I don’t recognize Chloë Grace Moretz.
How can that be? I’m watching a movie in which she supposedly plays a significant role, she must be one of the most recognizable actors on the planet, and yet, I can’t spot her. I’m about half an hour into Luca Guadagnino’s new reinterpretation of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento’s Suspiria, completely alone in a screening room at Amazon Studios (an experience I highly recommend, by the way—watching a terrifying film in an empty theatre, and emerging after hours into a desolate corporate campus really heightens the effect) when, surprised that one of the most in-demand actors hadn’t yet been given a moment of screen time, I decide I need to look up her specific role to make sure I wasn’t missing something. I should have known. The propulsive first scene, the spark that lights the slow-burning fuse that detonates a macabre (and fantastically batshit) third-act firework—that was all Moretz. She plays Patricia, a woman in the midst of a psychotic break, frantically tearing through the office of her psychiatrist, muttering and raving about witches.
At least I wasn’t alone in my confusion. “When I signed on to do Suspiria, one of the main things that we really wanted to wrap our heads around was finding this level of anonymity in the character, not being too recognizable,” Moretz tells me. It’s 9am on a Saturday, she’s been running herself ragged at TIFF with three films opening—Suspiria, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, and Greta—but she’s nothing but energy. Even her voice is unmistakable, as if to underline her feat of transformation; bright, warm, and thoughtful. “It is funny, because there are so many people who have come up to me and they tend to not even recognize me in the film, which I love to hear. That means it worked.”
It’s an unusual thing for an actor to say, that they don’t want to be recognized. For most, the challenge is to stand out, for the audience to come away from the film knowing your name and face and performance as being you. But if you’re Moretz, with 65 credits under your belt at the age of 21 (a quick bit of math: she began her career at 7. That’s 15 years on the job. 65/15 = over 4 roles a year, on average, every year), the challenge is to disappear. Still, in certain ways, the role lands within the Moretz wheelhouse. It’s a fully committed, deeply intense, emotionally volatile thunderclap—in kind with her performances in Let Me In, Brain on Fire, or Carrie. What, for Moretz (a notably sanguine person), is the appeal of extremity? “I think in a lot of ways that it is therapy. It is a way for me get out all of my emotions until I can be who I am in real life, which is actually, yeah, a laid-back kind of person. In real life I am not ever going to be the loudest in the room.”
The Miseducation of Cameron Post offers up an entirely different style of performance. Set in the 1990s, Moretz plays Cameron, who is caught in the back seat of a car with the prom queen. Her highly religious legal guardian gets word, and Cameron is then sent away to a conversion therapy center called “God’s Promise,” where she is expected to, more or less, pray the gay away. There she encounters a Nurse Ratchett-esque headmistress and her sad, mustachioed brother—himself a supposedly “reformed” gay man—as well as her peers at the camp, who deal with the cruelty of being told that their identity is fundamentally corrupt in a variety of ways. Some find healthy methods to cope—like her two friends Jane (Sasha Lane) and Adam (Forrest Goodluck), who put up a front while refusing to change who they are, banding together and relying on friendship to get through. Others are affected in tragic ways. Cameron soldiers through her time at the camp, a torch of resistance burning inside her. Moretz’s performance is all quiet complexity and nuanced emotion, laced through with sunbeams of humor.
The subject matter treated in The Miseducation of Cameron Post turned out to land much closer to home than Moretz first knew. “I grew up in a fairly Christian, conservative, Baptist community. When my brothers came out as gay, I was eleven years old, and I just saw them as happy. I didn’t think twice about it. But I was unaware that prior to them coming out to the family, they actually went to the church we had been going to in LA, and they consulted with the leader of the church and tried to ‘pray away the gay’ for about two months,” she tells me. “I had no idea they went through that. They just shared that story with my mother and I in the last month actually, after everything happened with the movie. It has been harrowing, incredibly educational, and shocking that something like this has happened to members of my own family.”
Family is deeply important to Moretz. The Moretzes are a full-fledged operation, her mother, sister, and four brothers forming a mutually supportive unit. Taking on as much work as Moretz necessitates a village, and her family is deeply involved in her career. They travel together often, her brother Trevor helps her with her acting, and her mother and her other brother Brandon help manage the business side of things. “My family has been my identity. I wouldn’t know what to do without them in a lot of ways—we work together, we live together, we are all each other’s best friends and everything in between, really,” she says. Despite the paparazzi lenses trained on her from childhood on through the years, when others in the industry often spiral out of control, she’s managed to live an entirely scandal-free life, making the transition from child actor to leading lady seamlessly. For that, she thanks her family as well. “Having their support in my life has been one of the big reasons I have been able to navigate this industry and not fall into the darkness that is very, very real in this industry,” she says.
Recent revelations have exposed how deep the roots of “darkness in the industry” go, and how systemically hostile the business can be towards women. As a young woman in Hollywood, Moretz has faced her unfair share of differential treatment and double standards. “It’s been all throughout my entire career, really. I have come across double standards, just being a young woman who has had a substantial career. I have had to fight to be heard,” she tells me. “You aren’t seen and respected as a smart, well-grounded woman. People would say, ‘Oh, she is very outspoken…’ You know what I mean. If I was a man, it wouldn’t be a question of whether or not my advice for my character would be something they would look at. And instead, I have had to beg for an audience from the higher-ups, just to get them to listen to me. Men don’t have to fight for their voice in that sense. They are just kind of given the platform, whereas for me, it’s always been a fight, a struggle, and an apology—being like, ‘Oh, this is my idea, but sorry for interjecting!’”
She might not have been given the platform, but Moretz is taking it, and is increasingly intent on using her position to advance causes that she cares about. She has made it a point not to accept roles that she feels over-sexualize or demean women. She took the stage at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in an effort to convince young citizens to get out and vote for Hillary Clinton. LGBT issues are of particular resonance for her, and in the next year she’s putting a spotlight on them with two self-directed projects. As she tells me about them, her voice fills with excitement, her passion for these subjects clear. “One is going to be my mother, my brother and I, and we are going to take an in-depth examination of what conversion therapy looks like in America. We’ll be talking to the heads of the camps, talking to survivors, talking to so-called “ex-gays,” and getting an in-depth insight on that. That is one thing that I am producing, actually, as well as appearing in,” she says. “Then the other thing I am producing, and it’s very exciting, is a reality show based on coming out—basically it follows people of all ages and different backgrounds as they go through the process of coming out to their biggest ally and to the biggest adversary in their life; usually their best friend and their parents. Then, after they come out, we stay with them for a week to see what happens, the aftermath and what it feels like.” It seems the other side of the camera suits her just fine. “It’s been nice to get my hands in something where I am not just the one in front of the camera. It’s nice to have that ground-up approach to it, to really put my stamp and mark on it.”
This is what the way forward looks like for someone who’s logged a career’s worth of credits before she can legally sip champagne: taking more control, being more selective about the roles she takes on, and pursuing her own projects. It hasn’t been an entirely untroubled ascent. There was a period, when Moretz was 18, when she was on the edge of burning out. “When you love what you do, it’s really easy to fall into this cycle where you’re just working for fun and you don’t try to stop to think about how you could potentially be overextending yourself. And that’s where I was at for a while,” she says. She decided to take a year off. She went on road trips, relaxed with friends and family, and spent two weeks by herself in Tulum, Mexico—her first real time alone in her life. “It was a big deal for me because I come from a massive family, so everywhere I go, even if it’s just to go and get lunch, I’m usually with my brother. That was my first experience being alone, fully alone and isolated with no one there to fall back on. It was really a great experience, and extremely empowering for me.”
She came away from the experience with a new sense of dedication to her career and a new idea of who she wants to be as an actor. She’s slowing down a bit, holding out for opportunities that deeply inspire her. “Going forward, it’s really important to be able to connect to a script on a level where I can’t not do it. That’s how I am making my decisions now,” Moretz explains. “I want to be able to become obsessed with a role, obsessed with a movie, completely infatuated with the filmmaker and really wanting to take on this project. It’s really hard for me to tie my hands down and not make all the movies that come across my table because I love to be on set and I love filming, but it has been a really nice experience being more selective and having this inner dialogue with myself about where I am, who I want to play, and who I want to direct me.”
Moretz is in the unique position of having her entire life, more or less, captured on celluloid. As an actor at an inflection point, moving into a new stage of her career, she’s looking backwards as she plots the path forward. She recently revisited her early films and found the experience illuminating. “I watched myself in Amityville Horror and Let Me In and then Kickass. I found it so weird, but also really beautiful to be able to see myself encapsulated at that age. One is six years old, one is nine years old, one is eleven. It’s very strange, but enlightening in many ways. It made me really proud that I had all those moments on screen to look back on, being an adult now, being 21, and after taking a break in my career to reconfigure who I was and what movies I really want to be doing.” After a life spent being directed, moving from one role to the next, she’s ready to take risks, to determine her own path. It’s an experience she finds both exhilarating and intimidating. “Looking at Cameron Post, looking at Suspiria, looking at Greta—I have definitely taken a lot of risks and a lot of chances, and in that sense it is about overcoming a lot of fear,” she says. “I am going against my natural inclinations in a lot of the roles I am doing, and it’s scary and terrifying, but also really, really invigorating.”