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'This film is the Breakfast Club but set inside a gay conversion therapy centre'

One-time child star Chloe Grace Moretz tells Julia Molony about reaching her 20s, losing her sense of purpose and needing to take time out

It's not hard to see why rising indie filmmaker Desiree Akhavan picked Chloe Grace Moretz to be the star to carry her latest film, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, to glory at this year's Sundance Film Festival in the US - it won the Jury Prize.

Not just, presumably, for those frame-filling, soulful features Moretz has; as expressive and well-drawn as a Marvel cartoon. But also for the interiority she brings to her roles - the way her face reveals complex emotions, even when still.

And as Moretz points out herself, curled in a chair in London's Soho Hotel on a hot August day, the ice in her glass of iced-coffee clinking in her hand, playing Cameron Post, a teenage girl sent to a gay conversion therapy camp in the 1990s, involved conveying a lot without words.

Her character, despite being the starring role "doesn't have many lines". Instead she is reactive, her internal arc conveyed most often by her silent responses to those around her.

The role came along at a critical point in Moretz's career, and the decision to do it, she says, was a choice that came from "a raw place".

She has been a professional actor since the age of five and, from the earliest days, took the business of shaping her career seriously, building a CV of artistically credible roles with important directors such as Tim Burton and Martin Scorsese.

But as 2016 got under way, she felt she'd lost her way. She abruptly dropped out of all of the projects on her slate, including what would have likely been a defining role playing Ariel in the Disney live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, and took some time off.

"There was really this sense that for the first time in my life, I felt this fire that I'd had in me since I was a little girl - since I was five years old, I felt it was starting to dwindle," she says.

"That terrified me because acting and film-making is my identity - it's part of me, it's part of who I am and it's inherent to who I am. It's just the way that I live my life. To feel that shift when I looked in the mirror and didn't quite recognise who I was, I didn't quite know what to do.

"The only thing I knew how to do was to pull back and to reassess, and to listen. I'd been making five or six movies a year my whole life and for the first time I just sat, and I had to be with myself.

"I learned a lot. And mostly what I learned is that the flame isn't always there. You have to appreciate yourself and you have to allow yourself to be able to fulfil your capacity.

"If you just keep doing things because you don't want to be bored, then all you are doing is spending more than you have, and ultimately that will die out.

"I had to just realise that, for me, these projects going forward have to be something that I couldn't not do."

It was a bold move and one that she says was "terrifying", especially as it came as she reached her 20s. "A tenuous time," she says, in her career, when she was "becoming a woman". It also coincided with the end of the off-again-on-again high-profile relationship she'd had over the course of her late teens with Brooklyn Beckham.

Lots of people told her she was making a "horrible decision" at the time, but she didn't listen to those people; she listened to her family.

Moretz was born in Atlanta, the youngest of five children (she has four older brothers) to McCoy, a plastic surgeon, and Teri, a nurse practitioner. She became interested in acting when the family moved to New York and her brother Trevor enrolled in a performing arts school there. By the age of seven, she was being cast in Hollywood films.

Her parents divorced when she was 12, and she is estranged from her father, but the rest of the family, she says, remain extremely tight. Her mother and brother, Trevor, are her managers and advisers, and she credits them with the fact that she has avoided falling victim to child-star-syndrome.

"I'm so lucky to work with my brother and my mother," she says, "because they insulated me, they allowed me the space to figure out who I am behind closed doors without the world taking advantage of it. A lot of people in my position haven't had that amount of insulation. And I feel so lucky. Without those hidden moments, I wouldn't be the fully developed person I am now.

"It's very easy to get stuck in being a child for ever, and very hard to get out of that - being able to adequately work through your emotions without becoming stunted. Because people like to cater to you. And your family, for better or for worse, does not cater. They make you hold true to what you are talking about."

Her mother and brother supported her decision to take time off. "But ultimately, I had to face my fear... I had to reconnect with the fact that the reason that (she has a public profile) is because I have a talent. And it's something that is inherent. And I need to fall back on that," she says.

"As long as I trust myself and I trust my intuition, which has been the thing that has driven me this far, and I don't get caught up in what everyone perceives me to be doing, that's the most important thing."

As it happened, Cameron Post was one of those projects she "couldn't not do". The film she says, is "for all intents and purposes The Breakfast Club, but set in a gay conversion therapy camp with diverse characters". As such, it represented a perspective and culture that she felt she understood, as two of her brothers are gay.

"Dessie (Akhavan) was able to make a queer movie, through a queer lens, which is particularly special because it doesn't focus on the obstacles. The obstacles are inherent. It's based in a conversion therapy centre," she says.

"But the way it works within the community, and growing up with two gay brothers I know this, is that you don't focus on the darkness around you, you find the levity to be able to carry on. Because if you didn't find those moments and that silver lining in your life, you would give up now. But you don't, because you are trying to persevere and be who you want to be and overcome.

"And this story is very much so that. You have this inherently dark setting that they are all in, but you are watching the interpersonal relationships, of them meeting other gay kids for the first time and realising that they are not alone. Whereas a lot of other movies with this subject matter would probably focus on the darkness."

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is out now

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