The Chalamet Effect

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Bella Borgomini
February 17, 2021

Timothée Chalamet starred in 16 films before the age of 25; became the youngest Oscar nominee for best actor in over 80 years; and has been nominated for over 90 awards and won 35, including four SAG Awards and two Golden Globes. He has worked with renowned filmmakers such as Denis Villenueve, Greta Gerwig, Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson, and Luca Guadagnino; has been lauded for performances in period, coming of age, sci-fi, romance, and drama films alike; and was named the best-dressed man in the world by GQ. While these feats alone are certainly impressive and affirm a talented artist, are they enough to make an icon? Whether Timothée Chalamet is recognized as a critically-acclaimed actor, following a career trajectory similar to artists such as Al Pacino and Leonardo Dicaprio, or is this generation’s greatest heartthrob, plastered on the walls of thousands across the world, there is no denying that he is a cultural anomaly experiencing unprecedented success. What is it that makes him so universally beloved? Is it merely due to his talent, good looks, and charisma? Die-hard fans would argue that it isn’t so simple. 

Human psychology makes us more likely to be drawn to people to which we can relate. Perhaps herein lies a key attribute to Chalamet’s widespread acclaim: his seemingly universal relatability. Many know Chalamet from his domineering performances in award-winning films, while others may recognize him from his frequent talk show appearances, in which he seems anything but confident. In his first late-night appearance on Jimmy Fallon, which occurred before his breakthrough role in 2017 film Call Me by Your Name, Chalamet seemed sweetly self-deprecating. He regarded the audience by half joking, “I feel so bad for all of you guys. You were waiting outside in line, waiting for Jessica [Chastain] and now you’re like, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’ ” Such jokes characterize the young actor’s interview style. Viewers have immediately caught on to his anxious energy and self-effacing attitude when speaking about his own career. This has not worked against him, but made him all the more lovable. His personality always shines through his nerves, while his humor and thoughtfulness make him more engaging, so his anxiety is not only seen as endearing but human. On a subsequent appearance with Fallon, the late-night host showed a clip of Chalamet falling off a chair on a press junket. Chalamet, visibly embarrassed, laughed along with the crowd; this was not the first time he showed his ability to laugh at himself. Around the time of his breakthrough in popularity, videos of Chalamet rapping in high school began to circulate the internet. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres even took it upon herself to show a clip of “Timmy Tim” on national television, in which a 17-year-old Chalamet rapped about statistics for a school project. The ability to share his embarrassment with fans and laugh at his past self has not only earned Chalamet a place on the internet as a “meme,” but also convinced his fans that he is one of them. On the most basic level, people are more inclined to root for someone seen as good-natured, because it is easy to root for someone whom we feel, in a different universe, might just as easily root for us. 

Chalamet has also shown people that he is a fan of his craft: in addition to gushing profusely over films he is passionate about, he has very interesting things to say about his art and the world around him. In interviews, especially the more vulnerable ones, Chalamet chooses his words carefully. With regard to his art, the actor believes his personal feelings about a film are secondary to what that film awakens in the lives of others. As a result, he enjoys in-depth conversations about the projects of which he is a part, delivering poignant sentiments during interviews so frequently that co-star Armie Hammer once jokingly referred to him as “Dr. Phil.” When discussing Call Me by Your Name, Chalamet said, “I’ve been very encouraged by the nature of the conversations that I’ve had and by the lack of questions that are tunnel-visioned in their understanding of… life and love.” He has since mentioned that he is optimistic about the film industry’s future and the attitudes of young people towards good stories. “I think people want a mirror,” he stated once. “They want to see themselves and their experiences reflected back to them.” After working with Chalamet on the film Dune, director Denis Villeneuve said of his maturity, “He has this kind of general youth in his features and the contrast with the old-soul quality in his eyes— it’s a kid that knows more about life than his age.” 

In addition to demonstrating in-depth artistic knowledge and intellect, Chalamet has also spoken on contemporary issues. After playing Nic Sheff in Beautiful Boy, the real-life story of a young man facing a methamphetamine addiction, Chalamet was eager to share the importance of the film, shedding light on the taboos around addiction and the reality of the disease. He explained, “I feel a real responsibility — not in a fake way or a facetious way… to point some way forward. And with Beautiful Boy, at least there’s a redemptive value in… a story that doesn’t get honored all the time.” In addition to expressing his beliefs through his artistic endeavors, the actor has used his platform to voice his support for the LBGTQ+ community and the Black Lives Matter movement and donate to various New-York-based non-profit organizations. After an in-depth interview with writer Daniel Riley, in which Chalamet remarked on the inherently performative nature of social media and its convoluted implications, Riley reflected, “[Chalamet] cares so genuinely about doing the right thing, about doing well by his family, his friends, and his fans. But he [doesn’t] want to misuse his privilege or his platform; to overreach so that the gravity of his fame [sucks] up anything from anyone else whose moment it [is] to speak.” Chalamet is evidently passionate about sparking conversations on and off camera and possesses a unique maturity to express his intentions. 

Whether he’s gracing the big screen, winning countless awards, laughing at himself in interviews, hosting Saturday Night Live, or even posting cryptic and infrequent photos for his 11.6 million Instagram followers, it seems clear that Timothée Chalamet is here to stay. Fans and interested movie-goers alike will be thrilled to know that 2021 will see the release of two Chalamet films: Villeneuve’s Dune, a larger-than-life sci-fi epic, and The French Dispatch, a Wes Anderson ensemble feature about a controversial newspaper. The actor is currently filming for his role in Don’t Look Up, a political satire film in which he will star alongside Leonardo Dicaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, and Meryl Streep, among others. Additionally, he will play Bob Dylan in an upcoming biopic about the life of the legendary singer-songwriter, so Chalamet’s fans have many things to anticipate.

Although “making it” in the film industry depends on good luck and serendipity, from time to time, the actors we find on the screen find a place in our hearts and make us feel happy about their good fortune. Chalamet, for multitudes, is such a special actor. While his artistry has been a gift to cinema, his character seems to have been a gift to the world at large. Whether one sees him as the respectful advocate, the youthful and awkward newcomer, the dramatic trailblazer, or simply “Timmy,” there are countless things to admire about the artist. Now, it’s just a matter of seeing what he’ll do next.  

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