When I arrive to meet Alden Ehrenreich at Dominick’s, his favorite West Hollywood trattoria that once stood as a Rat Pack drinking den, the 23-year-old actor is lying flat on his back on a wooden bench out front, talking on an outdated cellphone that makes him look not entirely from this time. He is dressed in green—from his sneakers to his prep school blazer, to the leather strap on his wristwatch, all of which match his matinee idol eyes. “Warner Bros. gave me a stylist for my last movie,” he says as we enter the restaurant. “It became a joke how much I like green.”
That movie was last spring’s Beautiful Creatures, a supernatural misfire that tried to do for witches what the Twilight saga did for vampires. The film disappointed at the box office despite built-in fans of the YA series it was based on, but it marked a quantum leap in Ehrenreich’s career. As Ethan, a young man who longs to escape his stultifying Southern hometown, Ehrenreich not only held his own, but stole the show, opposite heavyweights like Jeremy Irons, Emma Thompson, and Viola Davis. In March, he also appeared in a pivotal exchange with Mia Wasikowska in Chan-wook Park’s macabre family drama, Stoker.
Even before he was born, Ehrenreich was connected to movies. Sitting in a darkened theater, his mother, then pregnant with her son, saw the opening credits to Field of Dreams—“Directed by Phil Alden Robinson”—and suddenly knew what she was going to name him. “It had nothing to do with the movie,” Ehrenreich says. “They just couldn’t decide on a name.” The native Angeleno, who “grew up around the business of movies but not in it,” developed an early passion for acting that carried into his freshman year of high school. At 14, Ehrenreich made a short film he screened at a friend’s bat mitzvah. The video, a gonzo clip featuring Ehrenreich breaking into the girl’s home, trying on her clothes, and eating dirt, amused fellow guest Steven Spielberg.
The film icon then set Ehrenreich up with an agent, which led to years of auditions—one of them for Francis Ford Coppola, who was casting his second movie in a decade, the black-and-white immigrant odyssey Tetro. During their initial meeting, the legendaryGodfather director instructed Ehrenreich to read aloud a passage from The Catcher in the Rye. The actor, then 18, landed his first starring role as Bennie, a teenager in search of his long-lost brother, played by Vincent Gallo. “As Christopher Plummer once said, when he was playing Tolstoy in The Last Station, ‘The only way to play a genius is to be very simple,’ and that’s kind of how Francis is at this point in his life,” says Ehrenreich of working with Coppola on Tetro and again in the 2011 gothic horror film Twixt. “There is so much depth there, but the way he communicates and the way he directs is beautifully simple. He doesn’t engage in a whole lot of rhetoric about what he does.”
Over beef carpaccio, baked ricotta, a half-dozen oysters, four Belgian beers, a side of spinach, and two orders of whitefish piccata—Ehrenreich knows his way around the menu—the actor, who majored in theater at New York University for a semester before transferring to the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, describes being weaned on a diet of silent, western, and classic films, his parents schooling him on the genius of Charlie Chaplin, Elia Kazan, and Marlon Brando. “My parents held these film festivals at our house that would chronologically take me through film history,” he says. “We started with the earliest movies and slowly made our way through the century. It turned me into a film buff.”
But Ehrenreich’s passions aren’t limited to movies. Growing up, he marveled at the staccato prose of Joan Didion, and once painted his mother as she sat in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. When he was feeling lonely during Tetro’s shoot in Argentina, he sought comfort in the Spartan writing of Ernest Hemingway. “I had never lived on my own before,” he says. “I started reading A Moveable Feast and it turned everything around for me. Hemingway was like, ‘The bread was good. The wine was great,’ and that made me appreciate all of the small things going on around me. It made Argentina come alive.”
This summer, Ehrenreich will appear in Woody Allen’s romantic drama Blue Jasmine
, opposite Cate Blanchett (“one of the greatest actors I’ve ever had the honor to work with”) as a fashionable New York housewife in crisis, continuing his enviable knack for collaborating with some of Hollywood’s—no, cinema’s—most revered filmmakers. “Film is just so important,” he says. “It’s such an effective art form. If you have the opportunity to say something that can benefit people and affect the way they think about their own lives, help them find tolerance toward something, or help them accept something about themselves, then you must take it. And take it seriously.”
This article originally appeared in BULLETT magazine. Read here