Peter Bart: In A Tricky Time For Movie Stars, Timothée Chalamet Is Inventing His Own Rules

MGM’s Louis B. Mayer famously observed that “no one is born a star, they’re made a star.” I wonder how he would explain Timothée Chalamet, who is starring in three of the most important releases of the next six weeks, breaking every MGM rule in doing so.

His slate includes Denis Villeneuve’s Dune epic; a splashy sci-fi black comedy with Leonardo DiCaprio; and finally, a satiric turn with Bill Murray in a new Wes Anderson film.

And there’s more: His loyalists can also catch him in a Woody Allen movie that we’re not supposed to see – A Rainy Day in New York. Amazon canceled its official release but quietly made it available on its Amazon channel. Chalamet plays the Woody character, emulating his traits and cadences, which might be considered risky for some actors.

Maybe not for Timothée, who at age 25 is inventing his own rulebook without concern for overexposure. Indeed, he’s presently in London shooting a prequel to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory opposite the hilarious Rowan Atkinson and Olivia Colman.

Is this too much Chalamet? The question seems relevant because this is a dicey time for movie stars – ask any top agent. Film releases are stalled, public appearances banished, publicity machines on lock down. If Mayer were still in the picture, he would deliver a stern list of career mandates to rescue the young actor.

To wit: Chalamet must cultivate a unique screen image, playing identifiable protagonists – think Cary Grant. He must get his picture taken at celebrity events, but not garbed like a white knight as he was at the Met Gala (where he also danced with the Drumline.) He must also pose as proudly American (he’s half-French) with a manly first name (think “Tim”).

Indeed, Mayer would surely have sent him to the MGM school from which Roddy McDowell and Elizabeth Taylor graduated. The wannabe stars were taught how to speak, walk, dance and were even instructed on politics – they had to be registered Republicans under penalty of suspension.

Their film gigs were defined by long-term career objectives. Chalamet’s role in Call Me By Your Name (which earned him and Oscar nomination), entailing affectionate interactions with Armie Hammer, would not have made the cut. Nor would Beautiful Boy, for that matter (the boy had a serious drug problem).

Which brings us back to Woody. It is not clear whether the Allen franchise had been canceled before Chalamet committed to play Gatsby Welles – a role Woody normally would have played. The film portrays Gatsby escorting his college date, played by Elle Fanning, to a weekend in New York where he encounters characters played by Selena Gomez, Jude Law and Liev Schreiber. The dialogue is vintage Woody, which means we’ve heard much of it before.

Had Mayer and his MGM old guard been ruling the Chalamet career, the actor surely would not have made the Woody movie or Beautiful Boy either. “Tim” likely would have been assigned a glitzy romantic caper movie or perhaps even a Western.

Or maybe, as a long shot, he would have been allowed a dark sci fi comedy (Don’t Look Up) opposite DiCaprio and directed by Adam McKay (The Big Short), provided that the studio could review the script for sinister political messages. There’s always a price for stardom, after all.

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