The actress best known for dropping F-bombs in ''Kick-Ass'' takes a walk on the freaky side with her first lead role, in the new ''Carrie'' (out Oct. 18); amid buckets of blood, EW talked to her on set last summer

By Keith Staskiewicz
October 11, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT
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”I’m not actually supposed to be seeing this.”

Chloë Grace Moretz is shooting Carrie in Toronto, and she has just snuck onto the set for the Ewen High School gymnasium. The space is a perfect re-creation of every waxed-hardwood gym in Suburbia, USA. And, of course, it will be the site of the famous psychic rampage in which bullied Carrie turns prom night into a nightmarish conflagration of death and mayhem. But right now the place is empty except for Moretz, her ever-present mom, a few crew members, and one big bucket of pig’s blood. On stage, a bewigged stand-in is waiting to be doused in syrupy synthetic gore, and the crew is counting down: ”In three…two…one…” This is exactly what Moretz came for. ”I need to see what I’m getting myself into.”

In a few weeks, it’ll be her up there taking the grisly shower. Since they will be able to film only three or four takes before the fake blood stains Moretz’s hair, director Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry) has been obsessing over getting the shot right. She’s tested out dozens of different angles, heights, and fake-blood consistencies, all of which she shows EW on her iPad. Peirce barred Moretz from seeing any of the tests, but the young actress has used our interview as an excuse to disobey orders.

When it comes to bad behavior, that’s about all you’ll get out of Moretz. She has engaged in plenty of juvenile delinquency (not to mention murder) in films like Kick-Ass and Let Me In, but in real life the only trait she shares with her characters is their ironclad self-possession. Moretz, 16, has been acting in films for nearly two-thirds of her life, including ones by directors as prominent as Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton. She comes off more as an old pro than a child star. ”I’m not a rebellious teen,” she says. ”Rebellion for me is staying out 30 minutes past my curfew. This is my life, so why would I want to rebel against it?”

Cracking Carrie
Moretz’s new movie is a milestone: her first headlining role. Based on Stephen King’s debut novel about a telekinetic teen outcast with an abusive Christian fundamentalist mother, the R-rated Carrie offers the actress a chance to make an iconic character her own, but without drowning her in expectations. (The original 1976 film starred Sissy Spacek.) ”I think it’s the perfect project for me to do my first lead role,” she says. ”It isn’t ‘Chloë’s movie,’ it’s Carrie. It takes some of the heat off of me, because people will be asking, ‘What will the new Carrie be like?’ and not just ‘What can Chloë do?”’

Moretz really wanted the part. To prepare, she’d lock herself in her closet to practice her lines. (It was bigger than the ascetic prison under the stairs that Carrie’s mom forces her into, but still.) And she auditioned for eight hours before Peirce finally offered her the role. ”When I met her I said, ‘Wow, I think you’re on the precipice,”’ says the director. ”This is where she had to make that transition [into more grown-up roles], and I felt that she could.” Part of that process was getting Moretz to embrace her adolescent impulses. ”I said, ‘Chloë, you’re too nice,”’ Peirce recalls. ”’You need to have a teenage rebellion — you need to move out of your house, and you need to freak out on your mom.”’

That’s a tall order. Unlike Carrie, whose mother (played by Julianne Moore) puts her through a gauntlet of emotional and physical traumas, Moretz is tighter with her mom than she is with anyone else in the world. ”Our relationship is insanely close,” she says. ”It’s almost symbiotic.” And while young celebrities are usually chafing at industry demands at this point, Moretz is laser-focused on her career. ”I tease her a lot and call her a child and stuff,” says Moore, who is about to film a particularly violent scene and has a junk drawer’s worth of sharp objects sticking out of her chest. ”But she’s so professional. She seems to know exactly what she wants, which is rare.”

Avoiding The Curse
In terms of occupational hazards, child stardom is about as safe as steelworking or fishing the Bering Sea. From Judy Garland to Lindsay Lohan, we have a history of feeding our talented youth into the machine and watching them get ground up by the gears. But where the downfall of many young actors and singers results from their attempts to fight back against the current of agents, managers, stage parents, and paparazzi forcing them along, Moretz has control over much of her life. She makes most of the decisions pertaining to her career, and she’s often the one representing herself in meetings with Hollywood brass. ”I’m used to it by now,” she says. ”I have no problem talking with those people.”

Walking through the corridors of Ewen High School on the Carrie set is as close as the homeschooled Moretz will get to the average high school experience. And she’s all right with that: ”I go to school things with my friends. I’ve been to proms and homecomings and whatever else. Yeah, that could be my life, but I don’t miss it. My kind of prom is a premiere, and my kind of homecoming is a red carpet.”

Moretz may not have much in common with her tormented character, but Peirce feels sure she made the ideal casting choice. With one caveat: ”She’s been the perfect Carrie, really,” the director says. ”Although I wish she hadn’t seen the blood drop. I tried to convince her not to watch it! I guess it’s probably my fault for trying to get her to rebel.”

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