Chalamet, Timothee: International Star (Call Me By Your Name)

Timothée Chalamet, who plays the major role in Call Me By Your Name, arrived five weeks early before shooting began.  “I jumped into Italian lessons for an hour and a half a day, piano lessons for an hour and a half a day, guitar lessons for an hour and a half a day and gym workouts three times a week,” says Chalamet.

While the actor had six years of piano experience and a year of guitar before making the film, he worked with Crema-based composer Roberto Solci to boost his performance to Elio’s virtuoso level of play.

The New York-based actor spent his youthful summers at his grandmother’s house in Le Chambonsur-Lignon, France, and had a feeling for what European small town life was like.  But he knew that the 1980s Italian version would be different.

He was able to make friends with young people from Crema who didn’t know he was an actor, and looked to Guadagnino for guidance about the period.

Speaking Italian–Crucial

Chalamet is fluent in French and was able to understand basic Italian, he had no Italian language training before his arrival in Crema. “Along with the piano, speaking Italian was crucial for me because it was a native tongue for Elio and I wanted to get it down to what it would have been for him,” he says.

Intimacy and Chemistry

Chalamet was the first person Armie Hammer met. “I heard somebody practicing piano, and they said, ‘Oh, that’s Timmy!’ and I said ‘I want to meet him!’”

The two actors became inseparable in the weeks leading up to shooting. “We rode bikes, we listened to music, we talked, we went to meals, we hung out in many of the same places you see us in the movie,” says Hammer. After shooting commenced, the two rehearsed their scenes every night before shooting. The intimacy and chemistry that became palpable on screen grew out of the closeness the two actors developed in real life.

Slow Burn

The story focuses on the steps forward and backward between Elio and Oliver before their relationship finally becomes physical.  Anticipation through an unhurried buildup is common in Guadagnino’s films. “I like a slow burn,” he says.

Says Chalamet: “It’s the universally relatable game of cat and mouse and push and pull that occurs between people that are attracted to one another but have suspicions and insecurities about whether the other holds the same level of attraction. They also have trepidations because they aren’t in a time period or a location that is accepting or encouraging of them having an intimate relationship.”

For producer Spears, Guadagnino’s measured pace is key to the way the film engages the senses. “There’s an American tendency, whether it’s in movies or TV, to race to the finish line. But Luca slows the pace down and makes you experience everything—the smell, the sound, the touch, the taste. When you connect with all of those things, you’re really going to feel it and you’re not going to forget it.”

There is a scene where Elio and Oliver stop for a drink of water while they are out biking.  This scene serves no obvious narrative purpose, and it is the kind of sequence a different filmmaker might have cut. “This was one of our favorite scenes,” says editor and Guadagnino collaborator Walter Fasano. “First, because it evoked the typical lounging and easy and lazy feeling of old summers in the 1980s.

That particular moment reminded us of moments in Bertolucci’s 1900, which was shot in the same geographical area. Obviously when you deal with these kind of things, you must be very careful not to be self-indulgent, because you can be.  At the same time, when you rush, you are losing something.”

Wiser, If Not Happier

Says Chalamet: “Elio emerges not necessarily happier, because there is a lot of pain involved. But he is nonetheless wiser and a lot better for having gone through it.  I think there’s a profound connection between these two people that will color both of their lives for the rest of their lives. Maybe that’s why the story is resonating deeper. People sense that there’s a connection here that’s beyond just a summer love—they both are haunted by the memory of each other.”

Immersion in Role

Chalamet gave an emotionally truthful, fully-realized performance, for which he won the Best Actor Award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, as well as a SAG and Best Actor Oscar nod.