Chloë Grace Moretz is only 17, but she already sounds like she's got Hollywood's number. "I think there's something so much more innovative about French cinema than American cinema, because it's new and it's alive and there's something that is very raw about it that we can't quite capture, I think, in America yet," she told journalists at the press conference for Clouds of Sils Maria, which premiered at the end of the Cannes Film Festival.
While the film is in English, it is, in Moretz's own words, a "very French project" from director Olivier Assayas (Demonlover, Summer Hours) that stars Juliette Binoche as a famous actress struggling to deal with getting older, while a surprising Kristen Stewart plays her grounded personal assistant.
But Moretz gets to have the most fun as Jo-Ann Ellis, an American starlet and tabloid fixture who's cast alongside Binoche's character in a play. Jo-Ann is ruthless, talented, and wild, tearing up talk shows and playing angsty mutants in blockbuster franchises — but she's nothing so simple as a villain. Jo Ann is smart and wise beyond her years, and in that, at least, she has something in common with the actress playing her.
Moretz, whose breakout role was playing the profane, pint-sized, purple-haired vigilante Hit-Girl in the Kick-Ass movies, has already been acting for a decade, but unlike Jo-Ann, she's kept her career scandal-free. Speaking to a small group of journalists at the Cannes press day for Clouds of Sils Maria, which will be released in the U.S. on Dec. 1, she credited her steadiness to her close family and her love of her work.
"If I wanted to go crazy, I would be doing it right now," she said, pointing out that a lot of past young actors were well on their way into partying by her age. "For me, I've never had the need to want to do that. If I could create a world where I just did my job, where I could just do that and not have to worry about promotion or parties or red carpets or anything... that would be great. Sadly, it doesn't work that way."
Moretz has already seen plenty of the rapacious side of celebrity, the paparazzi, and the feeling from some fans that her life is public property. "They'll be like, You have to give me a photo. I buy a ticket to your movie. I, in a sense, own you. If I don't buy a ticket to your movie, you're done — so you have to take a photo with me. There's a lot of entitlement, especially nowadays, in Hollywood, because they think they know everything about you. They think that because you have an Instagram, they can go break into your house. You let us in! I've seen your house on your video!"
These days, Hollywood wants to "break all the illusions," according to Moretz. "You have to be the most realistic person, the one that makes your own toothpaste — that's what it is now," she said. "There's no vaseline on the lens anymore. We want the sharpest image, to see all your pimples! We want to see that you're a messed-up human. We want to see you cheat and lie. And it's kind of depressing because, instead of being actors, we're now just entities, which isn't our job."
Playing a character like Jo-Ann was "scary," Moretz said, because she's seen people like her in the industry, though she didn't name names. "I never want to have that be me." But while she acknowledged the attraction of Jo-Ann-style stories in the tabloids, she feels that "kids my age aren't interested in the drug addicts who mess up. My generation, the Elle Fannings and me, all the girls that are working so hard in this business, that's who these young kids are interested in. They want to see the go-getters. This is a generation that is not out for any BS."
And Moretz believes that keeping aspects of your personal life private, from family dramas to dating, is still possible. "If you keep it quiet and you don't make a fool of yourself, it's not that hard," she said. "Keep it at home — you don't have to go out. You don't have to be making out in public like a weirdo! I hate that stuff. Sure, hold hands if you want to. Just know what you're doing. If you really love someone, you may not want to make it that public, because it can bring everything down. The minute that one million Twitter followers get involved, the relationship's no longer about you guys."
Under such an intense microscope, Moretz feels like even the biggest names in Hollywood are no different from those who adore them. "Solange beat up Jay Z, but that's a family — stuff happens! People shouldn't be privy to that. I promise, a lot more stuff happens in a normal household. It's easy to dissect the people that look perfect, but you don't want to turn it on the person who's watching the TMZ video."
Still, Moretz spoke in glowing terms of her experience making Clouds of Sils Maria, and she's not writing off Hollywood, even with its complications. She's starring alongside Denzel Washington in Antoine Fuqua's action movie The Equalizer, which opens this fall, and she's signed on to play the lead role in the potential franchise The 5th Wave, based on Rick Yancey's young-adult novel. "It's always going to be something," she said of the current dominance of supernatural and sci-fi movies in the cineplexes, a theme in Clouds of Sils Maria. "If that's what the young girls like and that makes them happy, then great."
And Moretz counts herself as one of those girls, noting she went to every Spider-Man and Harry Potter movie when it opened. "If they make people smile and they make people escape for an hour and a half, do it. That's what I think. Even if it's not the best script, if it makes people happy, what's the difference?" But she's still exploring what's next, coming off this French film and a stint on stage in New York in The Library, directed by Steven Soderbergh. "I'm trying to figure out what I want," she said. "I don't think I'll ever know, I'll just know if I'm happy or not.
"So far I'm really happy. I could not ask for more as an actress."