We spent a good amount of time in Woodstock and in New York City and on the phone talking about where his career might take him from here. With great humility, he acknowledges his skill. But he has been thinking a lot about the difference between preternatural talent and mastery—the work that’s required to ascend from that floor of young greatness to the ceiling of realized potential. That said, he’s wise enough to know that his career could pivot in an entirely different direction—that the world could change or the opportunities could dry up or “eventually there’s gonna be an Oscar Isaac in his 30s who’s gonna bust out of Juilliard who’s gonna be the next great actor and make me feel like a piece of shit. But right now…”
He told me, “If I get hit by a truck next week, I’m looking at 20 to 23, I don’t know if you can top that.” To show up with Call Me by Your Name—he knows that that film was a unicorn, the sort an actor works his whole life to find. And the immediate Oscar nomination had freed him up to not spend the rest of his career chasing a certain kind of role that might lead to a certain kind of validation. “I’m not gonna be bashing my head against a wall trying to prove that I’m an actor,” he said. “The train can run over my leg and leave a track forever, and yet the point of entry for me…,” he said, trailing. “That’s a good feeling.”
He looks at all these careers—all the careers you might expect: DiCaprio, Bale, Phoenix, Depp. And he does his best to separate the strands of each of their careers that might still apply to his. But all of the rules for acting success that those performers played by, for how to be in the public eye, for career arcs and longevity—those rules are irrelevant now. Hollywood is different, the media is different, fans are different, movies are different, the world is different. “I’ve realized that as much as these heroes of mine mean to me, and as grateful as I am when they offer me advice, even they acknowledge it’s just a different thing now.”
And so it’s occurring to him that the next few years will be Timothée finding the path that’s right for him. Lately, he’s thought about this next phase as shining a flashlight into the dark. There are potential projects that excite him considerably, some of which he’s had a greater hand in engineering. There is, of course, the Dylan movie. But there’s the question of how to spend the rest of the year, when most Hollywood productions are still paused. “The rest of the year,” he says, “I’m just thinking about Trump, man.” But after that…maybe Europe for a while? The Woodstock experiment did what he’d hoped it would—a little space, somewhere else. He would love to just breathe some different air again.
He was at another pivot point, as he had been when he and I were first together for Chapter 1. In the winter of 2018, the work had been validated, the public profile had developed suddenly. But the temptations, the confusion, the money—those were all lagging indicators. By mid-2020, all had caught up. And the money, in particular, was on his mind one afternoon in New York. We were talking about how a person might stay true to one’s roots with that sort of thing when the reality, for him at least, had changed with Dune. I told him that one of the things that seemed to differentiate him from young stars of the past, and perhaps was a feature of his generation, was the way that material possessions didn’t consume him. He didn’t buy much stuff. He didn’t own a car or a house. He liked borrowing clothes, but not necessarily keeping them. He agreed with the characterization, but then got immediately twisted up about a potential future hypocrisy: “But Dan, what if I do grow to like fancy shit?!”