Our meeting with Ansel Elgort begins with a brief tutorial on the nuances of the Aussie accent. His first attempt has left us particularly unimpressed.
“You sound Kiwi,” I confess. And so begins the lesson in flattening your “e” without tightening it into an “I”. “Gueeeess” not “giss”.
The 23-year-old New Yorker takes it with extraordinary grace. He’s on the cusp of superstardom, thanks to a leading role in smash hit movie Baby Driver, but he’s still not above taking notes on his craft from an uppity Melbourne journo. I soon understand his reputation for industrial-strength charm.
“I was just happy to be in a movie,” Ansel says, when I ask about his choice of early roles. “I couldn’t believe somebody was going to put me in a major motion picture.”
- Related: In honour of Baby Driver, here are 12 classic songs you first heard at the movies
- Related: Baby Driver is wilfully, wildly unrealistic, and you’ll love it
If you don’t already know who Ansel Elgort is, it’s possible there isn’t a significant adolescent in your life. He’s best known for playing Augustus, the fatally ill romantic lead in the adaptation of John Green’s astonishingly successful young-adult novel The Fault In Our Stars.
The young, largely female fans who lined up to meet him at the Sydney premiere came brandishing copies of the novel for him to sign. (Ansel also had a key role in the Divergent series, another teen literary phenomenon, but he doesn’t seem so keen to talk about that.)
But Ansel is aware that Baby Driver is a game-changer, marking his arrival as a fully fledged adult film star. When people stop him in the street these days, it’s usually the eponymous Baby they want to talk about, not Gus.
“People cry less when they see me now,” he says. “They were happy to see me alive before, now they’re just happy to see me.”
While movie stars have been traditionally a bit sniffy about being cornered by his fans, Ansel appears to thrive on it. He has eight million Instagram followers and sees social media as a chance to connect with a larger audience than he’ll ever manage in person. While he claims not to seek out flattering feedback, he admits that one bad tweet is enough to bruise his day.
“It hurts your feelings, but you’re forgetting about the 800,000 people who just liked your Instagram post. There isn’t a wall between you and people when you do submit yourself to social media. It’s OK, but you have to put it in perspective. I don’t take anyone seriously when they say they hate Baby Driver. I just can’t believe it, because it’s so good.”
This endearing blend of earnestness and self-belief goes some way to explaining why Ansel is dynamite as getaway driver Baby, whose swagger belies a deep well of grief. But there’s also the soundtrack.
Baby is a music obsessive, who needs to be plugged into an iPod 24/7 in order to function; Ansel is just as obsessed. He’s been playing gigs for years as DJ Ansolo and last month released his first single, although he says he never pressured director Edgar Wright to include some of his own music.
“I should have,” he admits. “I wouldn’t have dared suggest anything because Edgar had such a clear vision.”
Baby Driver is one of three major films Ansel has lined up for the next year, but there’s one galaxy, far, far way in which his star won’t be rising. Although he was shortlisted for the gig as young Han Solo, the part ultimately went to Alden Ehrenreich. Ansel says there are no hard feelings.
“I know this is blasphemous to say, but though I like Star Wars, it’s not my be-all-end-all fandom. If they were doing a big new spin-off of Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson was directing and I didn’t get it, I’d be crushed.”
Surely, at six-foot-something, he’d be a very tall hobbit?
“I’ll be anything, man. I’ll an elf, I’ll be a dwarf, I’ll be a very tall hobbit. Hopefully they can shrink me down.”
- Opens July 13, rated MA, 113 minutes