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Ansel Elgort
Ansel ElgortPhotography by Philippe Vogelenzang

Ansel Elgort beat Adam Sandler at basketball

The star of Men, Women & Children talks meeting his idol courtside for a one on one

Jason Reitman's tale of technological malaise – Men, Women & Children – is a generations-spanning survey of how we interact, sext, and cheat in our relationships. We're celebrating his digital spectacle through in-depth interviews with cast members Ansel Elgort and Judy Greer; Bibio walks us through three melancholic melodies from the soundtrack, and we look at how cinema is slowly reverting to silence on screen.

Before he breached two million Twitter followers hanging on his every word; before the bench his rump warmed in Amsterdam while filming The Fault In Our Stars was swiped by some hungry fangirls; even before his dad told me to keep an eye out for his progeny because he was going to be "big time", Ansel Elgort played basketball. No other actor of 2014 has had a more breakneck rise. In between pirouettes (he studied ballet at LaGuardia), he shot hoops for a varsity team in high school. It's one of his many talents (he also makes EDM under the moniker of Ansolo and is known to sing at dinner parties). But it's his skillz on the court that put him in a pretty position to challenge his idol, Adam Sandler, on set of Men, Women & Children. So what happened when he hit the hoops with his favourite comedian?

Last time we spoke you told me you had a hilarious story about playing basketball with Adam Sandler.

Ansel Elgort: I was in Texas shooting and I grew up as a huge fan of Adam Sandler. I watched Billy Madison maybe 80 times. It's my favourite movie. Watched it like a million times. My brother and sister watched it with me all the time.

Why that one?

Ansel Elgort: I don’t know, it was hilarious. I also was an eight-year-old watching that, and it’s ridiculous hearing curse words, but the whole thing was like the best movie ever. Then we’re in Texas on this film with Adam Sandler and he comes to set and I hadn’t even met him yet. I heard that he was playing basketball every day on set from one of his PA’s. I was like, "Oh shit! I wanna play with him." They were like, "Yeah he’s looking for guys to play with," so then I met his assistant who was like, “I hear you wanna play with Adam” and I was like, “Yeah” so they got me shoes and they got me all ready. I was like, “Really? This is ridiculous.” So I put on the shoes and the whole outfit and I went to go play with him. I got to the gym and I was freaking out because it was Adam Sandler

And you hadn’t met yet?

Ansel Elgort: We hadn’t met, so then we met and it was like, “Good to meet you.” (laughs)

By the court, like courtside meeting?

Ansel Elgort: Yeah and it was like, “Let's play”. With fucking Billy Madison! We play and right away I go so hard because I played basketball growing up. I’m totally dominating 4-0.

Was it one on one?

Ansel Elgort: Just one on one. I was like, "Okay hold on, I need to not destroy this man because he’s my idol". Little did I know he’s really good at basketball. So we got to 4-0 and I took my foot off of the gas pedal and let him get back in the game, so it was 4-4. Then he started hitting every shot I took and there was nothing I could do about it. 8-4. All of a sudden I was down and losing to this old fucking man. So then I started playing really hard to get back in the game but eventually he beat me. He was so proud of the fact that he beat me and talking shit to everyone about me and stuff.

“I was like, ‘Okay hold on, I need to not destroy this man because he’s my idol’” – Ansel Elgort

Were you crushed?

Ansel Elgort: So crushed. But then in Toronto all I was talking about with him was getting a rematch so we went to the JCC (Jewish Community Center) of Toronto. Of course that’s where we played. We played and it was a really, really good game, and we said it’d be best out of three. It was a really, really good first game, really close, but I ended up beating him. Then we go to the second game, and I’m beating him so bad, it’s like 11-0. I’m taking him again to the hoop and he falls down and hurts his leg, so bad. And he hasn’t played again.

What! So you didn’t finish the game?

Ansel Elgort: No, but I won the first game and he was killing himself and hurting himself.

Is that fair though?

Ansel Elgort: Absolutely fair! The reason why I took my foot off the pedal the first time is ‘cause he’s frigging old and I didn’t want to injure him. This time, I gave him my all and hurt the poor old man.

Do you feel guilty about it?

Ansel Elgort: I don’t feel bad at all.

There won’t be a rematch or anything?

Ansel Elgort: We’ll see if he can get his act together. I mean he’d still text me all the time like, “How you doing? Still can’t walk or play." And I’m so sorry.

How do you think sexting has changed peoples sex lives?

Ansel Elgort: I don’t know. I suppose it’s kind of like foreplay.

Do you think it’s made people lazy?

Ansel Elgort: No. I think young people now are having more sex because of the pressures of society, and because of Instagram and Snapchat. Girls get validation by putting slutty pictures on their Instagrams. It’s really messed up by the way. I’m not saying I’m for it. Girls are popular in school if they have a lot of followers and as a result, they’re sluttier and sluttier on their Instagrams. Like in Men, Women & Children, the character Olivia (Hannah Clint) totally exists, and she’s popular because of her website but it should have been an Instagram with hundreds of thousands of followers.

How do you decide what to share on Vine?

Ansel Elgort: It just happens naturally.

It's pressure to be funny, isn’t it?

Ansel Elgort: I don’t think about it and I only do one take and I post it. So, recently I made the bubblegum cigar one – did you see that?

That was good yeah. 

Ansel Elgort: So, I saw the bubblegum cigar and I was like, I should make a Vine with this; that’d be funny. So I put it in my mouth and I was like, "What should I do for the last part?" I was like, "I gotta light it, it’s gonna be hilarious." I did that, and then I just posted it. I don’t think about it too much.

Have you ever had a tweet ready to go and then thought, "Nah, maybe just save that one for the drafts folder"?

Ansel Elgort: Yeah, yeah definitely. Sometimes I’ll write a tweet that I’ll just be like, "Why do I have to say this to all of these people?" It’s like writing a Facebook status, it’s the same. I view tweeting as like writing a Facebook status. Remember when we used to write statuses?

“Sometimes I’ll write a tweet that I’ll just be like, ‘Why do I have to say this to all of these people?’” – Ansel Elgort

Earlier this year you 'declined' Kate Winslet's acting advice, which was to get off social media. What did she tell you to get off of Twitter?

Ansel Elgort: She was like, "I don’t see the point, why are you on there?" and I was like, "There’s no reason not to be on there." She was like, "Well you know, I’ve had a very successful career without it." I was like, "Well, you’re also from a little bit of a different generation, things are changing now and I think that I should be on social media for many reasons." She was like, "Well, you know your life should be personal." I was like, "It is very personal." We had a long conversation about it; she was concerned that my life was too public and that as an actor you should stay mysterious and cool but I don’t think I share everything.

I am private in the public eye though. The truth of what I tweet and stuff – I don’t post about who I’m dating, I never did. I don’t talk about my family. I’m pretty private, it’s sort of an illusion that I’m very open. I’m a very open guy but I’m open with stuff that I’m okay to be open with. I’m not going to be open with everything. There’s my personal life that will always be mine.

Men, Women & Children is out in cinemas December 5