“That’s why he was so prolific,” he says excitedly, between sets of clambering up the gym walls like an overgrown simian, albeit one with a boyish jaw and pout worthy of 7.6 million Instagram followers. His hands and black sweats are dusted white with climber’s chalk, his hair an untamed tangle on his head, and his gait a turned-out waddle, thanks to years of dance lessons. “He wasn’t overthinking it, he was just constantly making art.” That’s what Elgort, who exploded onto the scene just three years ago, starring in the hit teen tearjerker The Fault in Our Stars, adapted from the YA bestseller by John Green, wants—to create art, to constantly evolve, to, you know, be like Picasso. “He did a lot of different-looking stuff over time. Sometimes he did things that were very three-dimensional, sometimes he did things that were very flat, sometimes he did sculpture. He went all over the place. I think it’s okay to do that.” And without missing a beat: “My music is changing constantly. Every time I make a new song, it’s a different sound. And that’s okay, too. For whatever reason, society wants you to do one thing.” It’s here that he grimaces. “I’m not trying to compare myself to Picasso,” he continues. “So, please don’t make me sound like a douchebag.”
Ansel Elgort is many things, but a douchebag is not one of them. He wouldn’t even have time to be one, even if he were so inclined. A New York native and son of famed photographer Arthur Elgort, the 23-year-old has parlayed an adolescent interest in musical theater—he went to Manhattan’s Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, on which the movie Fame was based, and attended Stagedoor Manor, a musical theater summer camp that counts Robert Downey Jr. and Natalie Portman as alumni—into a career as a Renaissance man for the social-media age. He’s an actor, singer, music producer, DJ (as alter ego Ansolo), and dancer. Right now he has four film projects in production, in addition to this summer’s car-chase flick Baby Driver. He released the electronic power ballad “Thief” in the spring along with an accompanying music video, a family affair directed by his brother and starring his girlfriend, Violetta Komyshan. And that’s not to mention his normal-guy hobbies like shooting basketball, putting in a few hours a week at the local climbing gym, playing video games, and keeping up with his love of making miniature models (yes, really).