Meet 'Divergent' Breakout Star Ansel Elgort

Meet 'Divergent' Breakout Star Ansel Elgort

Mar 18, 2014

Ansel Elgort as Caleb Prior

Meet Ansel Elgort. You better get to know him now because he’s bound to make quite the name for himself over the course of the year. Maybe you saw him in the Carrie remake, but Divergent is another story. With a sequel already planned and good buzz fueling its momentum, this will most likely become the next big YA franchise. And if we learned anything from Twilight, Harry Potter and Hunger Games, that will skyrocket its cast members to a new level of fame.

In the film, Elgort plays Caleb Prior, Beatrice’s (Shailene Woodley) older brother, but not by much. Now that they're both 16, they're due to take aptitude tests before participating in what's called the Choosing Ceremony, which is where they decide whether to stick with their parents in Abnegation or switch to one of four separate factions: Dauntless, Erudite, Amity or Candor. Caleb does have a knack for being selfless, but what if his test told him he was a natural fit for a life of bravery, intelligence, peace or honesty?

You’ll have to wait until Divergent arrives on Friday, March 21 to see how that pans out, unless you're one of the hundreds of thousands who've already read the book. Either way, that gives you time to get to know Elgort, who also stars opposite Divergent star Shailene Woodley in this year's The Fault in Our Stars, due out June 6. The 20-year-old up-and-comer took time to talk to us about first realizing he had the ability to become a professional actor, getting into character for Divergent, thoughts on Caleb’s role in Insurgent and loads more.

 

Ansel Elgort in Divergent

Movies.com: You basically just hit the ground running with Carrie, Divergent and then Fault in Our Stars. What does it take to make something like that happen so fast?

Elgort: And if you look on there now, there’s four! I just wrapped another movie.

Movies.com: The Jason Reitman movie, right?

Elgort: Yeah! It definitely has been insane for me. I’m so lucky because you never know. I could have done Carrie, Divergent, and I could be doing press here now and have nothing new to talk about. That’s being an actor, but I’m lucky that I’ve been able to keep working and hopefully it stays that way.

Movies.com: Did you always know you wanted to be an actor?

Elgort: More or less. I always knew I wanted to be a performer. Starting at age nine I knew that I wanted to perform and that eventually turned into straight acting. I told myself I only want to do stage and you gotta do a movie every once in a while, and I suppose when you start getting offers for these movies, you can’t really say no, you know? You’re like, "Of course! That sounds amazing!" Definitely I had big aspirations and dreams when I was a kid and still do, but the way everything is going is definitely a lot better than I could have imagined it.

 

Ansel Elgort in Carrie

 

Movies.com: Talk about bringing Caleb to life on-screen. There are so many sides to him – he’s selfless, intelligent, a loving brother, but he also has his own agenda. Is there any part of him you connect with most?

Elgort: Every character you play, you have to relate to in some way. If you can’t, it’s gonna be tough. So with Caleb, I think the most I related to him was that he’s very driven and logical in his decisions. Even when he’s in Abnegation, he does it in a very logical way. He's like, "Okay, I’m in Abnegation. I’m supposed to be selfless, so therefore if an old person has a grocery bag, I go over and help her with it. If someone is starving, I give them my food. That’s how it works." So Caleb is very logical, driven, straightforward. I’m not that way, but there’s a part of me inside of me that, you know, I am always striving for success. I’m striving to be the best I can be and that’s Caleb. I took that part of myself and tried to get that into Caleb, and I hope I did a good job. 

Movies.com: Do you have a pre-Caleb ritual? Some sort of process you have to go through to get into his head before hitting the set?

Elgort: No, you just take a deep breath. You have to figure him out before you show up to set and you start to get used to turning different characters on. So I figure out who he is and then I just turn him on. I suppose I wouldn’t be a very good acting teacher because I’m not doing a great job explaining. [Laughs] "Yeah, you sort of turn it on, you know?"

Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley in Divergent

Movies.com: Well, it’s not necessarily about being able to break it down. You’ve got to just feel it, too.

Elgort: Yeah, that’s why acting is actually really tough, because it’s mental, but it’s tough to explain and you have to spend a long time figuring it out. Then you have people like Shailene. It didn’t take her a long time to figure it out. She just sort of figured it out, but 99.9% of people aren’t that way, so I was one of those people. It took me a long time to figure it out. I wasn’t a very good actor when I started, you know, when I was in middle school or high school taking classes. It wasn’t until maybe three years ago that I was really like, "Oh, I get this."

Movies.com: What made you realize that you got it?

Elgort: I went to LaGuardia for acting and we always do our scenes programs. I did a scene where I had to play a drunken British guy in his 40s -- and it was a comedy -- who is sort of using his girlfriend for money to fuel his alcohol addition, and that scene went really well. I was 16 or 17 at the time, and I sort of surprised myself. I was like, "I’m starting to really get this," you know? Hopefully when I’m 40, I’m not just a good-looking guy doing action films. I can be like Christian Bale or Tom Hardy and play a guy like that. Like what Christian Bale just did with America Hustle, and before he was Batman. I think a good actor has the ability to do both. 

Movies.com: How about right now? Is there anything you’re on the lookout for in terms of material?

Elgort: I always look at the role first. You just want someone interesting with an interesting arc. A different character, someone with a different sexual preference might be interesting to play; someone who doesn’t speak English. Who knows? That’s kind of crazy, but it could be fun! You always want to stretch yourself further and further and that’s what could be the most fun thing about being an actor.

Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley in Divergent

Movies.com: You guys already have a start date for Insurgent, the Divergent sequel, right?

Elgort: We do! I just got an e-mail yesterday about it for me, so, who knows? I mean, at this point I think if this movie doesn’t do well, I will be upset because it’s really good. It wouldn’t be fair if it didn’t do well just because it’s a good movie. 

Movies.com: How about looking ahead in terms of the material? You even mentioned that Caleb is a somewhat complicated character and he’s only going to get more complicated from here.

Elgort: I think that’s when Caleb starts getting a little bit confused, too, because he makes a decision at the end of the book – I don’t know if he’s been planning it the whole time. You can’t get too ahead of yourself because human beings make decisions based off of impulse and based off of opportunity as well, so just because it’s in the source material doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to know that that’s been in my head the whole time. I have to see the screenplay [for Insurgent}. We don’t have it yet. I’ll talk to Veronica, I’ll talk to the director and I’ll feel it out and I’ll decide when I’m gonna make that decision. It could be between scenes, it may even be on camera, hopefully. Who knows? I’m excited for that. He’s an interesting character and he gets to make decisions like that, and that’s what you want.

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