Hillary Clinton. The former secretary of state, who’s in town for a reading, is exactly the kind of person Chloë Grace Moretz geeks out over.
When Moretz won the part in The Equalizer, she immediately went into her usual preproduction mode: intense research. She visited with sex workers through outreach organization Children of the Night, then got to work filling a notebook with thoughts on her character. Moretz does the same for every film. When she was 14, she gave Tim Burton notes on what she wanted to add to her role in Dark Shadows—and he took them. Her co-star Michelle Pfeiffer remembers the first time she met Moretz, at the table read for the movie: “I was immediately struck by how she already had her character so very well drawn, and that she’s courageous enough to continue to develop it. It just evolved, and she never stopped thinking. It’s really remarkable to see someone her age delve that deeply.”
In If I Stay, Moretz plays Mia, a gifted cellist sunk into a coma after a car accident, which killed her parents. She must decide whether to wake up, into a life without her family, or slip away, leaving behind her rocker boyfriend, Adam (Blackley). Moretz called If I Stay novelist Gayle Forman with dozens of questions about the tiniest details of Mia’s life—some of which even Forman didn’t have the answers to, so she let the actress choose those details herself. (“She’s either a Pisces or a Virgo, but I think she’s more Pisces. She’s very sensitive.”) Moretz then practised the cello for four hours every other day, for five months. “It’s a very intimate instrument. For a girl especially, you’re wearing a dress and opening your legs and holding this instrument to your body, so it’s an extension of your body,” Moretz explains. “When you hear cellists play, it almost sounds like a wind instrument because their breathing is linked up to the bow strokes, so as they go down or up, they breathe with the down and up of the bow.”
There were many notes to play in the film: the deep anguish of mourning, the quicksilver vicissitudes of first romance. Which one was hardest? Happiness, she says. Love. “It seems so silly, but those are much more spontaneous than heavy, dark, crying emotion; everyone cries. But actually making someone laugh, and falling in love…” She does her best work in the quieter moments of If I Stay: washing dishes beside her mother, played by Mireille Enos (The Killing); goofing around on a skateboard with Blackley (a scene the two improvised). There’s a close-up on Moretz while she plays her cello alongside her parents during a backyard jam session. Josh Leonard, who plays her father, stood with Enos and watched Moretz: “The joyful trance of the music, the blush of first love, connection to family, the gaze of a young woman staring down the barrel of the unknown—Chloë told this entire story with her eyes and only the smallest of facial gestures. When the director yelled cut, Mireille turned to me and said, ‘Oh, that’s what a movie star looks like.’”
Moretz landed her first acting role at the age of six, when she played Ryan Reynolds’ daughter inThe Amityville Horror. She and her four older brothers were born in the small town of Cartersville, Georgia, but when she was four, Moretz, her mother and her brother Trevor decamped to New York so he could attend acting school. Running lines with Trevor inspired her to try it for herself, and after she got Amityville, they moved to Los Angeles for good. Moretz still misses the South: the humidity, the pack of cousins, visiting her grandmother (“Me-mawm”), who recently passed away. Inspired by If I Stay, I ask what would flash before her eyes just before the end: “When I held my first cousin when he was a day old; it was the first time I’d ever seen a baby up close. When I was with my grandma when she was dying—really seeing her that frail.” Family is everything for Moretz; she considers her mother and Trevor her best friends. Such closeness reads as commendable rather than cloying in an industry populated with wacko stage moms. “They know me the best, and I know that no one’s going to try and mess me over, you know?”
Leonard observed their dynamic on the If I Stay set. “Unlike most of the younger actors I’ve met—who always seem like they’re pretending to be adults—Chloë is, in the best way, very much a teenage girl. When not working, she’s texting her friends, talking fashion-shop or some new band, but the second the camera starts rolling, she’s an old pro,” he says. “I’d guess her ability to balance these dichotomous aspects of her life is credited to the close relationship she has with her family. They really seemed to all have each other’s backs, like, weirdest of all, a totally functional family.”
The trio is so tight that Moretz often chooses her mother and brother as dates, instead of friends—or boys. Boys can be trouble. “It’s a tough age to fall in love: people change so quickly,” Moretz says. She also worries about hurting someone. “I don’t want to have to feel like I have to watch my step, ’cause I’m 17 and I shouldn’t have to.” Her friends get stuck into deep relationships for years, and, Moretz moans, “I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re wasting away your entire high-school years, and now you’re going to waste away your college years. You’re going to spend your entire life in a relationship and then you’re going to get married…and then you’re dead! So you lived your life in a relationship!’ That’s not my style.” Even when she is dating someone, Moretz says the paps never get it right: “When you’re with someone who’s just your friend, then they take photos, but when you’re out with your boyfriend, they never find out. It’s like, ‘You guys are so dumb; you’re missing your opportunity!’”
Moretz’s love affair with fashion is, however, obvious, effortless. “It can be walking art,” says the actress, who works with stylist Nelma Kalonji, a fashion editor at AnOther Magazine. “Just put me in whatever is fun and interesting, things that I won’t be able to wear when I’m 30.” The red carpet unfurls before the teen with endless possibility, sullied only by a press corps eager to banish stars to Worst Dressed lists for taking risks—or no risks. “People say don’t judge a book by its cover,” Moretz says, “but if someone wears a crazy outfit, they’re automatically a crazy person. If you wear a tame outfit, you’re automatically a prude.” Swathed in fantastical feathered Chanel haute couture one evening and slick floral Dolce & Gabbana the next, she is as fearless as her style icons, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. Like the twins, she’s had a misstep or two (several gossip blogs denounced the Texas-inspired Chanel she wore to this year’s Met Ball as hoedown-ready), but there’s always something new to explore: “You can be whoever you want through what you wear.”
Moretz already has her next role in mind: producing. Her credo, courtesy of Steven Soderbergh (who directed her in the off-Broadway play The Library): “Only do a movie if you’d do it for free.” She’s sifting through scripts now to find the perfect one. She’d like to try directing someday. And then study cinematography. And then write a screenplay …
Our time almost up, Moretz’s attention is already beaming to the next moment, the next challenge. “Two more interviews?!” she moans, leaping off the couch, an endearing flash of 17 showing. She’s ready for Hillary. Moretz is good with adults. She knows adults. Get her in a room with 20 fellow teenagers and she doesn’t know how to talk to them, gets really nervous. “But I’m very driven in what I do,” she says. “I’m good in my business, I can talk that all day long. It’s the same when I’m acting. There’s no barriers.”