By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Chloe Grace Moretz is only 17 years old, but she already is a veteran film actress, having starred as Hit-Girl in the action-packed “Kick-Ass” franchise and delivered a remarkably nuanced performance in Kimberly Peirce’s remake of “Carrie.” The Atlanta native now stars in the big screen adaptation of the bestselling YA novel “If I Stay,” playing an aspiring young cellist whose world is shattered following a horrific car accident.
The drama, directed by R.J. Cutler (“The September Issue,” TV’s “Nashville”) from a script by Shauna Cross (“Whip It”), is based on Gayle Forman’s novel.
As Mia, Moretz is a high school student who has to decide whether to follow her dream of going to Julliard to train to become a professional cellist or remain on the West Coast to be near her punk musician boyfriend, Adam (British actor Jamie Blackley). The painful decision is taken out of her hands when the accident occurs and her spirit wanders the hospital for a day as she recalls the months leading up to that fateful moment. As she reflects on her life, she faces a crucial decision.
The teenage actress recently spoke about playing the beloved literary character, working with her hunky co-star, learning the cello, her penchant for darker roles and more.
Q: In the movie, your character has to deal with the prospect of having a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend when she gets accepted to Julliard. What are your thoughts on long-distance relationships? Can they work?
Moretz: I come from the mindset that if you wanted to make it work it’ll work, whether it’s a friendship or a relationship. If you’re both in the same mindset that you both want to make it work, you can make it work. You just have to know that it’ll take some effort with communication. Jamie and I both talked about this. We’re in a job where we spend 11 months of the year not home, so you have to understand what you’re getting into. Even my best friends – I have had them since I was 9 years old – and they’re my best friends, but we text more than we actually see each other. They’re still my best friends. If you want to make it work, you’ll make it work.
Q: How did you draw on your life experience for this love story?
Moretz: Everyone says you have to draw from a modicum of experience for a role. When you’re creating a love story, not every relationship is the same, not every love that you find is the same. Every kind of love that you get from another person is different. You learn through each relationship. There are many different ways you can love someone. With Jamie (Blackley) and I, we became good friends and were able to create this love relationship by goofing around with each other and being silly and having a good time rapping to Kanye. We were being like kids and having fun on set. It’s always awkward when you have to kiss someone and the director R.J. (Cutler) is like “Turn your head to the right, please. Make it look like you actually like each other.” We’re like “Like this? How do we look? Do we look good?” It worked once we got it. Here we had R.J. and John (de Borman, the cinematographer) telling us two kids how to make out! (She laughs.)
Q: Do you believe in life after death?
Moretz: Here’s what I think is interesting about this movie: even though it deals with life after death, it isn’t religion-based. You can watch it without being force-fed Christianity or Catholicism or something else. You don’t have one kind of religion being stuffed down your throat. You just understand that there is a soul. There are emotional feelings. There’s love. There’s passion and that exists post-accident, post death. These are incredibly real feelings and they do continue, in a sense.
Q: Can you talk about working with Stacy Keach, who plays your grandfather in the film? You two have a heartbreaking scene in the hospital.
Moretz: Working with him was absolutely amazing. He’s just genuinely a good guy as a person. He’s so paternal and sweet and just kind. It wasn’t hard to have this great relationship with him because there’s this piece in my heart for him from the time I met him. For the hospital scene, we shot double coverage on that. I was so torn up. I did not expect for him to drop that tear and I was like “Man, you killed me.” It was hard. He’s an amazing guy and he really hit my heartstrings pretty hard.
Q: How much did you have to practice to play the cello convincingly?
Moretz: There was seven months of training with the cello and this “If I Stay” cello traveled around the world with me and found me at every location I went to. That was this looming thing that was “If I Stay.” I trained with it every day for two hours a day as much as I could. Honestly, I’d be silly to say that in seven months I could learn such an intricate instrument, so really what it was was learning the emotionality of it and how you have to surrender your soul to the instrument. The technicality of it came from the Frankenstein cutting of taking my head and putting it on another body of someone playing. That way it matched the two sides of it perfectly.
Q: There’s a touching scene where Mia and Adam talk about when they knew they wanted to be musicians. So when did you know you were going to act?
Moretz: I started acting when I was five years old. I found it randomly listening to my brother studying monologues. I auditory started memorizing them for no reason. Eventually, I begged my mother to let me do whatever that meant. I didn’t know how to put it into words what that meant. It just made me happy. Then, when I was 11, I realized what I was doing and I said, “Can I make this something I do for the rest of my life?” She was like, “Sure, if you want to.” That was the moment I actually realized that I was doing more than just gymnastics or tennis or something.
Q: Now that you’re 17, it seems from you’ve accomplished what you set out to do and now you’ve become a movie star in just six years. You play these traumatized kids, and it seems so easy for you. How does this journey you’ve been on seem to you and secondly, how tough is it to play these young, traumatized teens that you’ve been doing?
Moretz: It’s been really hard. Even when I started doing it at five years old, everyone in my life looked at us and said, “You’re crazy. Take your kids out of the business and put them in school. You’re never going to succeed.” That was my entire time being brought up. But, my mom was like, “Look, if you love it, do it. If you’ve having fun, and I know you’re having fun, do whatever you want—whether it’s gymnastics, learning the guitar, acting or just being a normal kid. She’s going to do what makes her happy.” That’s how I’ve lived my life.
Q: How has that approach worked for you?
Moretz: It’s hard for a number of reasons. I’m still fighting for every role that I get. I’m still finding the boundary of how old I can be and how I’m able to be something else that I’m not. You’re always struggling, especially as a female actress against the powers (that be) who try to keep you in a spot that makes them feel comfortable. That’s a major thing I’m battling with right now. Even though it’s been hard, it’s also been easy, because I’ve always followed my heart. Whatever project I’ve ever chosen has been something that I feel that I couldn’t live without. I couldn’t spend another day of my life knowing that I didn’t do that role or give my all and emotions to that role. Yes, it’s been hard, but it’s been incredibly uplifting. Without it, I wouldn’t be the same young adult, young woman I am now.
Q: Why do you choose really dark roles?
Moretz: I think it’s because I have quite the normal family. I’m kind of bored with how normal my family is. I want to mess stuff up a bit and I chose those characters because I think that’s acting is doing things and exploring emotions that you otherwise wouldn’t be, which is cool.
Q: Have you read the final issue of the “Kick-Ass” comic book?
Moretz: No, I haven’t yet.