Ansel Elgort used to have Grace Coddington round for supper

The actor in The Fault in Our Stars on having a leg double, borrowing Shailene's herbal toothpaste and dining with the Vogue dynasty

Arts+Culture Q+A
Ansel Elgort
Ansel Elgort Photography by Philippe Vogelenzang

A long time ago – like, we're talking July last year – I called up the famous fashion photographer Arthur Elgort to chat about his trip to China with Linda Evangelista. Before hanging up, he said, "My youngest son is Ansel Elgort. He's going to come out in a movie soon that's going to make him big time." That movie was Carrie – the Kimberly Peirce remake of Stephen King's telekinetic thriller starring Chloë Grace Moretz.

Arthur Elgort was right. He did make it big time. "He believes in me," smiles Ansel when I tell him about our exchange. He's sat in the Soho Hotel, legs sprawled across the coffee table between us, munching on caramel corn. With only three films to date, the youngest Elgort is already girding his loins from the clamouring Tumblr 'shippers' (vehement fans who pair two people in a dream relationship). In The Fault in Our Stars, Ansel plays Augustus Waters: a cocksure hunk in remission who falls for Hazel Grace Lancaster (played by herbal hottie and homemade toothpaste guru Shailene Woodley). Together, they trek to Amsterdam to visit Lancaster's favourite author, Peter Van Houten. What really happens, though, is a deluge from the beginning of the second act when the floodgates burst. You'll sob in this movie, I swear. This acerbic account of young teenage love thriving despite being diagnosed with a terminal illness "says important things about sick people, shoots down the stereotypes," says Elgort. So for those of you that get this, bring tissues along when you go. Okay? Okay.

Did you ever get to use Shailene's herbal toothpaste?

Ansel Elgort: She offered it to me, the toothpaste, but I'm okay with Crest (laughs). She would give me stuff and I’d just eat it. I'm down for whatever, if you wanna give me something I'll drink your drink – the thing about it is if she's drinking it you know it's probably not bad for you.

And? How'd you feel?

Ansel Elgort: I wouldn’t feel bad, I never got sick or anything. The funny thing is that with Shailene if you ask her what things are good for, she'll like tell you for 95% of the things – the reason they're good for you is like, "This is good for digestion." It's like everything is good for digestion now.

How'd you guys first meet?

Ansel Elgort: It was during the audition for Divergent. There weren't sparks. We played brother and sister the first time we met. Shailene is a big presence, she dominates whatever scene she's in. If the actor she's with isn't good, she's going to dominate the shit out of them and it's going to be a mess. So it needs to be someone who's a strong enough actor. So you have to think about how can you beat her in that scene, because she's trying to beat you. 

There're all these hilarious things on Tumblr which create entire narratives from out of context gifs. Are they creepy to you?

Ansel Elgort: They all like to 'ship' us (see Shansel). We're not a thing. I think that’s really helpful – that we weren't a thing. I'm really comfortable being open around her because I'm not like, 'Oh no, I have to watch my step. I don't want to date my co-star.' There's no pressure there. There's no sexual tension between us, it's all just friendship.

“I grew up with Grace Coddington coming over to our house like all the time, but like she was just like the woman with the red hair” – Ansel Elgort

What was it like having a leg double?

Ansel Elgort: His name was Tanner Boatwright. Good kid. When you're crafting a character, it's good to have a lot of influences. I understood already that Gus (Waters) has a lot of confidence, but you always ask, "Why does he have this confidence, where does it come from?" And one of the reasons might be because Tanner is really, really confident. I think it's because he's overcome something. He still snowboards and climbs and hunts – that's how he lost his leg, in a hunting accident. Someone shot him in the leg, he was 16. You can go one or the other way – one way is to go around moping your whole life that you lost your leg, and the other way is being really strong about it, and almost overcompensating with confidence. 

Where does Tanner's leg appear in the movie?

Ansel Elgort: The first time in the support group where I show my leg which is hidden. The other time is in the bed, when I'm on the phone, you see with me with my leg. And after the love scene they actually cut a hole in the bed and had me put my leg down to make it look not just like a knee. So it looks like it was cut off.

So all three of you are in the bed together?

Ansel Elgort: No. Tanner wasn't needed in that scene (laughs).

What films have you cried in? 

Ansel Elgort: I cried for the first time during The Notebook. I cry a lot during films. I'm a big crybaby.

Do you think that this is the next generation's The Notebook?

Ansel Elgort: No, I think that they're just totally different movies. Nicholas Sparks and John Green are very different writers. I don't read Nicholas Sparks books. I'm not that big of a reader to be honest. 

So what was the big clincher for this one? Why was this one the one you wanted to be a part of?

Ansel Elgort: Just who Augustus (Waters) was. That role is so special. And also the story in general. It's a beautiful story with important messages I think. Sick people in movies are so poorly portrayed, and even as an example – what Hollywood wanted to do for this film, when John first brought it to a studio, it wasn't Fox – they said, "Maybe we could bring in a different character who's not sick, and make it about her?" It's like, really? No! He said he couldn't believe that someone would suggest that. That's the problem with Hollywood and making movies about sick people, it's always about healthy people learning lessons from sick people. As if the sick people aren't important enough.

What was it like growing up with your dad (Arthur Elgort)? Did he ever bring people over?

Ansel Elgort: Yeah, I mean, I never knew. I grew up with Grace Coddington coming over to our house like all the time, but like she was just like the woman with the red hair.

She came over for dinner and stuff?

Ansel Elgort: Yeah! She was really nice. And the funny thing is people are always saying that she's so mean, but I've only ever known her as being very nice to us. If we saw her at a restaurant she might be doing her Grace thing, but then when she'd see us she'd be like, (endearing old lady voice) "Ohhh! Ansel, good to see you!" I was young enough at the time that seeing all these models I'd be like, "Oh, they're just tall girls." I wasn't really into girls yet. And then, now, I'm at that age it's like, "Oh, there's some pretty girls around in my dad's studio", but, you know, don't go over there…

Ansel Elgort
Ansel Elgort Photography by Philippe Vogelenzang

Do you have any Adam Sandler stories from working together on Men, Women & Children?

Ansel Elgort: Yeah. He's really funny. I played basketball with him. More and more with him over summer.

Did you beat him? 

Ansel Elgort: Here's the thing. 

Oh no!

Ansel Elgort: So, you know what… no, I'm going to save that story until I'm promoting that movie. I gotta save it.

Oh, come on! You can't do that to me, it's my last question!

Ansel Elgort: I really wanna save it until that movie. I'm sorry.

The Fault in Our Stars is in cinemas now

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