Kickass 2 teen queen and impending Carrie star Chloe Moretz talked swear words, One Direction and Mary-Kate and Ashley in our 2010 cover feature.
This article originally appeared in Wonderland issue 24, Nov/Dec 2010.
A friend of a friend is a child psychologist. I wonder if I should call him. I would tell him that I am on my way to meet a 13-year-old girl notorious for pretending to be a violent criminal murderer with an outlandish arsenal of heavy-duty weaponry. More recently still, I’d tell him, she has been pretending to be a vampire, crazed by an insatiable bloodlust, doomed to never love by a curse spanning centuries. But then we all do strange things at 13.
In a grand apartment in Kensington, Chloe Moretz sits on an elegant sofa that stretches out like the arched back of a cat. We are talking about The X Factor, with which she’s become obsessed while temporarily living in England, working on her next film. I mention the teen boyband contestants One Direction. She curls her arms around themselves, pulls them in tight and blushes. “They’re so cute,” she says. Every 13-year-old I have ever met is stranger than Chloe Moretz.
Hollywood actresses have tantrums.
[Unlike most Hollywood actresses, while listening Chloe is probably thinking about One Direction. About their thick bulbous fringes, the way they put their hands in their pockets and shrug…].
You’re also a teenage girl. Tantrums must be kind of obligatory.
[She twists her tiny neck and points to a laptop case that sits on the table] My mom took my computer away from me. Look, it’s over there. It’s been in that case for like a week now.
Why? You must have been really terrible.
Yeah. She takes my phone too, but I just got that back. If I talk back, she takes the phone. If I don’t change my attitude, I won’t get it back. [Smiles]. I have to do a lot of attitude-switching.
Chloe is lucky she doesn’t have a swear box. She rose to widespread fame at the beginning of 2010 as potty-mouthed 11-year- old assassin Hit Girl in the film Kick Ass. She arrived on screen, purple wig, eye mask and nunchucks, with the beautifully put “Okay you cunts… Let’s see what you can do now!” Hit Girl is the alias of Mindy Macready, who has her childhood cruelly snatched away when her policeman father, played by Nicolas Cage, is framed by a gang of mobsters he’d been pursuing and wrongly imprisoned. Upon his release he sets about training his daughter in advanced martial arts and the use of guns and knives. Together they set about demolishing the extensive network of criminals who had wronged them in a series of explosive and gruesome set pieces, flanked by a wannabe superhero desperate for a more exciting and just life.
Children and violence mix well. Not in real life so much, but in movies. Macaulay ‘Kevin’ Culkin’s imaginative attempts to enact lasting brain damage on two pig shit-thick burglars in Home Alone still echoes through Christmas television scheduling still. Every Boxing Day, families come together to watch a boy smash in the faces of two vagrants with cans of paint.
But Hit Girl belongs to a far more powerful and shocking set of child turns, ones that have raged controversial and remained iconic, like Linda Blair in The Exorcist or The Omen’s Damien. Only Hit Girl didn’t even need the devil on her side. Matthew Vaughn’s Kick Ass explored parenthood, violence and what it is to be a fantasist through the colourful prism of a comic book. It was Freud on fizzy pop, inventive, funny and cool.
Tell me about your first day at work.
The first day we filmed, that was a cool day. It was the scene where Nicolas Cage shoots me. We were in a working 1800s sewer in London. It was freezing. The wind was blowing the rain underneath us. It was pretty insane.
Nicolas Cage. I heard he was mental.
“No” she says, with poise and a grin. “If he tells you, you’re cool, YOU ARE COOL.”
Chloe Moretz is cool. She sits in a tracksuit, hair a meshed bob. In front of her is a tray with a giant teapot on it. I think of all of the things that child stars are. Precocious. Disinterested. Chloe pours me a cup of tea. Every 13-year-old I’ve ever met is more precocious and disinterested than Chloe Moretz. “Mom,” she says, “what was my favourite film growing up?”
Chloe’s mum Teri enters. I think of how a child star’s mum is meant to be. Pushy. Overbearing. Unlikable on an Olympic scale. “Your favourite movie was Legally Blonde,” she says. “And Mary-Kate and Ashley,” Chloe says, “I loved them.” Teri sits down proudly on the sofa, like a mum about to fan out a stack of family photos. She is none of these things.
“You loved Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen,” she says. “On your fifth birthday party, it was a princess-and-pyjamas party, remember? All your friends wore pyjamas and we had a big theatre at our house and all your friends came over and watched Mary-Kate and Ashley.”
Chloe laughs. “I loved them… and I even had a dog named Bruiser, after the dog in Legally Blonde.”
In her new film, Let Me In, the same Chloe Moretz plays a 12-year-old vampire, Abby, who snaps her victim’s necks after feasting on their blood. “Let Me In is kind of its own genre,” she says. “It’s a love story but it’s a horror, but it’s not a horror but there is a lot of blood. But there’s not blood. Its so many different things, it has so many different dimensions to it.” Chloe plays the part of Abby. It is another contentious role.The film, Let Me In, is a remake of 2008’s Let The Right One In, a Swedish movie so beloved by critics many of them bored themselves talking about.
And that never happens. As such, the film needed a sensitive, careful remake, one that wouldn’t irk a legion of the original’s ardent devotees. Fears that it would be ruined by an American sensibility aren’t realised. Like it’s predecessor, and the book on which they’re both based, Låt Den Rätte Komma In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, the story – a tragic one in which a pre-pubescent boy, bullied at school, finds solace in a new and only friend who happens to be a vampire – is given the room it needs to breathe. And it needs lots of room. Handled badly, it’d be quite easy to imagine that the tender subtleties in an examination of friend- ship and first love could get lost among the torn aortas, broken spines and bloody fangs. They just would, I suppose.
Chloe pitches it somewhere near perfectly. She is believable as a sweet, reclusive child, she is believable as a princess of the damned, doomed to a gory and unfulfilled immortality. As an unholy combination of the two, she is staggering.
“The first time I saw Let Me In, at the premiere, you know the part where I jump out of the bathtub… I was the only person in the whole cinema to scream,” she says. “You were scared?” I ask. “Of course I was,” she says. “I’m 13.” She flashes me the slack-jawed international language for ‘duh’. She is smart and erudite, proof that you can be both of these things and still hold out in the belief that everything is “awesome.” I meanwhile am reminded that I’m no better now at reading the thoughts of 13-year-old girls than I was at 13, when I tried and failed…a lot.
The path of the child star is not set nor guaranteed. Ask Jonathan Lipnicki from Jerry Maguire, The Karate Kid’s Ralph Macchio or a couple of the gawkier Goonies. Chloe’s has been quick. There haven’t been many years to cram it into. Beginning in 2004 she was schooled in American television serials like The Guardian, and bit parts in the bigger likes of My Name Is Earl and Desperate Housewives. Her first big movie role came when she played Joseph Gordon Levitt’s little sister Rachel in (500) Days of Summer, where she convincingly dispatched relationship advice far beyond her years to her lovelorn sibling. But not even the hardiest, acclaimed soothsayer plot the trajectory that followed.
Continued success, on the scale a child star first finds so spectacularly rests not just on standout talent, but on a number of other cruel and uncontrollable variables. Puberty can mine a face of the charm that once lit screens like a hammer taken to a soft clay pot. A growth spurt here or there and your not only screwed but the Oscars dress you’ll never wear wouldn’t even fit if you could afford it. But Hollywood fable would have us believe that a solid family is all. Ask Lindsay Lohan.
Tell me about your family.
We are super close. As thick as thieves. I have four brothers. We can be mad at each other for two minutes. Then we go for dinner.
They don’t get jealous? I mean, you’re a film star.
One of my brothers is an amazing rower. One is an amazing writer. One is an amazing actor. Everyone is big in their own right. No one is at the top of the totem pole.
So how does it work when you get sent a script – say Kick Ass for example…?
She knows where I am going, she sees me career down the road, my clumsy questioning – an articulated lorry with no brakes amid a truck full of sirens. And so can her mum. I’m asking, without asking, how easy it is to put your daughter forward for a role defined by the creative use of the word ‘cunt’. Except I don’t, because there is a 13-year-old girl in the room. One who sounds much cooler than me when she says it.
Teri leans in: “We’re on our way to the LA Film Festival. Chloe is, like, 11 at this point. She looks up out of the car and sees a poster of Angelina Jolie in Wanted. She says ‘Mom, I wanna do an action film like that.’ I was like, ‘You can’t even see that movie, it’s R-rated. You’re gonna have to wait a few years for a role like that, girlfriend.’”
I look across at Chloe. A giggle seeps through her big smile like expanding foam, tearing apart her bared teeth. “I waited four months,” she says, “Then Hit Girl came.”
“I know my kids,” Teri continues. “I read Kick Ass and it was one of the best scripts ever. She’s smart. She has older brothers and… Well, she hadn’t heard language like that before, but she’s not stupid. We have our lines and Kick Ass blurred some of them.” They are both smiling now. “But it was a special project.”
Chloe mulls it over then wriggles in her chair. “It’s not realistic,” she states. “She [Hit Girl] couldn’t kill all those guys. She couldn’t dodge bullets. In the end the older man who has trained all his life is gonna beat her down. The whole thing is so… fake.”
I feel like I’ve just asked Meryl Streep a stupid question. I decide to ask questions I’d ask a normal teenager. It doesn’t take long to again realise that I’m not talking to a normal teenager.
What’s your least favourite subject at school?
Bleurgh…Math. Algebra is so hard.
And your favourite?
History, I love it. Some subjects, even if you learn everything, you come to a point where people can’t know anymore. History is always happening. Never ending.
[I was 13 when i saw my first careers advisor, so ask…] What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?
Marty told me to keep my head on straight.
Oh, I’m sorry. [She genuinely is.] Scorsese.
Chloe is working with the man – who saw enough in Jodie Foster to trust her to lend the necessary gravitas it took to bring to life a teenage prostitute in Taxi Driver – on a film called The Invention of Hugo Cabret. She plays the lead, Isabelle, a 12-year- old orphan who lives inside the walls of a Paris train station in 1930, alongside Ben Kingsley, Jude Law and Sacha Baron Cohen. In fact, she was filming at Pinewood that morning. I ask her a question, borrowing for her own infectious parlance.
How awesome was your day?
Yeah, awesome… So who do you think will win The X Factor?
[Chloe Moretz isn’t like any other 13-year-old I’ve ever met. And at the same time, she really really is.]
Have you ever played with your own Kick Ass action figure?
No. But I want to.
[I never do call that child psychologist.]
Styling: Grace Cobb
Words: David Whitehouse