The internet will go crazy on any given day, but it definitely lit up like Christmas the day Ansel Elgort landed the role of Augustus Waters, the charm-bomb male lead of The Fault in Our Stars, the film based on John Green’s phenomenally popular young-adult novel. A bestseller before it even hit the shelves, the story of the romance between two teenage cancer patients has been printed in a dozen languages worldwide and generated a devoted online fan base (Google ‘fault in our stars tumblr’ and brace yourself for more than 21 million results).
Elgort knew The Fault in Our Stars was popular. But he admits he didn’t really grasp just how popular it was until it was officially announced that he’d be portraying Augustus, who has an irrepressible joie de vivre despite losing half a leg to cancer. “I couldn’t believe it,” he says of the response. “Tons of people were enthusiastic but there were also people who were worried or upset, and that was pretty cool too because any display of emotion or opinion showed that people were devoted to this story. I knew what I was getting myself into but I also had this feeling of ‘What am I getting myself into?’”
The high-profile role of Augustus has come along relatively quickly in Elgort’s screen career – he made his film debut opposite Chloe Grace Moretz in the recent Carrie remake – but the 20-year-old actor has years of training and a number of stage roles to his credit, so while he felt slightly daunted by the prospect of appearing in something as eagerly anticipated as The Fault in Our Stars he was also ready for it.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time but I also waited for the right moment to really start my professional career,” he says. “I felt like I was ready when I was cast as Augustus, and I was so excited. I really couldn’t wait to do these scenes.”
In winning the heart of Hazel Grace Lancaster, played by Shailene Woodley, Elgort has to be…well, absurdly lovable – totally confident and self-assured while utterly devoted to the young woman he falls for. It’s a role that could be way too Manic Pixie Dream Boy in the wrong hands, and Elgort was extremely aware of the need to find just the right balance.
“A lot of characters you can play any way you want, but Augustus is so iconic to the book’s readers,” he says. “Underplay him and he’s flat and boring. Overplay him and he’s unbearable. If you don’t like him the movie sucks, right? It was tough, definitely, but it’s not my job to decide who he is but to make him real. The book is told from Hazel’s point of view, so you don’t really know Augustus that well, and there are a lot of empty spots I had to fill myself. You know how he is through Hazel’s eyes but I can’t only rely on that. You know, when they first meet, he probably wants to hook up with her. He’s a boy! He’s not the perfect guy she sees him as. Without that kind of colouring, their relationship would seem false.”
“By the way,” he adds with a laugh, “I never told Shailene any of that!”
The Fault in Our Stars marks the second time Elgort and Woodley have worked together (they played brother and sister in the dystopian thriller Divergent), and the two share a natural, remarkable chemistry. Not surprisingly, the two get along like a house on fire off-screen as well. “As work partners and best friends we get along very well and we trust one another,” says Elgort. “I used to think I shouldn’t talk about the times we’ve argued on-set but when I look at the scenes we’ve shot after we’ve disagreed they really work, and they work because best friends have their differences as well as the things they have in common. You have to be very comfortable with someone in order to challenge them, and that’s important for something like The Fault in Our Stars. So many love stories are bullshit, where two good-looking people fall in love, kiss at the end and everything is perfect, but this isn’t that kind of love story.”