Rising star Timothée Chalamet spends a sun-dappled summer in Italy falling in love with Armie Hammer in director Luca Guadagnino’s exquisite CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. Adapted from the celebrated novel by André Aciman, the passionate romance — built on stolen glances, coded exchanges and erotic tension — is also a coming-of-age story, with its young protagonist Elio (Chalamet) in the throes of first love and of being 17. Chalamet brings remarkable maturity to the role, imbuing Elio with curiosity, intellect, and a depth and certainty of feeling that belie his years.
Ahead of the film’s Centerpiece Gala screening at AFI FEST on Friday, November 10, AFI spoke with Chalamet about CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.
AFI: Years before there was even a script for CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, you met with director Luca Guadagnino. What was that conversation like?
TC: It was more a conversation where we got to know each other as people and saw each other’s personalities, and how they meshed naturally outside of what is always a more rigid and pressure-oriented environment of a film set. We clicked, and stayed closely in touch between those four years between that first meeting and when the film went into production. We finally got to shoot two summers ago.
AFI: What was your reaction to the book?
TC: I was very moved by it, and I thought it was one of the really rare and authentic windows into what can be the obsessive-compulsive mind of a maturing human trying to figure themselves out and figure life out. It felt like a window into a young person’s psyche the way Stephen Chbosky’s [novel] “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” feels like that, too.
AFI: What was scary about playing the role of Elio, and what was exhilarating?
TC: The biggest thing was to do justice to this love story that holds such a place in so many people’s hearts, André Aciman’s novel. The other greatest worry would be what Mr. Aciman himself would think about it.
AFI: What did Aciman think of the film?
TC: He has spoken very positively about the film and, I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but it’s all things that have been said publicly. To the degree that film adaptations can be accurate and of course, especially in a first-person narrative as dense and complicated as this book, where two seconds of real-life action can play out in 10 pages, he really enjoyed it.
AFI: Luca Guadagnino has talked about doing sequels. Does that interest you, doing a kind of BEFORE SUNRISE-esque trilogy where we meet the lovers periodically throughout the years?
TC: I would do anything to work with Luca again. I’d be a boom operator on one of his films.
AFI: What was the rehearsal process, some of which took place in Guadagnino’s living room?
There was a little bit of a rehearsal process. It was more of a tonal acclimation process to the vibe and tone of that town, and what it means to spend a summer in Italy. To get out there in advance, about a month and a half early, to learn the piano to the level that André Aciman describes in the book, and to learn the Italian because Elio’s Italian in the novel.
AFI: The audience is meant to follow the progression of your attraction to one another, and if you found that in rehearsal, the suspense would be lost.
TC: Luca has this belief that you want to be delicate with [the material]; you’re almost terrified of getting it in advance in rehearsal. We were more hanging out as human beings and getting to know each other as people.
AFI: What do you think makes this such a universal love story?
TC: Perhaps it’s the lack of an antagonist, or a villain, or of a familiar pattern. In the lack of an antagonizer in this love story, whether that would be disease or a malicious gang or something, the lack of that serves the boundless ode to love that is described in the novel.
AFI: One of the film’s centerpieces involves Elio and Oliver maneuvering around a statue, almost like a nervous dance, at once communicating and not communicating their feelings. Talk about blocking this scene.
TC: We got to set, and there was this great monument in the middle of the square, and Luca gave us the direction to play the scene going around the monument, and then we blocked it out and there wasn’t enough track there that day to do the whole take in one shot, going up and down the side of the street. Luca went to the line producer and said we need more track, and Luca said we have to get this track and we’ll worry about the money later. We had about an hour to do it; we had two or three takes. Luca was very specific as related to that scene about this confession of love — he didn’t want to play in the close-up and see actors’ emotion. It only served some sort of human truth that a confession of love is often the moment we choose to be the most coy.
AFI: What does the title — CALL ME BY YOUR NAME — and the act it describes in the film mean to you?
TC: To love someone is to become them, and that love is an act of empathy, and that to take on your [lover’s] name in an expression of love is to totally reveal yourself as a human being and to offer yourself as a compassionate lover and friend.