Since the two black coffees she drank earlier in the night kicked in, she’s gone from faux-rooting for the Kings (“You play well, Kings.”) to getting out of her seat and losing her voice for them. Then it happens. The Avs connect on a chain of perfect passes, tape-to-tape-to-tape; the puck ekes out to the left circle and then boom!—Nathan MacKinnon roofs it into the net past the diving Kings goalie, Jonathan Quick: 4-3, Avs. Moretz lets out a pained “No!” and collapses into her seat, grabbing my left knee to support herself, because both of her own have buckled. “What’s happening!?” she yells at me, her emerald eyes wide open, searching for answers.
Moretz clearly isn’t used to losing—but how could she be? The 19-year-old actress is already a Hollywood veteran, 13 years deep into an impressive career that has included playing the lead in the Carrie remake; Jack Donaghy’s young-but-vicious nemesis in 30 Rock; and of course, the foul-mouthed, murderous 12-year-old superhero Hit-Girl in both Kick-Ass movies. She has long earned respect as one of the serious young actresses—not just a fresh, pretty face taking up screen space—by capitalizing on roles that counteract the innocence and sweetness attributed to her because of her age and exuberant looks. “She’s a talented actress with vulnerability,” says Antoine Fuqua, who directed Moretz in The Equalizer. “She has this laser focus, a mature sense of self, and she’s fully committed.”
But 2016 seems to be the year in which the Young Hollywood and MTV Movie Award-winner is consciously striving to move from being “One to Watch” to being “The One.” There are levels to fame, multiple ceilings one can break through. Moretz smashed through many of them years ago, but has since remained in a limbo between successful and superior, between “that actress” and “that actress.” No longer. She’s taking aim at genres and audiences like they’re soda cans and picking them off one by one—hitting the YA fans in January with The Fifth Wave, becoming the next female comedy hero in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising this May, and taking on a huge challenge with the much-anticipated Brain on Fire, due later this year, in which she plays a woman who suffers from encephalitis and rapidly descends into insanity. If that isn’t enough to ensure ubiquity, Moretz is also signed to play Ariel in the modern adaptation of The Little Mermaid. “To quote Scarface,” Fuqua says, “‘The world is hers.’”
But the thing with Moretz—and with a lot of actors who grew up in the industry—is that despite being in the public eye from childhood to young adulthood (from Big Momma’s House 2 to The Fifth Wave) her real self remains a pretty well-kept secret. We’ve never watched her slip up the way an 18-year-old Lindsay Lohan did; we don’t even know if she likes pizza as much as Jennifer Lawrence does. Moretz may be everywhere, and you may remember the roles she’s brought to life, but she’s still a blank slate in so many ways. And that’s curbed the cultural impact she’s had as an actress. Even as we shell out $20 to see them in the movies, we want to feel like we know our favorite actors; we want to be able to treat them like they’re one of our best friends, the one who just happens to live in Los Angeles. To really connect with the work of an actor, we need to feel like we understand her or him on a personal level.
Watching this 19-year-old girl in her black skinny jeans and matching patent-leather Topshop boots perk up after Kings defenseman Drew Doughty nearly body checks an Avalanche player through the glass in the first period—“That’s a big-boy hit, ooh.”—I start to get a clearer picture of who the actual Moretz is. Hearing her yell, “Fuck you, Colorado!” and “Ref, you suck!” also helps.
Ever since she was about 14, Moretz has made a concerted effort to separate her real self from the celebrity version of herself. “It’s a very strange dichotomy,” she tells me before the game starts, not the only time she’ll use an SAT word during our conversation. “I chose to have my own life and have my career. I started separating my personalities—I can be strictly in my work and very serious, and then fully break it off when I leave set and have time to myself. Be young, make dumb jokes, be a kid.”
A decade ago, “being a kid” for Moretz meant holing up in a room, listening to Lady Gaga and obsessively playing Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed. Now it means being a self-described dork. “I read a lot of political articles,” the golden-haired Moretz says, half-proud and half-embarrassed. And lest you think Moretz is one of those kids from freshman year you wish you hadn’t started a conversation with at a party, she comes prepared to back up that assertion. She reads the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, she says, and will gladly talk your ear off about Hillary Clinton’s education plan (she likes it) or Bernie Sanders’ soft stance on gun control (she does not like it). She’s remarkably passionate for a (famous) teenager about participating in the American democratic system, and is seriously agitated by any kind of political apathy. “I’m different than most kids my age in that sense,” Moretz says, not realizing the half of it.
There’s the real dichotomy: Moretz is at once someone who is and isn’t 19. The way she thinks about her career, the things she has to deal with on a daily basis, and the perspective she’s gained from acting for 13 years already—a full career for many—make her seem and sound far older than she is. In the middle of the hockey game, she tells me about a house she’s buying being in escrow, and fields a call from an insurance agent about a claim being made on one of her cars. She already has directing and producing on the brain, and talks about how hard it is to accept and trust people, because she’s already spent so many years in Hollywood witnessing the “depravity and lack of morals,” and having “best friends sell stories and call the paparazzi” on her. Her publicist didn’t come to the game to keep an eye on her, but she didn’t have to. Moretz is smart and experienced enough to police herself and maintain her own image.
But then there’s the other side of the coin—she really is 19, and is going through many of the things everyone her age deals with: self-discovery and the onslaught of emotions that comes with that, burgeoning sexuality, and the sort of experimentation and wading through personal relationships that partially defines young adulthood. She was admittedly “asexual” early on in her teen years—awkward and insecure—but has grown bolder with age. When I first met her at the Complex photo shoot, two days before the hockey game, she had this easy confidence that put me back on my heels. The way she was so sure of herself—not flamboyant or cocky, just cool—made me feel like I had to appease her, like I had to prove to her that I could be self-assured, too.
Right now she says she’s been into dating. She won’t say with whom, though gossip magazines have pointed to Brooklyn Beckham, son of David, and more recently Chance the Rapper, but she denies having anything going with either guy, and assures me that no matter the subject, it’s nothing serious. “I have no real plans,” Moretz says. “I don’t want anything right now. I can’t handle that right now.” She says she just likes to meet people and have fun. Case in point: I saw her exchange numbers with one of the male models after her shoot had ended—it was a seriously suave-looking boss move by her. And, judging by her thoughts on date-night restaurant selections, a fairly typical one. “I want to be with someone who’s adventurous and wants to go do something,” she says. “Don’t take me to Nobu and get me nigiri. I’m OK. I can take myself to Nobu. I don’t need someone to take me to Nobu.”
In between the second and third periods of the Kings game, young fans are waving at someone sitting right next to us and begging for a picture or an autograph. Moretz has a sort of skeptical look on her face—Do you not recognize me? Why don’t you want my picture?—and both of us start trying to figure out who this mystery man is. “He must be a hockey player,” Moretz whispers. “Look at his thighs—you know you were thinking it, too.” I admit that his thighs are pretty impressive or whatever, and by then Moretz is already texting the Kings’ publicist to get to the bottom of this. Our neighbor turns out to be Joc Pederson, the hard-hitting, baby-faced centerfielder for the Dodgers.
“I hate baseball,” Moretz says.
“How millennial of you,” I reply.
She gasps in faux disgust and playfully backhands my arm.
As Joc goes back to his seat—not before throwing a look at Moretz, by the way—she and I start talking about the new Star Wars, specifically about Rey, its strong leading female character. Moretz’s eyes fire up as I tell her that some people thought Rey was a Mary Sue, a character who’s too perfect, who gets everything too easily. “For a fact—they would not say that if she was a young man,” she protests. “They would never question it. Luke Skywalker? They never questioned him. He just did it, immediately, with no issue. That’s something like, again—it’s an older stereotype. We’re trying to break that. Eventually it will change.”
You might be able to guess that Moretz is a self-professed feminist, but she’s one who wants to rally for equality, rather than the ascension of women over men. “No. It’s about equality—and it’s not just about women being powerful,” she says. “It’s about races being powerful; genders being powerful.” Moretz has also taken a strong “anti-squad” stand in an era where building a squad seems to be part of being a celebrity. “They appropriate exclusivity. They’re cliques!” she says with exasperation, as if she’s the only one seeing the jig. Right now she might as well be yelling, “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!” Since Moretz is friends with Selena Gomez, who in turn is friends with Taylor Swift, the person who more or less brought squadism to the mainstream, I have to ask: “Do you know Taylor Swift?”
“Yes,” she says, already aware of where I’m going with this. “Did she, you know, ask you to join her squad?”
“Yes,” she repeats carefully, nothing more.
At this point I’ve forced celebrity Chloë Grace Moretz and 19-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz to collide. She seems to want to say a lot of things—perhaps about the “Bad Blood” singer—but already knows the repercussions of those things becoming public. I can practically feel her urge to unleash bubbling and rising to the top of her throat. Just then a smile spreads across her moon-shaped face, the padlock that keeps whatever’s in her mind just right there, and she says, measuredly, “She’s a very talented person.” “You can talk to me about these things, you know,” I say back. “You know I can’t!” she laughs.
So much of who Moretz has grown up to be—the consummate pro, the calculated celebrity, the comfortably cool teen, the outspoken advocate—can be traced back to her family. Her mother, Teri, and four older brothers have been incalculably important in guiding her. (She is no longer in contact with her father, who became estranged from the family after an event that Moretz will only hint at: Imagine “what it would take for your family to never talk to you again,” she says.) It was her 29-year-old brother Trevor—now Chloë’s manager—who convinced Teri to let Chloë become a child actor. “My mom was like, ‘No. No way. Not gonna happen,’” Chloë says. “My brother was like, ‘Look mom, she does ballet, she does gymnastics—why not let her try it?’” It wasn’t long after, that Moretz landed a role as Ryan Reynolds’ daughter in 2005’s The Amityville Horror, for which she was nominated for a Young Artist Award. Big Momma’s House 2 followed shortly after—and here we are, a decade-plus later.
But beyond the career-altering stuff, Moretz says her brothers have helped her steer clear of the kinds of trouble that routinely afflict teen celebrities who have the world at their beck and call. Asked whether she drinks or parties like a regular 19-year-old—or like her Neighbors 2 character—she quickly responds that she’s over all that, flashing her padlock smile again. “I’ve watched everything happen around me my whole life,” she says. “I feel like I’ve lived vicariously through my brothers in a lot of ways. I’d much rather have 15 people over to my house and have a fun, laid-back night than go to some party and have some kid vomiting in the corner. Nothing makes me want to do that at all.”
Two of Moretz’s brothers are gay, and she saw prejudice and bullying growing up in a Southern Baptist community outside of Atlanta. “I’ve almost gotten in fights because people say things out of color about my brothers,” she says. “There were definitely moments when I was 13 or 14 and was worried about not being liked if I spoke out, but I realized that’s this forced, societal feminist outlook of how women should be—they should feel sorry for speaking out.”
Moretz certainly doesn’t apologize for her convictions today, and learning to stand up for her brothers taught her how to be outspoken in her work—instead of, you know, being a wide-eyed girl who quietly does as she is told. “Her character and script notes were spot on,” Neighbors 2 director Nicholas Stoller tells me. “It’s rare to fish that sort of maturity out of an actress of her age.”
“If you hire me,” Moretz confirms, “you’re not going to get some little girl that’s just going to sit there and be this puppet for whatever you want to push on society and appropriate. There have been moments where I’ve read scripts and said, ‘Look, this has got to change. It’s not like you’re being a bigot, but it’s literally that it doesn’t even click with you because you don’t deal with it. But it clicked with me and I’m telling you, as a young woman, this is what has to change.’” Any suspicion that Moretz is just puffing her chest out because this is an interview or because we’ve been watching adrenaline-laced dudes bash into each other for the past hour is killed when Stoller confirms: “She really has a take-no-shit attitude.”
So don’t worry that the live-action Little Mermaid will reinforce the misogyny of the original, in which a girl sacrifices her essence for the mere shot at gaining a man’s favor. Moretz is on it. “We want to make this good for girls,” she says. “We can’t make this regressive tale in a modern world. We’re going to flip it on its head. It’s going to feel good for women and men in the sense that it’s not just appropriating feminism, and it’s not leaning on regressive stereotypes.”
Since Carrie was released in 2013—featuring her first adult role, a turning point in Moretz’s career—she has starred in eight movies, and she has three more set to drop in 2016. She’s one of the go-to actresses of her generation, with the mix of professionalism, cool fierceness, and vulnerability that every director is looking for—and she reached that summit before she could legally order a martini. The actress cites “passion” as the thing that keeps her motivated, but it really goes deeper than that. Moretz namechecks Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock when I ask whose careers she hopes to mirror, and then lays out what seems to be her deepest desire—though she doesn’t label it as such: “I want to be America’s sweetheart,” she says, matter-of-factly. “I want to be beloved. I want to be an indie queen, but I want people to really love me and what I’ve done and let me be a part of their lives at home.” Actors’ desperate yearning for attention and love is a well-worn truism, so to hear Moretz verbalize it so plainly is pretty jarring. At the same time, her sincerity makes it seem kind of sweet and admirable.
Moretz seems even sweeter when you bring up the Big O—the Oscars. Asked whether she ever thinks about winning an Academy Award, Moretz actually sounds like a kid for a change. “I don’t want to win an Oscar right now. I don’t. I don’t deserve it. Not yet,” she says giddily. But for anyone reading the tea leaves, a nomination at least feels like a possibility this year because of Brain on Fire. After Dakota Fanning dropped out due to scheduling conflicts, Charlize Theron and her production company came to Moretz and begged her to play the role of protagonist Susannah Cahalan, a character whose description alone reads like Oscar bait: a young woman who slowly descends into madness following a mystery illness. Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream, Natalie Portman in Black Swan—there’s a blueprint for movies like this. Add in Brain on Fire’s September release date, and the movie has real Oscar vibes to it.
I’m not the only one thinking along those lines. “I don’t want to jinx it!” Moretz laughs, crossing her fingers before dialing the thirst back a little bit. “I just hope people like it, to be honest,” she clarifies. “I’ve had a lot of hits and misses. For me right now it’s all about building my career, building my brand. If critics catch onto it and want to give me acclaim, then cool. But that’s not me. It’s not something that I’m like, ‘Oh my god! Why don’t they love me?’”
“She’s definitely making a transition,” Moretz’s mom declared at the photo shoot as she watched her daughter light a stick of dynamite in Daisy Dukes, black-and-white check high-top Vans, and a sporty bikini top. Teri’s assessment was spot-on, without even considering the risqué outfit and pyrotechnics. But at such a tipping point in her life, Moretz is surprisingly unfazed by the prospect of adulthood, and the level of attention (and praise) she’ll receive as she fully matures and sheds the YA qualifier. She talks about starring in the remake of one of Disney’s biggest movies, The Little Mermaid, with more intelligence and excitement than anxiety; she books a six-figure deal during the photo shoot with the ease of sending a text message. This is basic for her—she’s never scared, never unhinged, never unfocused. Because you have to realize: She’s been working her entire life for this.
Moretz has mostly composed herself as we exit the Staples Center following the Kings’ loss. She’s still shaking—is it the two coffees or her anger at the 4-3 final score?— but she’s mostly at peace, looking forward to getting home, plopping onto her couch, and turning on HGTV. After about five minutes of fidgeting and waiting, Moretz spots the valet pulling up in her white Mercedes GLE450, a hulking SUV that looks like a sports car and serves as the perfect metaphor for Chloë Grace Moretz—a loud beast of a car in a pretty, sleek package.
“There’s Big Bertha. There’s my girl,” Moretz exclaims, taking the woman-on-SUV love to the next level. “I’m gonna hop in your front seat. I’m gonna put you in sport mode.” We hug and say goodbye, and I decide to stick around to watch Moretz leave the lot. She hangs back in a clogged stretch of traffic for a few minutes before getting bold: Gracefully squeezing her Bertha into an open lane, she pulls ahead, letting the rumble of the Benz turn into a full growl.