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Chloë Moretz
Chloë wears fishnet dress and silk slip by Marc JacobsPhotography by Glen Luchford; Styling by Robbie Spencer

Reign in blood

Kick-Ass superhero Chloë Grace Moretz is taking 
on the bloodsoaked role of teen misfit Carrie

In the lead-up to Halloween, Dazed Digital is running a Dark Arts season inspired by our November Dark Arts issue. Among other things, we've walked the path of darkness via the Hollywood Walk of Death and talked to Don Mancini, the creator of Chucky. Check our Dark Arts section for a journey to hell and back.

Chloë Grace Moretz, the cinematic menace who sliced and diced her way into the cultural consciousness as a profane pre-teen vigilante in Matthew Vaughn’s superhero satire Kick-Ass (2010), is nestled in a corner of an art-deco lobby lounge sipping camomile tea as ominous storm clouds roll over Central Park. It’s a rare moment of respite for the 16-year-old from filming Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer and enduring the promotional blitz for Kick-Ass 2. Whip-smart with a wise-beyond-her-years charisma and arch knowingness, her consummate professionalism belies a brilliant goofiness. When conversation turns to ick-inducing New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner and his sexting problem, she says: “Get with it men, stop being creepy. No girls like it and the girls that like it are not good girls,” adding that no female politician – not even Sarah Palin – would be stupid enough to take a crotch shot. She has a sweet-as-American-pie heart-shaped face but could eat a Disney princess for breakfast.

She hasn’t exactly been working with Mickey Mouse directors either – her decade’s worth of credits includes movies by Martin Scorsese (Hugo) and Tim Burton (Dark Shadows). Her roles tend to lean towards the sardonic with an element of malevolence, from a child vampire in Let Me In and an Alice Cooper-loving werewolf in Dark Shadows to a gun-toting runaway in Hick and a gang member in Best Coast’s promo for “Our Deal”. This autumn she adds to her crew of outcasts and avengers by taking the title role in the second movie adaptation of Stephen King’s Carriea cautionary supernatural tale of high-school viciousness and vulnerabilitySo why all the psychosis? “Because it’s fun! I’m the type of actor that if I’m not doing something the complete opposite of who I am – the happy-go-lucky girl with the happy family – it’s boring.”

You can’t be a total girl. With older brothers who beat you up to make sure that when you’re an adult you’re able to handle things, you can’t just sit inside with your dolls; you either learn to play football with them or you sit alone

Born in Georgia in 1997 to a plastic surgeon father and  nurse mother, Moretz grew up with four older brothers, which has surely had a part in encouraging her badass grit and tell-it-like-it-is candidness. “You can’t be a total girl,” she says. “With older brothers who beat you up to make sure that when you’re an adult you’re able to handle things, you can’t just sit inside with your dolls; you either learn to play football with them or you sit alone.” In particular, she wanted to emulate her actor brother Trevor, who attended the Professional Performing Arts School in New York and gave her an appreciation for film history by screening Elizabeth Taylor, Mae West and Audrey Hepburn movies. A year after the family relocated to Los Angeles, Moretz was acting in her first notable big-screen role, a remake of The Amityville Horror (2005). Trevor has been her acting coach ever since, and, along with their mother Teri (seated two tables over from us enjoying a light lunch), reads Moretz’s scripts and ensures she maintains a semblance of a balanced life and stays out of the child-star express lane to rehab. He also taught his sister how to stand up for herself. “I’m like my brother Colin. He gets mowed over by people all the time because he’s too nice to everyone, and Trevor taught me to shut that part down, how to be blunt and realistic. You half mow me over and you are out of my life that quick,” she says with a snap.

She’s spent a few years filming in London (loves Holland Park and Cara Delevingne, hates Belgravia) and credits the city with developing her fashion sense (“in real life I wear black on black on black on texture on black”). But it’s her southern roots and close-knit family that keep her grounded and impervious to Hollywood superficiality. “I have to go back to Georgia because my friends that live in LA, they don’t live like normal at all. You let everything get out of control until you go home and realise how stupid the stuff you talk about every day is. You know, ‘Our $500,000 camera broke!’ And you sound like an idiot.” 

The upcoming Carrie remake, which marks her first blockbuster leading role, promises to hew closer to the 1974 novel than Brian De Palma’s 1976 beloved cult adaptation while also updating it for 2013. The revenge-of-the-nerd pulp horror classic has all the hallmarks of Moretzian darkness: paranormal powers, apocalyptic revenge and a fanatical mother with homicidal tendencies. There’s always trepidation when a remake of a classic film is announced that it’s going to be a wan bastardisation of the original. But Moretz was reassured when she heard that the studio had hired Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce – “the director that’s dangerous, the one that’s the wild card” – rather than “someone that’s commercialised, hacky, gory. That’s when I wanted to go after this part, even though everyone told me that I was too young, I’d never book it. I decided to do it and fight.”

Playing Carrie was like having a psychiatrist for three-and-a-half months, every day going to these dark places where nobody in their right mind should be going

Moretz battled through two five-and-a-half hour auditions and numerous marathon meetings with Peirce to prove she had the depth and fortitude to reprise Sissy Spacek’s Oscar-nominated 1976 performance as teen outcast Carrie White. New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael proclaimed that the otherworldly-looking Spacek (who was 26 when she played the part) couldn’t have given a better performance, and raved about how she used “her freckled pallor and whitish eyelashes to suggest a squashed, groggy girl who could go in any direction.” Moretz’s teen-dream beauty and roster of strong-willed, take-no-shit characters meant that it was a gruelling task to convince the studio that she was the one to bring the meek anti-heroine to a 21st-century audience. “I’m excited for people to see a different side to me as an actress. I don’t do vulnerable roles, I haven’t yet until Carrie. This was the most vulnerable I’ve been.”

At its core, it’s a story about the female experience, beginning with Carrie freaking out in the girls locker-room as she mistakes her inaugural menstruation for a lethal haemorrhage. The humiliation and horror of classmates battering her with tampons triggers latent telekinetic powers, a handy metaphysical metaphor for the volatility of emerging sexuality. Peirce created a safe environment to explore Carrie’s psychic turmoil. “You can’t have a guy on set because the minute you mention the word ‘period’ guys are terrified,” Moretz says. “They’re like, ‘I don’t wanna talk about it, eww.’” She asserts that with Peirce and Julianne Moore, who plays Carrie’s oppressively demented mother, Margaret, “I could go anywhere. I could cry, I could laugh, I could emote more than I’ve ever been able to emote, all because of that atmosphere I was put in.”

Marinating in Carrie’s furious stewpot of rage, fear, and loneliness was a transformative experience that demanded introspection from the young actress. “There was this big moment where I grew up and I became a completely different person. It was like having a psychiatrist for three-and-a-half months, every day going to these dark places where nobody in their right mind should be going. It’s not a character you walk away from and come back to, it’s a character you need to thrive in and stay in, from the minute I stepped on set to the minute I left.”

In addition to the emotional intensity, Moretz took an occasional bible to the face, courtesy of Moore. “Julianne would call me ‘Cookiepuss’ and be like, ‘Oh my little baby,’ and cuddle me. She always felt bad for having to cut me and stab me. She’d be like, ‘I can’t do it any more, I can’t do it to this poor child!’” To keep creepy Carrie from haunting her dreams, Moretz was all about exhortative happiness off-screen: eating ice cream, watching the Miley Cyrus flick LOL and maintaining ABBA on heavy rotation. A physical release was also useful, and she found herself clocking in 2am sessions spinning or running at the gym. “It was a way to calm myself down and mellow myself out. It was those endorphins that made me be like, ‘It’s good, I got it!’”

You open your eyes and go, ‘It’s red. Is it ketchup? Is it syrup?’ And you smell the iron, the smell of blood, and that’s when it hits

Perhaps the most memorable tableau in the canon of pubescent assholery is the moment when a beaming Carrie – just crowned prom queen – is stunned by a shower of pig’s blood. Moretz didn’t want to know when it was coming. “We kept the camera rolling after it hit me for like five minutes, cause you had to sit there and go, ‘It’s cold’, then you open your eyes and go, ‘It’s red. Is it ketchup? Is it syrup?’ And you smell the iron, the smell of blood, and that’s when it hits. So it’s trying to make that realistic and not silly or stupid, because it was hilarious.” After the camera cut, the “blood” – a concoction of water, food thickener, soap and colouring – turned into a gnarly slip’n’slide as the cast tumbled and fell down into a sanguineous mess. “The first time we did it with a bucket, none of it hit my body, but it looks sick on camera because all you see is this balloon of blood and this smiling underneath it. It’s so sad because that moment before is when you watch her and think, if nothing happened tonight, this girl’s whole life could change and she could be normal.” 

“Normal” is a pretty elastic term, especially for someone who has both the magnetism to be queen bee and an independence that runs counter to teenage hive mentality. Where does she think she would fit in the Hobbesian hierarchy of the American cafeteria if she wasn’t tutored? “Probably with the artsy weirdos,” she decides. “My friends now, we’re the type of kids that probably wouldn’t be the craziest popular people but we’d just be doing our own thing and have huge ideas, dreaming beyond what we can even achieve. But that’s ambition, you know?”

Innate drive coupled with an aptitude for transgression is what makes her the pint-sized paradigm-buster to watch. At ten, she saw an ad campaign for James McAvoy thriller Wanted and told her mom she wanted to play “those sick, rad characters. I wanted to be Angelina Jolie, I wanted to be Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, I wanted college girls going, ‘That is a badass girl. I wanna be her, I wanna dress up as her on Halloween.’” About a month later, the script for Kick-Ass came in, launching an epic conditioning regime in which Moretz learned martial arts and weapon safety. “I have gun skills, I have knife skills and hand combat skills,” she says matter-of-factly. “For the most part I can spar.”

I know tons of guys who go, ‘Oh, that’s so gay.’ That pisses me off so much because my brothers have dealt with so much shit in their lives. In this day and time you can’t do that

The notorious scene in which Moretz, a cute kid in a purple wig, detonated a gleeful “okay you cunts, let’s see what you can do now” to a room of drug dealers ignited a firestorm of criticism over where the boundaries lie for child actors in adult movies. But it’s patently clear Moretz knows the difference between fact and fiction. “My family’s very strict so I would never cuss or do anything stupid in front of my mom. We’re southern. I’ve been raised with ‘yes ma’am, no sir’.” 
She also busts a cap in the idea that girls are simply precious things to be coddled and admired. “I try and break stereotypes in every sense, especially with female empowerment roles,” she says. “There was that time period, early 80s to late 90s, where it was all about the woman who’s ahead, the CEO breaking the glass ceiling. Boom! Women! And then it just dwindled, everything turned back, you have to have the Wahlberg to hold a movie. Until I was 11 it was a male world, and it still very much so is, but now you have Amy Pascal, the head of Sony. She’s the highest you can get right now. Everything is turning round to where it’s all female empowerment. My mom has always instilled that in me because she is the strongest woman you’ll ever meet. So it makes me want to portray for young girls that you can be a strong girl. You don’t have to look at the guy to see what’s going on, you don’t have to have a boyfriend to be happy.”

One reason she may be attuned to subverting prescribed gender norms is because she’s seen first hand the vitriol hurled at her two gay brothers. She makes a point to call people out who use the word “gay” as a pejorative. “I know tons of guys who go, ‘Oh, that’s so gay.’ That pisses me off so much because my brothers have dealt with so much shit in their lives. In this day and time you can’t do that. I get so much hate mail because one of my gay brothers likes to paint his nails, and the things people say are horrific.”

With a talent and purpose reminiscent of a young Jodie Foster or Natalie Portman – erudite actresses who wore controversy with aplomb at a young age – it’s unsurprising she wants to attend university. She’s eyeing NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study after a heart-to-heart with Denzel Washington dissuaded her from Columbia’s notoriously strict core curriculum. Alongside cinematography, she’s obsessed with – naturally – abnormal psychology and how the brain works, and eager for total academic freedom. “I am so bad with authority. I’m such a collaborative person that I can’t deal with someone being like, ‘This is the law, don’t break it.’”

At this point, she’s picked up her knife, fiddling with it in an animated display of her ninja nous. It’s not threatening, it just makes sense that it’s the piece of cutlery she’s most practised at wielding. With five movies in the works for the coming year, including Olivier Assayas’s Sils Maria with Kristen Stewart and Laggies with Keira Knightley, there’s no rest for the wicked. Having success come so young and at breakneck speed, does it all feel surreal? “Since I have a Sony movie they do ‘summer of Sony’,” she explains, “where they fly their entire slate out to Cancun. You’re doing the Macarena with Maggie Gyllenhaal and you’re swimming in the pool with Salma Hayek, and you’re like, ‘Whaddup, it’s no biggie.’ I’m very quiet about it but I freak out a lot. Like when I did Tim Burton’s film with Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter. I was like, ‘Am I in this weird dream? Where am I?’” With her formidable mix of humour, intelligence and grace under pressure, there’s no doubt that Ms Moretz is right where she belongs. 

Carrie is out on November 29


Photography Glen Luchford

Styling Robbie Spencer

Hair Diego da Silva

Make-Up Kate Lee

Nails Marisa Carmichael

Model Matt "Ratty Tatty" Kelly

Photographic assistant Doug Bruce

Styling assistants Coline Bach, Sara Medd, Jenna Wyman

Hair assistant Miki Fujika

Digital operator Desmond Reich

Production Yasuko Austin

Additional casting Shay Nielsen