Ansel Elgort Is Our ‘NYLON Guys’ June/July Cover Star

Photographed by Emman Montalvan. Styled by Micah Johnson. Sweater by Gucci.

The actor leaves the YA universe in the dust with the high-octane summer action flick ‘Baby Driver’ and a burgeoning music career, but what he really wants to do is… more.

The following feature appears in the June/July 2017 issue of NYLON Guys. 

“Please don’t make me sound like a douchebag.”

That’s Ansel Elgort’s half-serious plea, early on in the conversation we’re having on a spring afternoon in Brooklyn. We’re at a tangy-smelling climbing gym located in a neighborhood flush with industrial warehouses, a spot he’s been coming to for eight years, since he was about 15, and where the employees know him not as Ansel Elgort, Movie Star™, but as a goofy, energetic regular who likes to scale the walls a few times per week when he’s in town, the kind of guy who, when an employee offers him a sip of her mango smoothie, happily takes her up on it. (The smoothie is pretty tasty, he confirms.)

But here’s the thing: Elgort thinks he may have just compared himself to Pablo Picasso (and in fact he kind of did), but it’s an honest—or make that earnest—mistake. See, the night before we meet, he encountered one of those surreal, pinch-me-I’m-dreaming situations that up-and-coming actors sometimes find themselves in. He was hanging out at the Manhattan townhouse of Diana Widmaier-Picasso, granddaughter of Pablo, hobnobbing with A-listers Robert De Niro and Whoopi Goldberg, television mastermind Ryan Murphy, and cinematic auteurs Baz Luhrmann and David O. Russell. The whole experience was like an electric rod right through him, inspiring and energizing, and it got him thinking about Picasso, and then art, and about how, for Picasso, art wasn’t about the finished product—it was about the process. Then a light bulb went off.

Photographed by Emman Montalvan. Styled by Micah Johnson. T-shirt by Louis Vuitton x Supreme.

“That’s why he was so prolific,” he says excitedly, between sets of clambering up the gym walls like an overgrown simian, albeit one with a boyish jaw and pout worthy of 7.6 million Instagram followers. His hands and black sweats are dusted white with climber’s chalk, his hair an untamed tangle on his head, and his gait a turned-out waddle, thanks to years of dance lessons. “He wasn’t overthinking it, he was just constantly making art.” That’s what Elgort, who exploded onto the scene just three years ago, starring in the hit teen tearjerker The Fault in Our Stars, adapted from the YA bestseller by John Green, wants—to create art, to constantly evolve, to, you know, be like Picasso. “He did a lot of different-looking stuff over time. Sometimes he did things that were very three-dimensional, sometimes he did things that were very flat, sometimes he did sculpture. He went all over the place. I think it’s okay to do that.” And without missing a beat: “My music is changing constantly. Every time I make a new song, it’s a different sound. And that’s okay, too. For whatever reason, society wants you to do one thing.” It’s here that he grimaces. “I’m not trying to compare myself to Picasso,” he continues. “So, please don’t make me sound like a douchebag.”

Ansel Elgort is many things, but a douchebag is not one of them. He wouldn’t even have time to be one, even if he were so inclined. A New York native and son of famed photographer Arthur Elgort, the 23-year-old has parlayed an adolescent interest in musical theater—he went to Manhattan’s Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, on which the movie Fame was based, and attended Stagedoor Manor, a musical theater summer camp that counts Robert Downey Jr. and Natalie Portman as alumni—into a career as a Renaissance man for the social-media age. He’s an actor, singer, music producer, DJ (as alter ego Ansolo), and dancer. Right now he has four film projects in production, in addition to this summer’s car-chase flick Baby Driver. He released the electronic power ballad “Thief” in the spring along with an accompanying music video, a family affair directed by his brother and starring his girlfriend, Violetta Komyshan. And that’s not to mention his normal-guy hobbies like shooting basketball, putting in a few hours a week at the local climbing gym, playing video games, and keeping up with his love of making miniature models (yes, really).

Photographed by Emman Montalvan. Styled by Micah Johnson. Sweater and t-shirt by Raf Simons, long-sleeve shirt by Comfort Colors.

Baby Driver, out June 28, is a stylish and adrenaline-pumping riff on the classic heist film, and a major departure from Elgort’s last big-screen work in 2016’s Allegiant, the third installment in the teen-friendly, dystopian Divergent franchise. In Driver, he plays the titular Baby, an iPod-listening, sunglasses-wearing getaway driver, who is paying off a debt to the mastermind (played by Kevin Spacey) behind a string of bank robberies. Baby is known for both his taciturn demeanor and masterly way behind the wheel, but when he becomes entangled in the double-crossing of his criminal cohorts (including Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, and at one point, The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea), he’s left to extricate himself and protect the woman he loves. In an innovative move, the film’s entire pulse-quickening, mood-setting soundtrack, which plays almost continuously from start to finish, is synced to Baby’s iPod, providing an aural link between the protagonist and the audience.

I ask Elgort if signing on to the project was a concerted effort to move away from his tween heartthrob reputation. “You should ask my representatives that question,” he says, somewhat defiantly. “They might look at it that way, but for me I’m just doing what inspires me. If I get a script and I love it, I’m going to do it. That’s it. If I get a piece of music and I love it, we’re going to keep going with it and finish it. That’s the way that, hopefully, I’m going to live my life.”

Photographed by Emman Montalvan. Styled by Micah Johnson. Sweater and pants by Lanvin, t-shirt by Comfort Colors. Backpack by Prada.

Spacey, who worked with Elgort on both Baby Driver and the forthcoming Billionaire Boys Club—the true story of wealthy friends who started a Ponzi scheme and eventually turned to murder in Southern California in the 1980s—took notice of his co-star’s commitment. “I wasn’t familiar with his work but was soon introduced to his ethic and seriousness of purpose,” Spacey says. “He worked very hard and remained completely focused through the course of the two films we shared together. He has an impressive amount of determination and is dedicated to being an artist.” In Baby Driver, Spacey acknowledges that Elgort deftly handled the dual challenge of conveying emotion and staying stone-faced throughout the film. “A large part of his performance is silent, and yet I think he gives so much of himself that audiences are going to really understand his character and be moved by his work.”

Baby Driver director Edgar Wright was looking for someone charismatic enough to give a human core to the explosive action that makes up most of the film’s dizzying car-chase sequences. “The part needed a young movie star and Ansel delivered,” he says. So much so that when Wright asked him to lip-sync to a song he knew by heart during his audition, he was so impressed with Elgort’s version of the Commodores’ “Easy,” he built a whole sequence around it in the film. To Wright, the role represents a giant leap for Elgort and his career. “Ansel’s fan base is growing up, and this might be the first R-rated film they’ve seen him in. And for other audiences who haven’t seen the YA movies, this is a great introduction to him as a ‘new’ actor.”

For Elgort, stardom isn’t the end goal, though it may be an inevitable side effect. “Getting attention is nice, but it’s like a drug, it’s empty,” he says. The real question is whether or not he can maintain his current level of engaged curiosity and passion to create. It’s hard to complain that leading-man looks and natural charisma are limiting in Hollywood, but it’s also tough to deny that the film industry tends to plug actors like Elgort into formulas calculated by bottom-line success.          

Photographed by Emman Montalvan. Styled by Micah Johnson. Sweater by Coach 1941, jeans by Visvim, stylist’s own hat, Elgort’s own jewelry worn throughout.

Perhaps he already learned his lesson from Divergent, the franchise that locked him into two sequels. (A fourth film, Ascendant, will now be released as a TV movie, but Elgort, along with most of his co-stars, will not be reprising his role.) It was an experience he found challenging—his first introduction to the premium the industry places on profits, sometimes at the expense of creativity. “As an artist, I don’t think you should feel like you have an obligation,” he says. “You should be very true to yourself and do exactly what you want to do, because that’s how you can make your best work. And the thing with big franchise movies is that once you’re signed up, you have to do a bunch.” His words, suddenly, become more measured. “And maybe that summer I would rather have done something else, or I saw a script that inspired me that I couldn’t have done because I was signed up for months to do something else.” He thinks for a moment and adds, “If I were obligated to make a fourth Divergent film, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to make Baby Driver, and that would have been a real shame.”

Elgort’s most millennial quality is how he’s able to be so well versed in such a wide variety of disciplines, and to make them seem effortless, all while being completely in the moment. When he has downtime on set, he produces music; when he’s between films, Ansolo will line up some DJ gigs. Genuine enthusiasm radiates from him like waves, and seems to be his sole motivation. Even when it comes to music, his interests are almost comically varied: “I love electronic music, I love urban music, I love musical theater, I love jazz,” he says. “I love Frank Sinatra coming out in a tuxedo and I also love Freddie Mercury in a sequined crazy outfit, holding the mic, marching around. I love Skrillex jumping up and down, shaking his head and crowd surfing. So there’s a combination of all these people who inspire me, who I’d like to become. It’s hard. I think it’s going to be a process, but I’m looking forward to the process. As an artist you have to be willing to be fluid.”

Photographed by Emman Montalvan. Styled by Micah Johnson. Sweater by Gucci.

His next move might be behind the camera. Working with Wright sparked Elgort’s interest in directing, and Wright has reason to believe his star could be a successful filmmaker. “I come to work with a very specific plan of attack, and I like to share that with the actors, so they know exactly what’s needed for every single shot,” he explains. “For any actor, I can give them as much or as little information as they’d like. Ansel wanted to immerse himself—so he was a great student and colleague in the process. I hope he does direct one day.”

There’s also Broadway, and while Elgort’s dream role—playing Javert in a revival of Les Misérables—is, logistically, a few years out of reach, he talks as if it were already slated for the 2037 season. “Oh, I can’t wait. We’ll get a great Jean Valjean and do that together,” he says. (It’s worth noting: You can’t spell Elgort without EGOT.)

Before all that, though, there’s regular old Ansel Elgort, who, after his workout, changes back into his street clothes and stuffs his climbing gear into a ratty backpack before hoisting it onto his shoulders and heading for the door. Later he’ll go to a Rangers game with Komyshan, whom he’s dated since high school and who serves, in part, as a tie to a life before movie posters and requests for selfies with random sidewalk strollers. When we leave, it’s warm, and he decides to take the subway and kill some time before the game. He has a free afternoon—an increasingly rare thing—and he’s young and wants to disappear into New York City for a bit, to become another anonymous passing face in the crowd while he still can.

Grooming: Joanna Pensinger Ford at Exclusive Artists Management for Chanel Les Beiges. Photo Assistants: Erika Long and Ariel Sadok. Stylist’s Assistant: Christian Salazar.

NYLON Guys' June/July issue hits newsstands 5/30. Buy it now.

Photo courtesy of Helen Sloan/HBO

"And now our watch has ended"

In a thoughtful tribute on Instagram, actress Emilia Clarke said goodbye to Game of Thrones, and her character, Daenerys Targaryen.

Clarke posted a gallery of photos including some group shots with the rest of the cast, as well as a closeup of Dany's intricately braided hair, and a still from the show. "Finding the words to write this post has left me overwhelmed with how much I want to say but how small words feel in comparison to what this show and Dany have meant to me," she wrote, continuing to say that "Game of Thrones has shaped me as a woman, as an actor, and as a human being."

"The mother of dragons chapter has taken up the whole of my adult life. This woman has taken up the whole of my heart," she wrote. "I've sweated in the blaze of dragon fire, shed many tears at those who left our family early, and wrung my brain dry trying to do Khaleesi and the masterful words, actions (and names) I was given, justice." She also gave a nod to her father, who died in 2016, saying that she wishes he was still alive "to see how far we've flown."

Clarke finished by thanking her fans, telling them that "without you there is no us... I owe you so much thanks, for your steady gaze at what we've made and what I've done with a character that was already in the hearts of many before I slipped on the platinum wig of dreams," she said. "And now our watch has ended."

Photo courtesy of HBO

Don't reusable cups exist in Westeros?

Apparently, no one could keep their drinks off-set during the final season of Game of Thrones. The show, which has been known for its meticulous editing, has featured a Starbucks coffee cup in an episode, and now, a plastic water bottle. Someone get these characters a reusable cup!

Yes, in the final episode of the series, there's a disposable water bottle hidden in plain sight in one of the scenes. If you look closely enough, you'll see the bottle peeking out from behind Samwell Tarly's leg in a scene where many characters were arguing about the fate of Westeros.

Another water bottle was spotted by someone else, hiding behind Ser Davos Seaworth's foot.

It seems that everyone was too parched on the set of the final episode to worry about a misplaced water bottle making it into the final shots. Some are speculating that the team left them in on purpose as payback to the writers for the series' ending.

We just really hope that everyone in the series recycles. If there are disposable cups and plastic bottles available in the fictional world, we hope that there's an ethical way of disposing of them. Otherwise, well, it might be more disappointing than the series finale itself.


Think about all the ways you've begged for ruin

I'll admit I can get a little possessive about full moons; I was born on a full moon, you see. I'll admit there's something that makes people go mad over a full moon and there's something in that madness that situates me, gives me a place to drop my anchor. I see the full moon, her one wide open eye, and think of the first gods—the cyclops and the titans—how they betrayed each other. The full moon reminds me that each of us walks this life having inherited the stories of the lives that brought us here, we carry moments of great suffering in our DNA and we carry moments of great joy too.

A Scorpio full moon is especially prone to these sorts of reminders, dancing partner to the Sun in Taurus, since both these stars are so devoted to the past, since both like to mine a wound just to see how deep it goes and how much they can stand to endure. It's true, too, that Taurus is the sign linked to the Hierophant in the Tarot. The Hierophant is a figure in service to Mysteries: guarding and teaching the sacred. The Hierophant is pre-occupied with devotion and desecration and so is Taurus. Steadied by worship and undone by violation, a Taurus knows that a cycle is a cycle, there's always a hunger that thrives in the devotional figure, that seeks to be defiled and, in that way, tested. What better consort, what better polarity, for an Earth sign like that than the watery depths of Scorpio? Scorpio, the sign of transformation, of the occult, of karmic debts, fertile and secretive darkness. Scorpio, the snake that eats its own tail, our sexual power and our sexual shame. Scorpio rules money and Taurus loves to feel wealth, to sense abundance, to roll around in the rich black dirt.

While the Sun goes down under the star of Taurus and Uranus activates Venus, so the planet of love can pour her light over the bull's horns, the Moon rises in Scorpio and we are tasked with acknowledging the many ways we begged for ruin. Is there a heaviness on your heart, dear reader? Wasn't there a time when, green as a new stem, you begged the world to give you something real to experience, to bring you to your knees with wonder and revelation? You must have known that you had to break the bud to bloom, you must have sensed—somewhere in that ancestral memory of yours—that to love something, to pour your life into something, is to prepare to lose it. That's the deal we've made with god, or what governs time.

Have you left a cup out overnight and awoke to find it brimming with memories of betrayal, of loss, of something you felt was owed to you and never retributed? You can drink from the cup of the past searching only for the taste of it, seeking only to sate your thirst for bitterness. It's your right to feel everything you feel, to remember everything that happened to you and everything you set into motion, everything you did. But, listen. The sun is warm and generous, calling new life out of the ground. You move over the Earth like a cloud heavy with emotion and memory, threatening pour, while night waits on the other side, smelling like freedom—sweet, sharp and ineffable—full of poison blooms. You can hold the truth of this wild living world, its sacred promise to consecrate you with beauty and ruin you with it too. You can sip from the cup of the past with gratitude for your past self—the one who gave her life so that you could rise again, three times as powerful and wise.

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Screenshot via YouTube

It's so good

Lana Del Rey released a cover of Sublime's 1997 song "Doin' Time," and she made it completely her own. That means it's the perfect combination of trippy melancholia and full-out lust.

According to Rolling Stone, the cover will appear in an upcoming documentary which will "[outline] the history of the iconic California band." In a statement, Del Rey said, "Not a day goes by that I don't listen to at least one Sublime song. They epitomized the SoCal vibe and made a genre and sound totally their own."

Bud Gaugh, a member of the band, "We are so excited to be collaborating with Lana on this. The smoky, sexy, and iconic sound of her voice breathes new life into one of our favorite singles." It certainly does.

My personal favorite part of the cover is the fact that Del Rey doesn't change the gender of the person the song is about, like so many musicians often do. Instead, Del Rey's intonation of "me and my girl, we got this relationship/ I love her so bad but she treats me like shit" is gay rights.

Listen to Del Rey's cover of "Doin' Time," below.

Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images

Sounds fake, but okay

In a new interview for Australian Vogue, Kendall Jenner makes the claim that being associated with the Kardashian name was a setback in her modeling career. Hmmm, that's funny, because power and influence usually works in their holder's favor.

In the interview, Jenner addresses skeptics who doubted that she would make it as a professional model. "A lot of people assumed that because I came from a 'name' that it was a lot easier for me to get to where I got, but actually it's the completely opposite," she says.

"I've always been the person to prove [critics] wrong, even when I was younger," she says. "I've always been a hard worker: that's in my blood. My parents raised me and my little sister to be that way and the rest of my sisters, too." In the profile, it's revealed that Jenner used to attend castings "simply as 'K' or 'Kendall' to distinguish herself from her famous family."

But keeping her name off her portfolio wasn't going to fool anyone, really. Her face has been on television for years, and it seems unlikely that a casting agent wouldn't know who she was even if Kendall didn't come out and say it. Perhaps Jenner was more closely examined and more readily criticized by people who doubted her, but I'm not sure I believe that she had a harder time gaining a modeling platform or booking big jobs, even if she didn't use her last name.

After all, Jenner was likely able to get into those big casting rooms right away because of her family's connections, and she was able to devote her time to pursuing that career because of the wealth they have. She would've had a much harder time making a name for herself if she didn't come from an influential family. She probably wouldn't get to be so selective about which shows she walks, and she definitely wouldn't be the highest paid model in the world.