This French ‘Call Me By Your Name’ star is about to explode
Toward the end of Esther Garrel’s four-hour shoot with The Post, the photographer asked her to smile for the camera.
The 26-year-old politely replied: “I think I’m out of smiles today — I’m not that kind of girl.” Then she assumed a confident, fierce pose.
The self-assured French actress is, in real life, a far cry from the ingénue she plays in “Call Me by Your Name” (in New York City theaters Thursday). The tender coming-of-age tale has won critics and audiences over and is projected to be an Oscar contender.
In the film, she plays Marzia, a shy 17-year-old girl in 1983 northern Italy who’s trying to win the affections of her neighbor and family friend Elio (Timothée Chalamet). But Elio, 17, is more infatuated with Oliver (Armie Hammer), a 24-year-old grad student who’s staying with Elio’s family for the summer. The two young men soon fall into a deep, passionate affair, leaving Marzia on the losing end of the love triangle.
But even though she doesn’t identify with Marzia’s selfless act of giving up on her boyfriend, Garrel does admire her character. “She’s like an angel for [Elio],” she told The Post in between puffs of her cigarette. “Her feelings for him are so huge that they exceed everything else. I’m sure she sees Elio and Oliver’s attraction from the very beginning, but she doesn’t care. She just wants to take care of [Elio] so much.”
In addition to awards buzz, the film has been drumming up controversy for the seven-year age difference between the loved-up male characters.
Garrel, for one, saw no problem with it.
“I can understand that for some old people, maybe it’s a big difference, but I think for our generation, we are beyond that kind of question,” she said. “Above all else, the movie is about desire and can happen between so many different people.”
While Garrel’s on-screen persona may have been unlucky in love, in real life, she hit the genetic lottery. She comes from European film royalty — her father, Philippe Garrel, is a lauded director who was part of the French New Wave scene; her mother, Brigitte Sy, is an actress-turned-filmmaker; and her brother, Louis, is also an actor, best known for his role in Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers.”
“We talk about work all the time,” Garrel said. “I get a lot of advice from them.”
But even though it’s the only job she’s ever had, she didn’t always want to be a movie actress. Growing up, she was a violinist until middle school. At 16, a casting director reached out to her on Myspace to play a small part in a movie, and she’s followed in her family’s footsteps ever since, even co-starring in some of her father’s films.
She then caught the attention of Italian director Luca Guadagnino, a friend of her father’s, who reached out to her in 2015 about being featured in “Call Me by Your Name.” She watched his previous films “I Am Love” and “A Bigger Splash” and immediately got on board.
“He has this energy — it’s the best energy a director can have,” Garrel said. “He’s very warm and generous.”
Guadagnino’s guidance was important when it came to filming the chemistry among the main characters. He had the cast stay in Crema, Italy, where the film was shot, for a month before shooting in 2016, so they could form true friendships.
“Our apartments were really close together, and because the town was so tiny, [Chalamet and I] went to the same shops, coffee places and we had a lot of dinners together,” she said. “He wanted us to be close.”
On the first day of rehearsals, Guadagnino had Garrel and Chalamet — who dated Madonna’s daughter Lourdes Leon while a student at LaGuardia High School on the Upper West Side — practice their love scenes so that they immediately felt comfortable. (Garrel declined to talk about her real-life romantic status.)
“We knew that we were in good hands — [Guadagnino] is really one of the best men I’ve ever met,” she said. “Timothée is really great and he’s really exciting as an actor. I loved working with him.”
For the past year, Garrel’s been dividing her time between Paris and New York City on various film projects and learning English (she also speaks French and Italian). While she’s now filming a French TV series in Paris, until recently, she lived in an Airbnb apartment in Bushwick — and has no doubts about which city is friendlier.
“I love staying here because it feels like such a different energy,” she said. “And New Yorkers are much nicer than Parisians.”
Photos: Tamara Beckwith/New York Post; Market Editor: Johannah Masters; Hair/Makeup: T Cooper using Sutra Beauty; Stylist Assistant: Bree Bonagofsky; Location: Prospect Park Boathouse, Brooklyn.