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Timothée Chalamet is here to stay with box-office hits ’Dune’ and ’The French Dispatch’ under his belt

Timothée Chalamet stars in ’Dune’. Picture: Warner Bros. Pictures

Timothée Chalamet stars in ’Dune’. Picture: Warner Bros. Pictures

Published Nov 1, 2021


By Sonia Rao

Turn your head in any direction and you'll spot him: a lanky young man with a head of floppy curls, a mischievous smile and a jawline so angular it may well have been crafted using a protractor.

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A few years ago, you would have been in good company had you forgotten how to say his name or mixed him up with another "Internet Boyfriend". But now? There's no mistaking Timothée Chalamet.

Simply put, the 25-year-old actor is everywhere.

He is to Hollywood what Bella Hadid is to the modelling industry, a genial talent who has attracted comparisons to predecessors - in Chalamet's case, Leonardo DiCaprio - but tucked enough notable work under his belt to evade some of the professional pitfalls of "It Boy" status.

Timothée Chalamet, left, appears alongside co-star Lyna Khoudri in “The French Dispatch”. Picture: Searchlight Pictures

He currently appears in a pair of hit films, Denis Villeneuve's “Dune” and Wes Anderson's “The French Dispatch”, both released last week, and is in the midst of shooting a Willy Wonka prequel.

Whether the world actually needs another version ofWonka” is beside the point, because enough important people deemed Chalamet's take worthy of an audience.

Plenty of actors his age have their days in the sun, often boosted by savviness on social media (which applies to him as well).

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But few are entrusted with carrying a blockbuster film the same weekend they figure into another star-studded ensemble cast, assembled by an esteemed indie film-maker.

The comparisons to a young DiCaprio go beyond their shared cheekiness and youthful gangliness.

Chalamet is also on track to reach DiCaprio's level of movie stardom, in possession of whatDune” producer Mary Parent recently described as "that intangible thing that doesn't come along very often".

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Box-office returns on the sci-fi epic support the notion; although it may not be Chalamet's “Titanic”, “Dune” opened to an encouraging $40 million stateside, even with a simultaneous streaming release.

Chalamet's intangible quality has arguably made selective appearances on screen, often apparent when he riffs off his established persona.

“Lady Bird” director Greta Gerwig recognised as much, exaggerating him into the too-cool guy onto whom Lady Bird projects her heart's desires.

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It wasn't too far a stretch for Kyle to be played by an immensely popular celebrity whose fans used to beg him to run them over with a truck.

Timothée Chalamet on the set of “Wonka”. Picture: Twitter

Anderson similarly pokes fun at a game Chalamet in “The French Dispatch”, casting him as a fiery young revolutionary.

Even if the actor falters at times with the precise, witty tone mastered by Anderson's most trusted players, it works in his favour - the character, too, is a bit unsure of his abilities.

Chalamet leans into that naivete and Zeffirelli comes off a certified charmer, bashful about his “new muscles”.

Perhaps Chalamet was destined for ubiquity. He has always exhibited the zeal of a theatre kid, likely a product of his time at LaGuardia, the famous New York performing arts high school. When he isn't playing an alt-universe version of himself, his stronger performances still tap into that earnestness.

Such is true of the precocious, lovestruck teenager he portrays in “Call Me By Your Name,” which made him, then 22, the third-youngest person to earn an Oscar nomination for best actor.

Though he carries the conviction differently, the same goes for Paul Atreides in “Dune”; the mysterious messiah is forced to shed his reluctance towards taking on a lead role in the war over a treacherous desert planet.

Some critics found Chalamet's performance effective; Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the actor is "always good at suggesting both youthful callowness and limitless potential“, making him an ideal person to play Paul, "both a coddled heir and an intriguingly unknown quantity".

(The assessment would also explain why he was cast as a Shakespearean hero inThe King”.) But others, such as the New Yorker's Richard Brody, took issue with how “Dune” handled the Chalamet of it all.

"Chalamet, whose theatrical specificity is both an art and a liability, is on-screen for much of the film and yet reduced to a mask of his own appearance," Brody wrote.

"Stuck with a script that denies his character variety and complexity, he delivers a performance that never gets to take shape.

“What he can do with the role in a second instalment may be the biggest cliffhanger of all."

We'll get to find out eventually. The sequel toDune” was greenlit this week - as Chalamet shared on Tuesday on Instagram with three blushing emoji - and is set to hit theatres two years from now, just months after audiences will be treated (or subjected) to a Wonka-fied version of him.

It would appear another Chalamet season is already under way.

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