Scorsese, not Disney, is the watchword for these adolescent actresses. Simon Dumenco finds the soul of a Streep in Chloë Grace Moretz, while Tony Dokoupil meets the rest of tomorrow’s leading ladies.
“Marty,” says Chloë, “is very hands-on. Before every scene, he brings whoever is in the scene—like me and Sir Ben—into his trailer, and we’ll discuss the characters for, like, an hour and a half, just going over in detail…” Pardon the interruption, but this might be a good time to point out that Marty is Martin Scorsese, Sir Ben is Sir Ben Kingsley, and Chloë is Chloë Grace Moretz. Who is 13 years old.
“Marty’s amazing,” Moretz continues. “He’s a phenomenal director—I mean, he’s Scorsese—and the minute I met him I knew I wanted to work with him. Then I was just, you know, fighting for the role as hard as I could.” The role she landed was Isabelle in Hugo Cabret, based on author Brian Selznick’s beloved graphic novel.
“It’s cool,” says Moretz, “and I almost don’t want to say it, but we’re kind of making history in a way, because it’s Martin Scorsese’s first 3-D film. It’s a gigantic thing to be a part of, and it’s just like, All right, here I am on the set of Martin Scorsese’s first 3-D film.” She pauses. “It’s just kind of, like, wowsers.”
Yeah, wowsers—which is also a good word to describe Moretz’s career. Since 2004 she has clocked three dozen TV and film credits, including two recent rather astonishing starring roles. In the comedic-action flick Kick-Ass, the then 11-year-old played hyperviolent, foulmouthed Mindy Macready—aka Hit-Girl—the superhero-in-training assassin daughter of a bloodthirsty avenger portrayed by Nicolas Cage. In the brooding art-house horror film Let Me In (a remake of Sweden’s Let the Right One In), she played a vampire named Abby (“I’ve been 12 for a very long time,” she tells her only friend, a bullied boy called Owen).
Moretz is the bona fide breakout star of both movies—which has made her an unlikely obsession among global fanboys. (“I go to Tokyo and my face is on magazines, and the movies aren’t even out there yet,” she marvels.) Let Me In opened in London the weekend I visited Moretz, and her billboard-size face was plastered all over the underground and on the cover of a British pop-culture magazine with the headline girl of the year.
In a word, she has become something of an icon—landing a Scorsese film will do that—and the informal leader of a pack of young actresses who, in their career ambition and early accomplishments, are redefining child stardom in an age still dominated by interchangeable singing, dancing tween pixies. At 14, Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) is the elder statesman of this new thespianic lot; Elle Fanning (Somewhere), Nicola Peltz (The Last Airbender), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), and Georgie Henley (The Chronicles of Narnia) are among the emerging players. Their spiritual big sister (make that literal, in the case of Elle) is Dakota Fanning. Their godmother is Jodie Foster.
Over red-velvet cupcakes and bottles of Coke in a charming café in the Chelsea section of London, not far from where Moretz has been spending her days working with “Marty,” I utter another proper noun in a little game of word association: “Disney.”
“Totally—I get it,” she says. Moretz measures what she says next, neatly straddling a line that is both diplomatic and profoundly confident. “It’s a different route. They’re both equally awesome routes. I mean, if you want to go that way, go that way, you know? I’m doing it slower; I’m taking the stairs, not the elevator. A lot of actresses take the elevator straight up to stardom, but I’m slowly building up the career and the résumé that I want as an actor, because it pleases me to make these films that are different and are more—for me, as an actor—more challenging, and that will stretch my emotional boundaries….”
Have I mentioned that she was born in 1997?
To begin to understand the phenomenon that is Chloë Grace Moretz, first you must disabuse yourself of an obvious presumption: that this frighteningly precocious girl must surely be the product of overbearing stage parents. In fact, her father, McCoy, is a Los Angeles plastic surgeon, and her mother, Teri, is a nurse-practitioner. (Both are native Southerners; the family moved from Atlanta to L.A. when Chloë’s career started to take off.) Chloë has four older brothers: Brandon, 29, who manages Dad’s practice; Collin, 21, and Ethan, 18, who are still in school; and Trevor, 24, the only other sibling in the industry (he’s had roles in Youth in Revolt and Totally Baked. At the moment Mom and Dad are back in L.A., and Trevor and Chloë are sharing a duplex in the same gated apartment complex they lived in when she was last working in London, two years ago, shooting Kick-Ass.
When I showed up at the apartment earlier, it was Chloë who answered the door and offered me a drink, while Trevor got ready for his role as chaperone. Chloë was perfectly put together, wearing a jersey knit skirt and top and a camel cashmere sweater. (“It’s Sandro,” she told me. “One of my new favorite brands.”) Tall, thin Trevor (in a nondescript jacket and jeans) towers over Chloë, though he’s anything but domineering: When we couldn’t find three seats together at the café, Trevor sat by himself, out of earshot, biding his time while Chloë and I talked.
“From the time I was a little pip-squeak,” she tells me, “Trevor has always been a complete film fanatic. He would go, ‘Mommy, I want to direct a film like The Wizard of Oz.’ I’d watch all these films with him from when I was two or three, like Gone With the Wind and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. They may have gone straight over my head, but I picked up the point of them.”
When Trevor decided to become an actor, his kid sister discovered her own eerie facility for the craft. “I would memorize these two-page monologues not by reading them,” she says, “but by listening to them. He used to come home and speak them aloud in his room. I would listen, and then go over and over and over them in my head.”
She got serious about acting, Moretz says, when she landed a two-episode part in the CBS drama The Guardian (opposite Simon Baker)—“That was the first thing where I, like, really went in depth for a role”—which led to more television gigs and small roles in movies including The Amityville Horror and (500) Days of Summer.
Kick-Ass “was when my career changed,” she says. “There’s that boundary of, okay, I’m still getting there—and then there’s that one place where you go and it’s like, boom, you break the barrier and you’re in a different world.”
After reading for Scorsese for Hugo Cabret in New York, she was back home in L.A. when she learned she got the part. “I was on the computer upstairs and the phone rang, and my mom went, ‘Chloë, come down here, your agent—your people—want to talk to you.’ When they told me, I was like, Oh, my God! No way! This can’t be real right now! There I was in pajamas and my dad’s big shirt, and I booked a Martin Scorsese project.”
For a while her mom would get her a new dog whenever she got a film gig, which means there are now four dogs in the Moretz household (three movie dogs supplementing a veteran born the same year Chloë was). “I love my doggies,” Moretz says. “Next I want a panda or a leopard. No, a cheetah. Yeah. Or maybe, like, a really cute fox. A red fox. They’re adorable with their little white tails.”
A few days later, when I talk to Scorsese by phone from the set of Hugo Cabret, he tells me that the conversations he has with Moretz—about not only her doggies but also her favorite subject in school, history—are what remind him she’s still a girl. “We’ll be talking about the Constitution and the Iroquois Confederacy,” he says, “and every so often we’re told, ‘We have to shoot now.’” He lets out a great infectious laugh. “And sometimes we talk about how many new teeth have come in!” He laughs again, even more uproariously. Then he gets entirely serious. “It doesn’t seem like—how should I put it?—a child acting. It doesn’t matter the age. She is an actor, above all. And a very, very good one.”
It’s become a widespread cultural habit to worry about child stars who become famous for being professionally adorable. (These days, the years between the red carpet and rehab are measured in the single digits.) It’s more confounding to contemplate the destiny of child stars who are famous because they are legitimately talented.
I ask Chloë about meeting kids her own age, given that she doesn’t attend classes (a dedicated tutor follows her around the world). “The friends I’ve known the longest are in L.A., of course, but they don’t really care about the business. Though they think it’s cool that they’re able to go to the cinema and watch me onscreen. I only have two friends in the industry, not even really.” In London, a coworker’s daughter hooked her up with her current circle. “Basically, I went to their Halloween party and I met all her friends, and we’re all good friends now,” she explains.
But what about kids who are not in the industry who wish they were in the industry, and see “friendship” with Moretz as a foot in the door? And what about just run-of-the-mill suck-ups?
“I guess it happens with anything,” she says. “If you’re an amazing gymnast, if you’re an amazing ballerina, you’re going to have suck-ups too. If you’re a CEO of a business, you’re going to have suck-ups. If you’re a big journalist”—she deftly gestures at me—“you’re going to have suck-ups. That’s just life, you know.”
And her family, she says, is big on constant reality checks. “I always have perspective shoved in my face by my parents and brothers. They’re like, This could all go away in a second—you know that, right? And I’m like, Okay, I get it. Just let me do it for a second.”
“It’s a bit about balancing the Cinderella effect,” Trevor told me earlier. “Like, she’ll get invited to a Dior thing”—specifically, a reception hosted by the fashion house later that week, two nights before the London premiere of the latest Harry Potter movie, to which she was also invited—“but then she has to be home by nine.”
Chloë was right there when he said that, and she didn’t protest. In the Moretz household—no matter what continent it happens to be on at the moment—the rules are the rules. Including, as it happens, no unauthorized R-rated films. Which excludes not only some of Chloë’s recent work, but much of the oeuvre of a certain director.
“Wait,” I suddenly think to ask, “how much Scorsese have you actually seen?”
“Well, I’ve only been able to see Aviator—and even then I had to close my eyes a little bit,” she says, laughing. “But one day I hope to see Goodfellas and stuff. One day I’ll be able to watch, you know, Taxi Driver. One day.”