A day in the life of Ansel El­gort

He can sing, he can dance, he can act, he’s “got that thing”

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - JA­COB BERN­STEIN

When the ac­tor Ansel El­gort strolled into Times Square re­cently for an ap­pear­ance on “Good Morn­ing Amer­ica,” the first face he en­coun­tered was his own.

“I’ve never seen my­self so big,” he said, star­ing up at a bright pink bill­board for his new movie, “Baby Driver,” which was open­ing that day to rap­tur­ous re­views. “Good Morn­ing, Amer­ica!”

El­gort’s lat­est star turn is a heist pic­ture about a guy op­er­at­ing a get­away car for bank rob­bers, but he had sat pas­sively in the back seat of an Es­calade on the ride to Mid­town from his home in the Bed­ford-Stuyvesant neigh­bour­hood of Brook­lyn. It had been a slow trip, more than a half-hour just to get across the Wil­liams­burg Bridge and up to the ABC stu­dios.

Nor­mally, El­gort, 23, would just have taken the C train. Or per­haps used Citi Bike.

Three years ago, El­gort be­came some­thing of a teen idol when he and Shai­lene Wood­ley played ter­mi­nally ill can­cer pa­tients fall­ing in love in the movie adap­ta­tion of John Green’s best­selling young adult novel “The Fault in Our Stars,” which grossed $307 mil­lion at the global box of­fice.

The fact that El­gort in real life is still with his high school sweet­heart — Vi­o­letta Komyshan, a bal­let dancer he met while still a stu­dent at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Mu­sic & Art and Per­form­ing Arts — has not damp­ened the ar­dour of his fe­male fol­low­ers, vir­tual and phys­i­cal.

El­gort is their hip­ster ideal: a guy who looks like a model, gets paid like a movie star and ac­tu­ally wants com­mit­ment in real life. Ba­si­cally, said Ta­tiana Irizarry, stand­ing out­side “GMA,” he is “the best per­son ever.”

Irizarry’s opin­ion is un­likely to change af­ter she sees “Baby Driver.”

The film is a testos­terone­drenched star ve­hi­cle promis­ing to broaden El­gort’s ap­peal — it was on track to earn around $20 mil­lion in its open­ing week­end — with­out alien­at­ing his fan base. Fit­tingly, the ti­tle char­ac­ter, named Baby, is quickly re­vealed to be not a hard­ened delin­quent, but a con­sci­en­tious and oh-so-ro­man­tic or­phan strug­gling to pay off a child­hood debt and help his aged, deaf African-Amer­i­can fos­ter par­ent build a nest egg.

Baby’s got nowhere to run, to quote the Martha and the Van­del­las clas­sic that ap­pears on the much­buzzed-about retro sound­track. But he still does the Har­lem Shuf­fle while de­liv­er­ing Star­bucks cof­fee to the slick crime world over­lord for whom he works, played with venom by Kevin Spacey.

Grow­ing up on the Up­per West Side of Man­hat­tan, El­gort had a few more ad­van­tages than his char­ac­ter.

His mother, Grethe Bar­rett Holby, is a for­mer bal­let dancer who founded an opera com­pany based in Brook­lyn. His fa­ther, Arthur El­gort, is a fash­ion pho­tog­ra­pher whose on-the-streets shoots for Vogue brought the mag­a­zine a kind of charm­ingly man­i­cured nat­u­ral­ism.

Ansel, the youngest of three, at first at­tended the pri­vate school Trin­ity, and his par­ents signed him up for classes at the School of Amer­i­can Bal­let. He had what he de­scribed as the “worst feet” in his class and an in­sou­ciance that con­vinced teach­ers that act­ing might be a prefer­able path.

Dur­ing his se­nior year of high school, he was cast in a drama called “Re­grets” at the Man­hat­tan The­ater Club and got his first on­screen role in the re­make of “Carrie,” play­ing the pop­u­lar jock who falls for the bul­lied ti­tle char­ac­ter.

Though the film was sav­aged by crit­ics and failed at the box of­fice, El­gort’s per­for­mance as a good boy in bad cir­cum­stances stood out.

In real life, he has proved ver­sa­tile and lik­able in the man­ner of 1950s heart­throbs; he could very eas­ily have a va­ri­ety show. He sings, dances and does ex­tem­po­ra­ne­ous im­per­son­ations of ev­ery­one from the Rus­sian bal­let mis­tress from his school to the Bri­tish di­rec­tor on “Baby Driver,” Edgar Wright. He has a deal with Is­land Records and reg­u­larly writes techno-in­flected songs with sweet, ro­man­tic lyrics.

“I can’t say enough about this young tal­ent,” Jamie Foxx, one of his co-stars in “Baby Driver,” wrote in an email. “Ansel’s got that thing. He can act, he can sing, he writes his own mu­sic and he can even hoop!”

To his al­most 8 mil­lion fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram he reg­u­larly posts pho­to­graphs of his mother, and he is given to send­ing au­dio mes­sages to Komyshan that say things like “My love, just won­der­ing how your day is go­ing.”

Not for noth­ing was his re­cent sin­gle called “You Can Count on Me.”

El­gort is a lit­tle less pre­co­cious than he is in­no­cent, with an open­ness that is both re­fresh­ing and an oc­ca­sional source of trou­ble. As a kid, El­gort — who is 6 feet 4 — used to watch Great Danes frolic with other dogs at the park, and he knew he wanted to be like that, gen­tly hav­ing fun with ev­ery­one.

En­thu­si­asm is his most marked char­ac­ter­is­tic, and that per­haps makes it hard to imag­ine peo­ple who will envy, rather than root for, his suc­cess.

Up­stairs at “Good Morn­ing Amer­ica,” he changed into a Tim Cop­pens jacket and True Re­li­gion jeans, talk­ing about fash­ion and sound­ing less like an in­dus­try royal’s jaded prog­eny than a star­ryeyed kid who has won the lottery and wants to bro out about it.

“The amount of stuff you get when you’re an ac­tor and you’re in a cloth­ing cam­paign!” he said, telling of a trip a lit­tle while back to Prada, for which he first started do­ing ad cam­paigns in 2015.

“In the SoHo store, I lit­er­ally went through and picked any­thing I wanted off the rack. That was an epic mo­ment! Me and my stylist, John Tan, who’s here, were both, like, crack­ing up. We were like, are you kid­ding me? We made it!”

Next was an ap­pear­ance at “Live With Kelly and Ryan.” The crowd out­side num­bered around 30 and was even younger than at “GMA.”

In a chang­ing area, El­gort put on a race car driver-in­spired Tommy Hil­figer out­fit Tan had picked out.

The ac­tor quickly re­al­ized he might be mak­ing a fash­ion mis­take —“What am I wear­ing?” he said — but with 3 min­utes to air­time, lit­tle could be done about it.

So what if Ryan Seacrest (host­ing with Kelly Ripa’s va­ca­tion re­place­ment, Busy Philipps) brought it up within sec­onds?

So what if Seacrest said: “I’m look­ing at your shirt, your jacket and your shoes. You’re very stylish,” prac­ti­cally ital­i­ciz­ing the last word, be­fore adding this closer: “I bet you’ve never had a fash­ion faux pas.”

El­gort knew what to do with an in­sult wrapped as a gift, so he looked out at the au­di­ence and went for broke.

“I cer­tainly have,” he said, shak­ing his head in dis­may. “I bet there are some peo­ple who have some­thing to say about what I’m wear­ing to­day.”

The three shot the breeze for about 5 min­utes, then did a danc­ing game dur­ing which El­gort clearly out­shone his two hosts in the ar­eas of hip-hop, disco and swing. And when Seacrest made a failed at­tempt at salsa, his guest gave a some­what with­er­ing es­ti­ma­tion of his skills.

“Em­bar­rass­ing,” he said, be­fore an­other cos­tume change, an­other in­ter­view (this time just up­stairs with Peter Travers).

At 11, El­gort climbed into his Es­calade and headed down­town, bound for MTV.

Hav­ing been up since 5:30 a.m. with noth­ing to eat but a dough­nut peach, he was hun­gry. Told by a pub­li­cist that he was not due un­til noon and could in­deed get a bite, El­gort had but one re­sponse: “Do we get to use the Sony credit card?”

The Es­calade am­bled west and El­gort pointed out the win­dow to the School of Amer­i­can Bal­let’s Lin­coln Cen­ter head­quar­ters. A mo­ment later, he passed an­other land­mark from his life. “LaGuardia!” he said. The big­gest news of the day came a minute later through his phone.

“Yo! Phil Jack­son is gone from the Knicks!” he screamed out. “That is nuts.”

De­spite the team’s pen­chant for los­ing, El­gort hasn’t give up on them. “It’s a lit­tle bru­tal, but I don’t care,” he said.

“They in­vite me to any game I want! It’s the great­est,” El­gort said.

DANIEL ARNOLD, NYT

Ansel El­gort makes the morn­ing show rounds in sup­port of his break­out role in “Baby Driver” in New York.

MUR­RAY CLOSE, LIONSGATE

(Ansel El­gort) and Tris (Shai­lene Wood­ley) in “The Di­ver­gent Se­ries: Al­le­giant” in 2016.

JAMES BRIDGES, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ansel El­gort, left, and Shai­lene Wood­ley in “The Fault In Our Stars” in 2014.

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