He's Gen Z's favourite movie star and spending a day (pre-social distancing) with the 'Timmy Girls' helps explain why.
It was bad. It was so bad that she couldn't see properly. There was an audible gasp when it occurred, onlookers struggling to comprehend what they had just witnessed. This had ruined it. Ruined everything in fact. Her face began swelling with clearly painful tears while, around her, people started to help pick up her belongings. With only half an hour to go, everything that she had been hoping for was destroyed. Her eyes red and raw, she still clutched the one thing she had held tight to for the past nine hours – her gift for Timmy – now completely covered in liquid black waterproof eyeliner.
IT WAS 4pm on a Thursday afternoon in central Randwick. An undiscrete red carpet, spanning the footpath and spilling over the gutter onto the street, was being laid by eight men. But for that, there was no sign of what was about to go down.
Emily, 18, baby-faced, had flown from Perth less than 24 hours earlier. She had been sitting on the street since 4am, not that you'd know it. She beamed, radiant and uber smiley. She had spent the day giggling over memes and twitter "shit posts" with some girls she had met that morning on the street, making sure her thick blonde hair was in good measure while battling Randwick's random wind gusts. Throughout the morning, people waiting alongside her complimented her impressive Lana del Rey-esque eyeliner technique, a signature beauty stamp. She giggled from embarrassment and hugged each person post compliment, while continuing to discuss end goals for the event they were all here for. "Do you reckon he'll even see me? I would have totally worn heels just for the height," Emily said with laughter.
By mid-afternoon, the number of people had easily trebled. The street was closed to traffic. Cafés, bars (and that really good taco place) were reeling under the unexpected onslaught. Perplexed staff deliver their 900th-odd soy flat white of the day. Outside, around 500 people had gathered, cemented behind a velvet rope. No full bladder or empty stomach was about to move them, not after a 12-hour wait.
For Randwick, which by no means is quiet and suburban – this was loud. Outrageously loud. The number of people condensed into this tiny street made it a claustrophobic level of full. Talking to the person, even right beside you, was becoming harder and harder, louder and louder.
Then it began. One by one, led by security, camera people and casually dressed press folk made their way into their designated sections. Lights were set up, MTV presenters began working on their sound bites and celebrities only known to Aussies started walking the carpet ahead of the 5pm kick off. The air was thick with buzz. We waited. And waited some more.
At 6:15, there was a commotion.
"OH MY GOD HE JUST POSTED A STORY, SHIT HE'S ON HIS WAY."
This was it. More than 12 hours of waiting on the windy street for this. I watched, absorbing the emotions in play ahead of "the first glimpse". A sea of vinyl, books, shirts and art – some gifts for him, some items in search of his penmanship, yearning for it – held aloft.
'People thinking we're being crazy or acting like we know him. Being dramatic is just part of the fun.'
"If he's wearing make-up and looks flawless again like he did at the Korean premiere I will literally jump off a cliff," said a girl close by; "I'm literally shaking like I'm going to shit myself I'm that nervous," said another. And my personal favorite: "I would literally let him step on my face if I could."
An audible hush fell as a black Mercedes van with tinted windows pulled up, a silence, then the first scream confirming it was him. Out stepped a figure donned head-to-toe in electric blue, a sharp contrast with the red carpet. The atmosphere shifted up another level. (The hype and tension focused on this one person was on a level I never expected. The overall pitch and volume of the screams I experienced that day was something I will never forget.) Amid a blinding sea of cameras flashes, the hundreds-strong crowd pushed forward for a better glimpse, and a swarm of security and Netflix staff pushed back in the interests of safety. An entirely separate mob of security surrounded the electric-blue star of The King.
Grinning to his fans while tucking in his curls behind his ears, he acknowledged his "loyal subjects" one by one while signing what seemed like 3 million artefacts plastered with his own face. It was sight both intense and strangely wholesome. Bemused security guards watched over the manic barely-controlled mess. A sea of phones tracked his progress. There were screams and questions yelled in hopes of a "break the internet" worthy response.
"Timmy what's your favorite Nicky Minaj song!" He glanced up whilst signing pictures and laughed, exuberantly yelling back "Romans Revenge". More screams.
The appeal was obvious, remarkable and came in the form of a half-American, half-French twentysomething dreamboat called Timothée Chalamet, a true Hollywood PR godsend. His rise has been swift. As a teenager he acted off-Broadway, had a small part in the TV drama Homeland, but "blew up" playing the protagonist in Luca Guadagnino's 2017 queer romantic drama Call Me By Your Name. The role earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, making him at 23, the youngest Best Actor nominee since 1939. Since then, he has been everywhere, playing a teen struggling with drug addiction in Beautiful Boy (2018), Henry V in The King (2019) and Laurie in Greta Gerwig's Little Women (2019).
He says he's ready for time off but in 2020 he was due to make his West End theatre debut in April in 4000 Miles alongside British acting doyen Dame Eileen Atkins (until COVID-19 derailed the run). He will return to the screen, naked in a bath, in Wes Anderson's ensemble drama The French Dispatch, now slated for release in October, take the lead role in a new adaptation of Frank Herbert's sci-fi classic Dune in December and is also down to play Bob Dylan in an upcoming biopic. Even COVID-19 can't completely halt the Timmy train. When Woody Allen's A Rainy Day in New York, released in July 2019, topped the world-wide box office in early May, The Guardian put it down to the film's posters being "essentially a Timothée Chalamet fashion shoot".
I HAD planted myself in front of Randwick's Ritz cinema at 8:45 on the morning of the Sydney premiere of Netflix's The King. It was a labour of love for a dear friend (who had not gone 10 minutes without bringing up the event over the previous two weeks), but also inquisitiveness. Unlike most millennials, I had somehow skipped the intense One Direction and/or Justin Bieber fangirl phase in adolescence (not too mad about it either). I grew up simply observing, while failing to understand, as every other girl around me obsessed over every tiny detail of their dream boy's life.
Here I was again, observing. Alas, nothing had changed and I was left doing the exact same thing, on a grander scale. While I didn't have much business being there (a fan of some of his work but not so much as to wait half a day on the street for a glimpse of him), just this once, I decided to throw myself into the world of the crazed and dedicated for a day. The screams, the merch – I was ready for it all.
Chalamet, or "Chalabae" as his fans know him, is textbook celebrity boy crush material and that charisma was all on display at the premiere. His fandom is primarily made up of girls in their late teens and early twenties, and I was one of them for the day. I stood shoulder to shoulder with every major Timmy fan account from every social media platform, as they documented every emotion and sentiment to their audiences. Fandoms had always intrigued me. I'm sure, this was in part due to my lack of experience of them, a sense of a teenage rite of passage missed.
That said, when I signed up to hang out behind the velvet rope at this premiere at an indie cinema in the suburbs, I did not anticipate the sheer number of "Timmy girls" who would also turn up to exuberantly express their undying love for him. The police presence (I mean, roadblocks in Randwick), Netflix executives and media were already a lot to absorb, then add in the hundreds upon hundreds of fans, in the street, on balconies, it was dumbfounding.
Not everyone was a fan of the mayhem that day. Sitting at a footpath cafe table was an old guy named Paul, in a pale lemon shirt with a fedora on his head, vigorously rustling his Telegraph newspaper as he drank his morning coffee. In his early seventies and a Randwick local of more than 30 years, he was disgruntled at the disruption to his daily routine.
"When is all this over?" he asked. It was 2pm. I grinned and replied: "Sir, this thing hasn't even started yet". After hours spent listening to the Timmy fandom express their undying love, a contrarian voice was welcome. If not Timmy, who would Paul have turned up for in his time? "Sinatra but this person isn't him, so it doesn't warrant the ruckus," he replied. "I just think that they're investing too much energy and effort into this man."
So, if this event had been about Sinatra, or the Beatles, and Paul was 18 years old, how would he have behaved. I was pretty sure fan culture was just as hysterical then. Paul was having none of it. "This person is just an actor, not even a huge one and people are bloody worshipping him. It must be all about the looks for them." he said, staring into the commotion, completely bewildered.
While yes, looks have evidently played an enormous role within Timmy's fandom, fans insisted they were also interested in his work and the roles he had portrayed. Here they were, looking and sounding like something out of the 2011 One Direction era, yet waiting for the premiere of an Elizabethan film based on a King Henry V storyline.
FAN groups are certainly nothing new. In the 1840s, classical pianist Franz Listz had fans swooning and screaming in the concert halls across Europe; in the 1960s, Beatlemania spawned the first major fan base with global outreach, a phenomenon that had a lasting impact on popular culture. Fan culture is more than tweets, t-shirts and sticking concert tickets onto your Justin Bieber mood board (don't be fooled, these are still imperative). Fan culture has always encouraged self-expression motivated through participatory activities that relate to the interests of those involved.
A single Timothée Chalamet Google search will lead you to untold Tumblr accounts, Instagram accounts featuring "Chalamet as a work of art", Etsy pages selling handmade merch and a parallel universe of questionable fan fiction (emphasis on fiction). It's easy to see how, through connection to a fan culture with a shared common interest, you could express your art and feel less alone.
Timmy is a PR godsend – beautiful, wholesome, talented and young [but] did Sydney's Netflix premiere of The King mobilise Timmy fans as marketing tools via free merch and VIP passes?
When someone struggles with a sense of not belonging it can lead to depression. Clinical psychologist Dr Simone Navarro said adolescents can eliminate feelings of lacking self-worth and low self-esteem through creative outlets via fandoms.
"By finding groups that share common interests, [it] can give someone a better sense of purpose and aids their belief in people caring about them. People who have found their 'tribe' are able to form that human connection that was missing and therefore, they have someone to discuss their passions about".
It's only when it leads to obsessive behaviours that it becomes problematic, Navarro said, citing Celebrity Worship Syndrome, a recognised medical condition that goes way past being star struck. People with this condition tend to utilise a celebrity in order to replace the focus on their own lives. As a result, the person becomes overly involved in a stranger's life which leads to obsessive tendencies such as stalking.
Navarro warned against getting too invested, that fans should maintain interests and activities outside the fandom. "So long as they are being monitored and they're happy then fan sub-cultures are great for mental health in younger people" she said.
"You can generally tell when something isn't right.They tend to stop engaging in everyday activities, the individual may become withdrawn and may also begin to lose touch with reality. These things can generally be noticed because people displaying these characteristics stop participating in the real world and more within a made up and ideal [one]. They tend to forget all their real connections with people and their fantasy has now become their whole world".
I thought back to my day with the Timmy fandom, of how so many people resilient enough to wait on a gusty street for a glimpse of a man, with no guarantee of any sort of personal interaction. People had booked flights, taken leave and spent money to stand on that street for 12 hours to see a famous person at a distance. Everything had been executed based on a plan. Was that getting too desperate? Were they doing all of this for their social content?
In the 1960s and 1970s, everything was more impulsive in a live-in-the-moment type of way. Less livestreams and more live experiences. The Beatles left a lifelong legacy, the same can be said about their fan base which has only grown over generations. Today's fanbases don't seem to have the same impact and longevity, which begs the question, is fandom past it? Is it now a marketing concept to be controlled and exploited via PR and marketing? Timmy is a PR godsend – beautiful, wholesome, talented and young. Did Sydney's Netflix premiere of The King mobilise Timmy fans as marketing tools via free Netflix merch and VIP passes into the screening?
When did this all suddenly get less wholesome?
"Here you go, I knew we had some on us somewhere"
"Oh, you sure? Thank you so, so much" said a distressed Emily to the fellow Timmy girl who handed her a lifesaving face wipe.
While attempting to strategically even out a smudge on one eye, a passerby had shoulder charged Emily causing her to stab herself in the eye with her eyeliner pen. Leading to a black splattering that stained her face, shirt and precious Timmy memorabilia. Distraught and embarrassed, Emily had started packing her things to go home to Perth less than hour before Chalamet's arrival.
Undeniably, my heart hurt for her a little. She was the first person I met that morning. She could sense I didn't really belong and after explaining my expedition into fandom, she was fully supportive. "Umm, that is brilliant. I would love to read it when it's done! This isn't my first celebrity stake out so just give me a yell if you need anything" Emily had said with a grin. She was sweet, warm and understanding towards my uncontrollable AM yawns while she was chatting to me.
Her mission, in flying all the way from Perth, was to meet Timmy and give him a hand-painted portrait of her favourite scene from Call Me By Your Name [CMBYN]. A scene where he was lying in a field with his male love interest – a gorgeous ode I thought.
She explained she only really had two good mates and she was seeing a lot less of them now. Through the fandom, she had become friends with other Timmy girls and it was really nice to have them round when she felt a bit shitty. "It's cool because we're actually friends now, so we don't only just talk about Timmy-related stuff. We vent about our life problems too now.
"It's so weird. It started off with One Direction. Then, I watched Timmy in CMBYN and honestly, the rest is history. So weird."
"He just seems sweet and wholesome and put together, and like we just tend to get a bit too dramatic at times and most people thinking we're being crazy or acting like we know him. Being dramatic is just part of the fun. Every time he does an interview, most of us can't help but yell 'yaaaaas' or saying something stupid like 'daddy'. It's just for the lols," she said smiling.
Fast forward to now, Emily had finally been convinced by her fellow Timmy girls to stay. She had flown interstate, been there since 4am and the surrounding friends had helped her rub away her blackened tears and coaxed and comforted her back to her excited self. Finally, less than 10 metres away, Timmy was in clear view doing his press interviews on the red carpet.
That's when they realised.
"No, no, no, no, noooooo PLEASE"
"You have got to be joking"
With less than 15 minutes until the film screening, Chalamet began slowly making his way towards the theatre entrance. Gripping her painting in silence, Emily simply watched and hoped he would turn towards her section (the first section to be set up, full of fans there since early morning). It slowly dawned upon Emily that she might have to board her flight home still gripping the painting she carried across a continent.
Given her travels, the eyeliner incident and overall niceness, the majority of the group had been rooting for her to meet him. As we continued to stand, wait and scream (myself included), the mood turned, screams morphed to yells and I wasn't so sure they were being nice about it anymore.
Then Timmy turned back, it had suddenly dawned upon him that he had maybe forgotten the fans who had been there since the crack of dawn for him. He half ran towards our section and the barricade erupted with joy. In between getting my ribs crushed, I looked up to see Chalamet holding Emily in a longer than normal embrace. She didn't scream or yell, instead she spoke to him in an almost conversational tone, and he looked at her and spoke right back. His eyes lit up when she offered her canvas to him.
"Oh my gosh, wow, thank you. I'm so sorry you had to fly over and wait so long. Thank you again," he said to her in an empathetic tone. For Emily the day was suddenly completely and utterly worth it, finally meeting this person she had so desperately wanted to connect it.
Having witnessed that moment, I saw nothing forged or marketed. Nothing at all.
* Podcast by Nason Pybus, Emma Turner, Kaitlyn William Hardy and Jolene Jeffrey, from audio via Blackboard Collaborate.