“I love to cry,” Ansel Elgort says. “It’s great.”
It’s fitting that the 20-year-old actor is a fan of shedding tears, because he’s about to become a veritable ambassador for the act. (And, in fact, it wouldn’t be out of line for Kleenex to throw him some kickbacks, too—he’s about to do wonders for the tissue monopoly’s business.)
Elgort and his co-star, Hollywood and Mother Earth’s It Girl Shailene Woodley, bring one of the most wrenching, inspiring, and simultaneously joyful and tragic modern love stories to screen this weekend as Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster in The Fault in Our Stars. The adaptation of John Green’s wildly popular young adult novel tells the story of two teenagers with terminal cancer who, simply, fall in love.
They fall in the kind of once-in-a-lifetime love that becomes more stirring, more passionate, more complicated, and more once-in-a-lifetime perfect because of the couple’s painful and beautiful knowledge that their lifetime is going to be unfairly shorter than most, and because of that the odds that they were ever going to find their “once” were always unlikely.
The movie will make you cry. But not because it’s emotionally manipulative, and not even because it’s sad. It’s a jarringly authentic and emotional story, an ode to the spectacular phenomenon of love. It’s also, of course, heartbreaking. You cry because it’s beautiful what these characters find with each other, and infuriating that uncontrollable circumstances prevent it from lasting forever.
Chiefly, though, you cry because Elgort and Woodley are so good in this movie. The takeaway here, if you haven’t figured it out, is that you’re going to cry. And Elgort, who is about to become a big, big star when The Fault in Our Stars is released, thinks that’s OK. In fact, he may even want you to.
“The first movie I ever cried at was when I was 10 years old and saw The Notebook in theaters,” he says. “I was like, ‘Whoa, so weird. Crying at a movie? I’m not supposed to do that. So weird.’ I didn’t know that art could make you do that.”
It’s fitting that watching The Notebook played such a seminal role in Elgort’s own cinematic emotional education, because The Fault in Our Stars could—and should—do for him what it did for that weepy romance’s star, Ryan Gosling. Elgort has only starred in two major Hollywood films before this one, playing a high school student in the remake of Carrie and Woodley’s brother in the YA franchise Divergent. But this is the kind of role, both manly and emotional, that launches an actor into the stratosphere.
As Augustus—though Fault fans know he goes by “Gus”—Elgort is charming as hell, a studly teen with swagger who walks around with a never-lit cigarette in his mouth as a metaphorical middle finger to things that cause cancer and trumpets the life mantra: “I’m on a roller coaster that only goes up, my friend!” Gus (osteosarcoma) is a showoff with a bleeding heart, and his heart bleeds for Hazel (thyroid cancer, which has spread to her lungs). Pulling that balance off means nailing a tricky tight-rope walk of extreme vulnerability and extreme confidence—“but never like a dick,” Elgort adds.
That Elgort executes the high-wire act so flawlessly is probably owed to the fact that he shares some of the same qualities.
Peruse the rising hunk’s Instagram account for self-published pictures of his chiseled, shirtless body and other evidence of his fitness prowess (though Buzzfeed’s already done the dirty work for you), or check out his smirking “See what I can do!?” tap dance recently on Jimmy Fallon’s show, for proof of a penchant for showing off a little. But then watch some of his earnest interview with Fallon, or talk to him—if you’re lucky enough to—about how seriously he takes bringing such a delicate story as Gus and Hazel’s to life, and get a sense of how grounded he is, too.
Growing up in New York City the son of a Vogue photographer and an opera director, Elgort began his entree into the modeling and performing world early, and his early success could, perhaps, reek a little bit of nepotism or privilege—his acting debut off-Broadway, fresh out of high school, was written up for Vogue—were he not so humble and, you know, talented.
And he knows that this movie he’s in is a big deal.
The Fault in Our Stars is going to be huge. John Green’s book has a rabid fan base, gaining the author Nicholas Sparks-level of writer-celebrity, and the movie sold the most advanced tickets of any romantic drama in Fandango’s history. It’s poised to slaughter Tom Cruise’s big-budget blockbuster, The Edge of Tomorrow, at the box office. But that’s the thing, for a certain audience—namely those who, like Elgort, like to cry—The Fault in Our Stars is a must-see blockbuster. The emotional fireworks and incessant weeping: it’s like special effects for this film.
As such, Elgort wanted to get it right. And not just nail those iconic lines of Green’s that readers swoon over (and audibly cooed in response to at screenings of the movie), like, “Apparently the world’s not a wish-granting factory,” “It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you,” and, of course, “Okay.” (You’ll soon understand the poignance of that last one.)
“It was important to us to bring characters to life that weren’t thinking about how much time they had left, or what they had to do with it,” Elgort says. “They were living every moment not just like it was their last, but just like it was the present.”
That's the universal appeal, he thinks, of the story: “It’s the notion that everyone’s life is just as important as everyone else’s. Just because you live 20 years or 100 years doesn’t make it less meaningful. They’re both short amount of times. So all we can do is just live in that time, whatever time we’re given.”
And for the 125-minute running time of The Fault in Our Stars, we’re going to cry. Often.
Though, believe it or not, it could’ve been even more draining.
“You don’t know how many scenes we did where there was crying in it, because it’s just an emotional subject matter, and the director was like, ‘We can’t have crying in this scene. There’s too much crying,’” Elgort says. “Every night I’d sleep so well because I’ve been crying all day. People like that. It’s a release. It’s important, like at the end of Good Will Hunting when Robin Williams says, ‘It’s not your fault,’ and Matt Damon starts bawling.”
And now? “You don’t need to go to Robin Williams,” Elgort says. “You can just turn on Fault in Our Stars and cry.” A lot.