Long before I became a professional writer and was forced to start adulting, I spent far too much of my adolescence on the chaotic corner of the internet known to many as Stan Twitter. For most of that time, my Twitter was a stan account dedicated to expressing my immense love for Timothée Chalamet, a name that has become so instantly recognizable that he requires no introduction. It began on a random day in 2017, when a paparazzi photo of the actor made its way onto my timeline; it was love at first sight. The rest is history.
That’s the power of a genuine heartthrob: The ability to stop a person in their tracks and capture their undivided attention (and heart). Chalamet comes across as someone who is both effortlessly cool and sexy (bonus points for being a French speaker!), but also approachable. That’s key to his breathtaking appeal.
In the past year, I have had countless discussions with friends about the apparent death (or at least alarming decline) of the dashing Hollywood heartthrob. Each time we try to think of actors who could fit the bill—Jacob Elordi? Miles Teller? Tom Holland?—the only name we could agree on was the only actor who manages to make hearts flutter 365 days a year: Timothée Chalamet.
While he had been acting for many years, with small but memorable roles in Homeland and Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, 2017 served as a game-changing year for Chalamet. Then only 21-years-old, he starred in the one-two punch of Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Birdin which he plays an aloof, bass-playing high schooler, and Call Me By Your Name—both of which were nominated for Best Picture.
Luca Guadagnino’s sun-soaked coming-of-age romance Call Me By Your Name remains the greatest showcase of Chalamet’s emotional flexibility and subtle, yet impactful, physicality. As Elio Perlman, a 17-year-old American vacationing in Italy who falls in love with a graduate student played by Armie Hammer, Chalamet conveys an intense yearning that seeps through the entire film. He earned an Academy Award nomination, making him the youngest actor nominated for Best Actor since 1939. Ever since, he’s been booked and busy with a string of A-list projects, all the while never compromising the rare (at least in our day and age) qualities that have informed his star status.
While Florence Pugh and Saoirse Ronan were rightfully heralded for their performances in Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation of Little Women, Chalamet is the film’s secret weapon. As Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, his softboy energy, perfectly captured in the iconic proposal scene between Laurie and Ronan’s independent Jo March, has never been put to better use than it was here.
This month, Chalamet will sandwich Down and next year’s highly anticipated double bill of Dune: Part 2 spirit Wonka with a much-welcome return to his indie roots: the new film Bones and All. Reuniting with Guadagnino, he sports a mullet dyed red and plays a cannibal in a gory tale about young outsiders, alongside rising star Taylor Russell. He delivers a performance that is on par with his most well-known turns (he has yet to give a bad performance), with critics praising his magnetic presence and dazzling chemistry with Russell.
The heartthrob is, of course, by no means a millennial invention. The past few decades saw the likes of River Phoenix, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Heath Ledger, and ultimate dreamboat Leonardo DiCaprio become subjects of intense adoration. At their peaks, they were actors who embraced their soft sides and weren’t afraid to portray characters who expressed their rawest emotions and vulnerabilities. Although they may have initially received attention due to their attractiveness, they were also lovable because of their charming, down-to-earth personalities and self-awareness.
The traditional notion of a heartthrob has dwindled as social media has dominated our perception of nearly every aspect of life and culture. Thus, the heartthrob has been replaced by the “internet boyfriend,” who is typically an actor (like Austin Butler and Noah Centineo) who is popular during a specific period of time, fixated on in phases by Extremely Online people. They’re rarely a long-standing obsession. Chalamet is indeed an internet boyfriend at his core, but he has a longevity that his peer doesn’t.
Ever since he gained international acclaim, Chalamet has been compared to DiCaprio, who set the gold standard for the Hollywood leading men who followed in his footsteps. In a way, Chalamet’s career choices mirror those made by DiCaprio when he was younger. The 48-year-old has steered clear of large-scale franchises and tended to embrace roles that emphasized his talent and good looks. Titanic spirit Romeo & Juliet transformed DiCaprio into a dreamy megastar you couldn’t help but have a massive crush on, much like Call Me By Your Name spirit Little Women did with Chalamet.
With his boyish charm, luscious locks, sculpted jawline, and jittery energy, Chalamet seamlessly fits the mold of a heartthrob, but he has carved out his own niche by challenging the concept of traditional masculinity.
Unlike the majority of his peers, Chalamet has taken a different path to stardom, by sticking to a filmmaker-driven approach when it comes to selecting his roles, regardless of their size. In less than a decade, he has worked with everyone from Christopher Nolan to Greta Gerwig and Denis Villeneuve, and he flawlessly fits into the vivid worlds created by Wes Anderson (as displayed in The French Dispatch). If we were living in an alternate universe, the actor would have been cast as our beloved Spider-Man, a role he lost out to Tom Holland. But he has since stuck to DiCaprio’s controversial yet wise advice of avoiding superhero projects altogether, and it’s working out in the best way possible.
Up until a few years ago, box office numbers were a key factor in a celebrity’s status. Actors like DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Pitt, and Depp were able to fill seats in a movie theater solely based on the power of their household names, and this in-turn helped build their star personas. Recently, the concept of a movie star seems to be in crisis. Save for Tom Cruise, who carried Top Gun: Maverick to the top of the box office earlier this year, the idea of a box-office megastar doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Sure, there are names like Channing Tatum, Ryan Reynolds, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. But even of these three, Tatum is the sole person who has shown that he can carry studio-backed movies that aren’t formally attached to superhero universes.
Chalamet exists in a Hollywood gray area. It’s true that thousands of people will flock to cinemas to see his beautiful face appear on the big screen, but he hasn’t proven yet that his popularity among feral young women on the internet can translate to tickets being sold.
Last year, Denis Villeneuve’s Down served as the perfect introduction to the world of blockbusters for Chalamet, giving us a taste of how well he can carry a massive-scale mainstream movie. Chalamet appears in nearly every scene of the sprawling 2-and-a-half-hour film, and he makes his presence felt. Released in the middle of the pandemic after a string of delays, Down was a box-office hit, making over $400 million worldwide.
It would be impossible to talk about the appeal of Chalamet without mentioning his daring sense of style, which makes him stand apart from the majority of his fellow A-listers. From what appeared to be a glittering Louis Vuitton harness at the 2019 Golden Globes to a backless red jumpsuit at this year’s Venice Film Festival, he consistently makes bold fashion choices. More importantly, he never fails to pull them off. It feels like he has a connection to the clothing he wears rather than dressing a certain way for the sake of sparking discourse.
He clearly has an adoration for the people who helped get him to where he is now, giddily greeting and taking selfies with fans at film premieres and graciously stopping to take photos with those who happen to get lucky and meet him while out and about. Earlier this month, at the Milan premiere of Bones and All, the red carpet was unexpectedly shut down due to the high volume of fans eagerly awaiting him. Not many actors have that power nowadays.
Despite his immense fame, Chalamet is still the type who makes each role distinctly his own. Unlike actors such as Pitt and Depp, who are so well-known that their fame can no longer be distinguished from their on-screen presence, Chalamet disappears into every single one of his characters.
As the notion of a leading man continues to evolve, Chalamet remains at the forefront of the massive cultural shift. In an age where male celebrities who accrue a sliver of popularity are immediately labeled “internet boyfriends,” regardless of whether they are talented or charismatic, Chalamet is triumphant in being a swoon-worthy celebrity who perfectly embodies the spirit of the heartthrob.