A day in the life of Ansel Elgort
He can sing, he can dance, he can act, he’s “got that thing”
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.
Ansel Elgort makes the morning show rounds in support of his breakout role in “Baby Driver” in New York.
(Ansel Elgort) and Tris (Shailene Woodley) in “The Divergent Series: Allegiant” in 2016.
Ansel Elgort, left, and Shailene Woodley in “The Fault In Our Stars” in 2014.