The Secret to ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is Passion, On and Off Screen

The filmmaker and cast of Call Me By Your Name sat down to talk about the adaptation, the romance, and the chemistry on-set.
By  · Published on November 28th, 2017

The filmmaker and cast of Call Me By Your Name sat down to talk about the adaptation, the romance, and the chemistry on-set.

Last Friday, actors Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, and director Luca Guadagnino made a press stop at the TimesTalks ScreenTimes series. After a viewing for an intimate audience, they came onstage to discuss Call Me By Your Name.

Since premiering at Sundance Film Festival in January, the film has earned raves. Based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman, it tells the story of bright 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Chalamet) who has his first love, once he meets his father’s grad student, Oliver (Hammer). The film is set in 1983 and was shot in the director’s hometown, of Crema, Italy.

It’s been a long road to get the picture produced. Originally, screenwriter James Ivory was also meant to direct. Guadagnino, along with producers Peter Spears and Howard Rosenman connected with Ivory when he was making 2005’s The White Countess. Guadagnino and Ivory collaborated on a script, but it was never able to come to fruition. Then, Guadagnino had a thought, “Maybe a much smaller version of this film can happen if I direct it.” It took nine years to get to this point, when Guadagnino took over the helm of the project, with Ivory’s blessing.

Guadagnino said for the adaptation, he got rid of the book’s framing device. He only wanted to keep the story’s “essence,” and it was important to keep it in “present” time. “I wanted to be immersed with Oliver, Elio, Mr. Perlman, and everyone else, instead of being driven by the consciousness of a third party, or the narrator in another position in time. It was important that we grow with them.” He felt it was more cinematic to show characters’ growth in real time.

The director also expressed disdain for the typical casting process and spoke of how he cast the film without any auditions. After Guadagnino said “I don’t believe in auditions. I think they’re stupid.” Hammer interjected, “I love you for that, by the way” and laughed. Guadagnino prefers to look at an actor’s body of work, and meet with them in person. “Which is the most important thing,” he explained, “because if you don’t click with the person working, why bother spending a month, two months working daily, on such an intimate thing as a creating a life of other people?”

Guadagnino and Hammer had a productive meeting in 2010 after The Social Network came out, with Guadagnino quipping he really “thought there was two actors for a while,” but it was really just Hammer playing identical twins masterfully. Six and a half years later, Guadagnino finally had a project he could work with Hammer on, who then jumped at the chance.

The three actors all met in Italy for the first time, shortly before the shoot. Concerning their chemistry, Stuhlbarg said, “We all hit it off immediately.” Hammer said this was further helped by them being the only English speakers in Crema and had to depend on each other for conversation. Chalamet added he’d found an “Awesome older brother and role model in Armie.” When asked about giving the younger actor any advice, Hammer responded, “I’m asking him for advice. We all saw the performance. There’s nothing I feel that I can teach him.”

Call Me By Your Name seems like a passion project for each of them, and they speak of it with much love. Both being together, and the filmmaking process was a rewarding, organic experience. Hammer said that like the film, the shooting for it was very relaxed. “It was a wonderful way that this movie was allowed to breathe and in the same way, the production of it was just allowed to breathe. It felt really relaxed, and it felt like a vacation.”

Towards the end of the film, Stuhlbarg’s character gives a touching monologue to his son, that catapults him to the top of the list for all on-screen dads. The actor said people frequently stop him to tell him how much the monologue means to them. He said it is incredibly “humbling and moving,” and he was  “grateful to have been the mouthpiece for those words,” which are basically verbatim from the book. “Honestly, Tim is the inspiration behind it. We’re in it together, and I felt a sense of closeness with Tim since the beginning, and he moves me, so we were moved together.”

When the cast was asked about how their fathers influenced their acting, Stuhlbarg gave his own moving speech, becoming visibly emotional. “My father saw me in a play in high school and made a point of telling me that he felt I should do this, and that meant the world to me at the time, and it still does because I didn’t know what I was doing and I loved it. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my amazing parents, and I feel lucky that they’ve supported me the whole way.” Chalamet grew up three blocks from the event and was excited to be back and have his parents in the audience. He was very appreciative of their support as well.

Both Chalamet and Hammer expressed mortification when their viral dancing videos were mentioned. In Hammer’s case, it was a clip from the film that was released of his character grooving to “Love My Way” by The Psychedelic Furs. For his co-star, it was an old high school project. Joked Chalamet, “The first thought is how do I get people to unsee this? [But,] oh, no, you can’t do that— this isn’t Men in Black!”  Hammer was adamant Chalamet was the best dancer in the room and was able to encourage him to get up and do his signature move, to the delight of the crowd.

The increasingly serious talk of potential sequels also came up. “I think that all of these people in the movie carry such insightfulness and capacity of being completely unbiased by cynicism, that I am curious to see what growing up, history, and meeting other people, meeting back together will carry with them,” said Guadagnino. Hammer quickly responded, “I’m in!” as long as Guadagnino, Chalamet, and Stuhlbarg were all back. Meanwhile, Chalamet joked it could be called, Call Me By Your Name 2: Call Me By Your Mother’s Name, much to co-star Hammer’s mock horror.

Despite the 11-month and counting promotional tour, the men agreed they never get bored talking about the movie, with Hammer adding it’s because “we get to be together again.”  Regarding the filming, Hammer stated, “This was such a  special and beautiful experience. The same way watching it, you get to experience it for an hour and 40 minutes, we lived in it for two months.” It was hard for them to let it go when the journey was coming to end, as the movie wrapped. Luckily for Mr. Hammer and Co., the Call Me By Your Name momentum will not be slowing down anytime soon.

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Jenna Dorsi is a freelance writer who's appeared in many publications, including Teen Vogue and Daytime Confidential. She spends her spare time obsessed with pop culture.