At 17, Chloe Grace Moretz is the It girl for movie geeks, thanks to her Comic-Con-approved resume of haunted houses (2005’s “The Amityville Horror”), vampires (2010’s “Let Me In” and 2012’s “Dark Shadows”), shy girls with secret powers (2013’s “Carrie”) and her breakout role as foul-mouthed avenger Hit-Girl in 2010’s “Kick-Ass” and its 2013 sequel.
This Friday brings a romantic melodrama that takes direct aim at female devotees of young-adult fiction. In “If I Stay,” based on Gayle Forman’s popular novel, Moretz is a young cellist who must choose between life and death after falling into a coma following a tragic car accident. With YA adaptation “The Giver” doing middling business with an estimated opening weekend gross of $12.7 million, the door is open for “If I Stay” to be a keeper if it pleases the book’s fan base as well as the underserved female audience.
Signature line: “Okay you c**ts, let’s see what you can do now” –Skillfully employing a naughty word for lady parts as the pint-size dynamo Hit-Girl in “Kick-Ass.”
Career peaks: Moretz, who refers to herself “a little girl from Georgia” and tends to be reserved off-screen, began acting at age 6 with small parts in films such as “Big Momma’s House 2” and TV shows like “Desperate Housewives.” In 2009, she made a strong impression as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s tough-talking little sis in the romantic comedy “(500) Days of Summer,” causing “The Wall Street Journal” to describe her as “dazzling in a tiny role.”
But it was this petite one-time model’s performance the next year as a sweet schoolgirl who transforms herself into a deadly vigilante in an ultra-violet wig and matching skirt while wielding a double-edged weapon with abandon that turned “Kick-Ass” into her coming-out party. It was her character’s propensity to cuss like a sailor, not her considerable body-count tally, that caused the most consternation among adults while building up a loyal following among the comicbook community. While some critics tsk-tsk’d, others like Mahnola Dargis of “The New York Times” swooned: “Ms. Moretz is by far the best thing about the film … she holds the screen as gracefully as she executes a running back flip.”
Hit-Girl became Moretz’s calling card in Hollywood, along with her haunting portrait of a child bloodsucker “Let Me In,” a remake of a Swedish horror film that same year. She was soon hired by Tim Burton as one of the kooky clan in the vampire spoof “Dark Shadows” and co-starred as a young girl who befriends the youthful hero of best-picture Oscar nominee “Hugo” – both 2011 releases. “It doesn’t matter the age,” “Hugo” director Martin Scorsese said of the then-13-year-old. “She is an actor, above all. And a very, very good one.”
Last year, Moretz faced her biggest challenge yet as she took over Sissy Spacek’s blood-stained iconic 1976 role in a remake of Stephen King’s scary coming-of-age tale “Carrie.” Reviewers were kinder to her interpretation of the bullied main character than the movie itself, which performed modestly at the box office. “Entertainment Weekly’s” take? “Moretz does a creditable job. … and the emotions seem to bleed through her ghostly, lunar-pale skin.”
Biggest assets: The highly motivated Moretz is basically the anti-Miley Cyrus. Nothing frivolous or sensationalized about her approach to work. She has made it clear in numerous interviews that she is dedicated to her art first and foremost. “A lot of people are like, ‘So you want to be famous.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I want to be good at my craft. I don’t care about fame, I don’t care if I even ever make it.’ As long as people know what I am as an actress in this business, I’m set for my career right now.”
In civilian life, she steadfastly acts and dresses like a normal teen albeit one who appreciates Chanel as much as Converse. Her most famous quote to come out of her promotion of “Kick-Ass” was probably this revelation: “If I ever uttered one word that I said in ‘Kick-Ass,’ I would be grounded for years! I’d be stuck in my room until I was 20! I would never in a million years say that.” She is mature enough that doing darker material doesn’t seem to affect her. And she possesses the same sort of beyond-her-years composure as one of her idols, Natalie Portman, who made her movie debut as a 12-year-old orphan protégé of Jean Reno’s hit man in 1994’s “The Professional.”
Awards attention: Won best breakout star and biggest badass star for “Kick-Ass” at the 2011 MTV Movie Awards and was named female star of tomorrow at CinemaCon in 2012.
Biggest misfire: Considering that the original “Kick-Ass” built up an enthusiastic cult on DVD (topping its just-under $100 million in worldwide box office with $140 million in sales), “Kick-Ass 2’s” $61 million in ticket sales last year proved disappointing. It didn’t help that Jim Carrey, who was part of the sequel, expressed second thoughts about being involved in such a violent enterprise in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting. Even critics who were fine with the first round gave the second helping a thumb’s down, leading to a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 29% positive as opposed to the original’s 76%. Creators of the comic that the film is based have said that a third “Kick-Ass” entry is up in the air.
Biggest problem: Because of the downer and downright gruesome nature of the roles she tends to play, Moretz too often comes off as mopey, morose and more than a bit intense. No one wants to see someone this talented reduced to doing dopey teen comedies or a dive headlong into “Spring Breakers”-style vulgarity. And she did acquit herself nicely on the sitcom “30 Rock” as Alec Baldwin’s teen nemesis Kaylie Hooper in several episodes. But perhaps more variety in her film efforts – she was a pleasantly sunny surprise in the upbeat moments of “Hugo” – would make her seem less of a mistress of misery.
Gossip fodder: Moretz has been open about her unrequited crush on an older man, namely Ryan Gosling. But she has been far more discreet about being squired about by a younger guy — Brooklyn Beckham, 15, eldest son of soccer sensation David Beckham and wife Victoria (aka Posh Spice). Mostly they have been spied skateboarding and taking spin classes together. You know, like kids.
Career advice: As someone who grew up worshiping the Olsen twins (and was starstruck into silence when she met them years later), loves the “Legally Blonde” comedies and listens to Bruno Mars and Katy Perry, Moretz obviously has a lighter side that she could and should show more often. Even when she did her first New York stage play this year – “The Library,” directed by Steven Soderbergh – it was a deadly serious role of a victim of a school shooting. Still, it can’t be bad when a director of Soderbergh’s caliber tells “The New York Times,” “She’s so centered and levelheaded, and clear in what needs to be done. I’ve seen no indication that she places herself at the center of the process of working on the play. She’s there to tell the story.” Of course, even Portman had this problem until she got giddy in 2004’s “Garden State.” All it might take is for Moretz to do Saturday Night Live — she is regularly mentioned on online lists of most-wanted SNL hosts – and arrange for the Olsens to pay a surprise visit.
What’s next: No one can question Moretz’s work ethic. First up, “The Equalizer,” an action thriller as a threatened girl protected by Denzel Washington’s former black ops commando (Sept. 26). “Laggies,” a comedy by director Lynn Shelton (“Humpday”), awakens her funny bone as a teen girl who hangs out with Keira Knightley’s aimless 20-something (Oct. 24), who in turn grabs the attention of her single dad (Sam Rockwell). Also expected this year: “Clouds of Sils Maria,” a kind of “All About Eve” in Switzerland with Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart; and “Dark Places,” a mystery thriller based on a novel by “Gone Girl’s” Gillian Flynn, starring Charlize Theron and Christina Hendricks. To come: Moretz was passed over for the role of Katniss in “The Hunger Games,” but gets a shot at her own possible dystopian sci-fi franchise with “The Fifth Wave,” also known as “Twilight” with aliens.