Chloë Grace Moretz: ‘People said: You’re going to lose your career over this’

She shot to fame with Kick-Ass, then was almost derailed by a film co-starring Louis CK. Now she’s back with the bold film Greta – and a desire to remain ‘the outspoken girl’.

Chloë Grace Moretz could make almost anyone she met feel old. She pitches up for our 10.30am coffee date fresh from breakfast yoga: bright eyed and eager, with newly pierced ear cartilage. She makes straight for the brightest table in the place.

At 22, with about 60 films and TV shows under her belt, Moretz still has the face of a child star, which is to say she is a star who looks like a child, with golden hair and cartoon-size features seemingly forever on the verge of a pout. She also has the PR-buffed poise of a long-term A-lister.

Alongside the Fanning sisters, Moretz is one of cinema’s best modern actors whose career began when they were barely school-age. Her professional life started at six;

her breakthrough came at 12, with shockingly polished leads in Kick-Ass and Hugo. Neil Jordan, the director of her latest movie, Greta, says: “At the age when children shouldn’t even act, she was kind of extraordinary.” The remake of Let the Right One In, Let Me In, also made when she was 12, “had no right to be good, but it was good because of her”, he adds.

We are at the San Vicente Bungalows, a swanky new private members’ club: invitation only, strictly no cameraphones. “It’s kind of how Soho House was, I guess, before it became big back in, I don’t know, the 80s?” she says, with a shimmer of a laugh (In fact, the Los Angeles branch opened in 2010, the London original in 1995.)

Her new film is also a throwback. A breakneck psycho-thriller co-starring Isabelle Huppert in full bunny-boiler mode, Greta is a deranged nod to “90s thrillers – like Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction – those fun ones you grew up with”.

Millennial fairytale … watch the trailer for Greta.

There is a pause. Presumably she means me, specifically? “Well, yeah. Being the youngest child in the family, I grew up with everyone else’s cool stuff that they already found.” She thinks being born in 1997 is “depressing. I wish I was born a bit earlier.”

You would be forgiven for thinking she was, not only for her formidable back catalogue, but for the spooky maturity that is her stock in trade. Worldliness can sometimes come instinctively to child actors, but Moretz also has self-awareness beyond her years, as well as the savvy to know what to do with it.

Desiree Akhavan, who directed her in 2018’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, says: “Chloë is incredibly ambitious, focused and driven and I have no doubt she’ll be producing her own content soon.

“She’s a smart businesswoman who has clocked more hours on set than any of her contemporaries and it’s clear she gleaned a lot from growing up on shoots.”

Greta isn’t Moretz’s first time holding her own opposite a French icon who cut their teeth with Michael Haneke. She was also a revelation as a punky and ghastly star who unseated Juliette Binoche in Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria – aged just 16.

Nonetheless, in the flesh, the young woman in the pseudo-Clueless getup (light-wash jeans, red boots, Louis Vuitton monogrammed backpack), is a memento mori come to life. But the things about her that make me feel ancient are probably common to most 22-year-olds: the coziness with life in the public eye (made inevitable in part by her four-year on-off relationship with Brooklyn Beckham; photos suggest she is currently dating the model Kate Harrison); the cultural lexicon afforded by the internet; the confidence fuelled by difficult conversations already completed about gender power dynamics.

Greta is Moretz’s first film playing not a girl, or a teenager, or a vampire, or a superhero, or even an actor, but an average twentysomething. This is also the first time she has been an average twentysomething: Moretz hasn’t been on set since Greta wrapped at the end of 2017.

“I’ve just been soaking up life in LA,” she says. Cooking and mini-breaks get a mention. “Having a normal kind of pace of life and not having any kind of restrictions on what I should be doing.”

Greta is a millennial fairytale. Moretz’s ingénue has a castle in the form of a loft apartment in Tribeca, New York. Huppert is the horrific titular witch, who stalks Moretz after the younger woman finds and returns Greta’s handbag. Some of the film feels dated – Moretz’s apartment has a landline, so Greta can easily harass her. But the plot twists feel quintessentially of the moment, as Moretz becomes increasingly haunted and jaded as institutions fail her. She contacts the police several times, only to be caught in tangled bureaucracy or have her concerns invalidated. A male private eye proves no match for Greta’s wiles. Without spoiling the ending, in today’s world, Jordan seems to suggest, young women have to save themselves.

In the film, Moretz’s mother has died and she has a strained relationship with her father. In real life, Moretz and her father have been estranged since he left the family when she was 12. Moretz was mostly raised by her mother, Teri, with whom she lives in LA, along with two of her four brothers; Trevor is her acting coach and Brandon is her business manager. There are plans to work on a short film with Colin, the youngest.

Chloë Grace Moretz with Isabelle Huppert in Greta
Haunting … Moretz with Isabelle Huppert in Greta. Photograph: J Hession/Focus Features/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock

The family hails from Georgia, where Moretz describes a Southern Baptist childhood full of church obligations and Bible verses before bed. Her father, a successful plastic surgeon, was heir to Moretz Mills, a North Carolina hosiery company – “a sock company”, as she offhandedly puts it. “I probably know as much as you do about it,” she says. “It’s like one of the No 1 sock companies. I think. No clue.”

She began acting aged six, after Trevor was accepted to drama school in New York. Moretz soon moved from reading lines to starring in films, always eschewing the kind of friendly “southern belle” scripts of which she was presumably never short.

What has defined her career is perhaps the choice to steer clear of characters whose main ambition is to be adored. At every turn, she is less likable than you would expect. On 30 Rock, she nailed the conniving child pitted against Alec Baldwin for control of a media empire. Her sorority girl in Bad Neighbours 2 was little less than a nightmare.

Then, in 2016, Moretz stopped abruptly. Plans to star in a live-action version of The Little Mermaid were abandoned. Instead, a hiatus for reassessment was announced. That year, Moretz hit the campaign trail with Hillary Clinton.

Of the presidential candidate, Moretz says: “I still miss her.” Her Twitter bio still bears an inspirational quote (“To all the little girls watching … never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world”) from Clinton’s concession speech. And of the career break? “It was one of the most nerve-racking things I’ve done, because, of course, there’s that thing in the back of your head: what if you don’t get that opportunity again? What if you don’t have a career?”

Chloë Grace Moretz in The miseducation of Cameron Post
Pushing the envelope … Moretz in The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Photograph: Alamy

She did – and was much revivified by pressing pause. Of the scant films shot since, one (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) was an acclaimed, envelope-pushing drama in which she played a gay schoolgirl sent for conversion therapy and two (Greta and Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake) were shot in Europe, where, she says, she is afforded more “freedom to build a character”. She has signed on for Guadagnino’s upcoming Bob Dylan movie, Blood on the Tracks, as well as the Spanish director Kiké Maíllo’s Love is a Gun, a take on the tale of Bonnie and Clyde.

Next in the diary is Shadow in the Cloud, a drama in which she plays a second world war fighter pilot, directed by Roseanne Liang from a script by Max Landis. In 2017, Landis was accused of sexual misconduct; today, Moretz is at pains to say that “we’ve completely distanced ourselves from him. We’ve rewritten it several times now. His name is kind of far away from the project.

“Communication is key and being held accountable is key. It’s a really horrific thing to hear those stories.”

Moretz has been here before: the other film she made post-hiatus was written by, directed and starred Louis CK. In I Love You, Daddy, she played a 17-year-old girl whose relationship with her father, played by Louis CK, becomes complicated when she starts spending time with a 68-year-old film director, played by John Malkovich.

After premiering in Toronto , the film was dropped by its distributor in November 2017 after five women accused its creator of sexual misconduct. Moretz had pulled out of promotion a fortnight before, when she first heard the allegations.

She has subsequently said she hopes it will never be released: “I think it should just kind of go away, honestly. I don’t think it’s time for them to have a voice right now.”

Chloë Grace Moretz opposite Mark Strong in Kick-Ass
‘At the age when children shouldn’t even act, she was kind of extraordinary’ … Moretz with Mark Strong in Kick-Ass. Photograph: Lionsgate/Everett/Rex Features

Moretz was about 12, she says, when she was first warned about men to stay away from. “My brother was never not with me. There were instances, like where I was invited to a private poker night – which is weird – at a man’s house when I was 15 years old. It was always: ‘If there’s not a plus-one for Trevor, then Chloë is not going.’ And then it was like: ‘Oh, it’s really just a one-admission-only thing.’”

Moretz never names names, but she has consistently called out what she considers unhelpful industry behaviour: about a prank when she was 16 – someone left cutlets in her trailer – that led her to consider getting breast implants; about being “fat-shamed” by a male co-star who told her she was “too big for me”.

Before #MeToo, it nearly cost her dear, she says. “Now, everyone says it’s cool to be woke. When I was doing it before, people were like: ‘You’re crazy. You’re going lose your career over this. You’re so outspoken.’”

In previous, unreported instances of the same vein of behaviour, she says, “everyone, truly everyone, was calling my publicist, calling my manager and my agent, being like: ‘Chloë should not speak so much. She needs to keep it more buttoned up.’”

What does she mean by “everyone”? “Studio stuff and producers. The people that make decisions.” So mostly older men? “Not necessarily,” she says sharply. “Sometimes both genders, which is even crazier and kind of sad. A broad spectrum of different people were like: ‘Is this what she wants to be? Does she want to be the outspoken girl?’ And it’s like: ‘Well, yeah. Respectfully, F that.’” Good as her word, Moretz literally – and respectfully – sounds out the letter “F”.

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