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A taco joint in Los Angeles’s Westfield Century City mall seems like a weird place to meet Chloë Grace Moretz, the super-accomplished actress who worked with Martin Scorsese when she was 13 years old and recently appeared in an off-Broadway play directed by another Oscar winner, Steven Soderbergh. Chloë, now 17, may be a high school senior, but she’s not your everyday mall rat. Dressed in a black T-shirt, matchstick jeans, and sneakers, she slides into a booth and explains her choice of venue: “The paparazzi can’t come in here.” Translation: We can stuff our faces with guacamole in peace.

Chloë is a rare breed in Hollywood: a child actress who doesn’t usually play a typical child. “I broke out with R-rated movies,” she says. In Kick-Ass she starred as a vigilante in a purple wig and was probably one of the youngest people in recent cinematic history to shout such strong expletives. In Let Me In she played a vampire feeding on whoever got in her way. And in 2013′s remake of the bloody classic Carrie she perfectly personified rage fueled by bottled-up teenage angst. Most child actors come with an expiration date; it’s not a question of how puberty (or bad behavior) will wreck their careers but when. Yet no one ever worried about Chloë—she’s always been more Jodie Foster than Lindsay Lohan.

That has helped ease her transition as both an actress and a promising fashion icon. Her conundrum was not whether she’d keep working but rather what kind of actress she wanted to be. As it happens, she’s a busy one, taking on widely varied roles. Within the last year she had a cameo in Muppets Most Wanted, played a teenage prostitute opposite Denzel Washington in The Equalizer (out this month), appeared as a musical prodigy struggling with loss in If I Stay, and became a bored high schooler in the low-budget indie Laggies. Chloë estimates she was in her home base of Los Angeles for about three weeks in 2013. Crunching a tortilla chip, she says with a laugh, “I was never there.”

It’s been an odd and awesome ride from her childhood in Cartersville, Georgia, to the Cannes Film Festival this past May, where Chloë premiered yet another film, a Hollywood drama costarring Kristen Stewart called Clouds of Sils Maria. She was five years old when her family moved to New York to support her second-eldest brother Trevor’s acting career. Fate, as we know, has a way of stepping in. When Chloë caught the bug and started working steadily, Trevor became her coach and mentor. Particularly helpful, since Chloë’s early success was cool everywhere but on the playground. “People were so mean to me,” she says. “I hated it. They didn’t understand. ‘Why are you leaving all the time?’” And when one teacher told her mother that her daughter “smiled too much,” Mom pulled her out of school and opted for tutors. It seems the emotional arc in Carrie hit closer to home than expected. Minus the fiery destruction, of course.

The red carpet on the Côte d’Azur may be her answer to the prom, but Chloë is determined to have a typical teenage existence. She tweets about custom Nikes and cites her mother as a fashion inspiration. She digs Chance the Rapper. She wears Chanel nail polish when we meet for fish tacos, but she’s slightly embarrassed about the time that’s passed since her last manicure. She went through a stage where she wore only Nirvana T-shirts. “I’m into this minimalist phase,” she says of her style right now. “I keep in the palette of black, gray, white, nude.” She looks at style.com for ideas, but her mom still closely monitors her spending. Piggy bankbusting designer clothes are off-limits, but PlayStation 4 games like Killzone and Assassin’s Creed are OK. “Watch Dogs is supersick,” Chloë says. When asked if she’s splurged on anything recently, the best she can come up with is shoes for SoulCycle. What about the black quilted purse she’s clutching today? It was a gift from the House of Chanel, naturally.

Chloë has a passport full of stamps but still no driver’s license, which can be problematic: More than once she’s had to Google herself on her iPhone so the will-call attendant at a sporting event could hand over the tickets she’d bought online. The star laughs as she tells this story, her Emerald City-green eyes going wide-screen: “I’m like, ‘This might sound really weird, but can I just show you a picture of myself?’ It works, surprisingly.” It’s hard to believe anyone says no anymore. But she insists: “My mom tells me no all the time! I tried to go to this pool party thing last night with 10 friends, and she was like, ‘No! You slept over at your friend’s last night—you need to stay home.’” Chloë drew on that agita for If I Stay, the story of a girl in a coma who has to decide whether her life is worth living. What attracted her to the project wasn’t the story’s supernatural twist but rather the very honest depiction of teenage life. “Real teenagers are not these shiny, pretty, happy people,” Chloë says. “Real teenagers fall in love, they get intimate. Some of them drink and some of them smoke. And kids push boundaries, and parents aren’t always amazing.”


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