LOS ANGELES (Backstage) - As far as entrances go, it ranks up there with Barbra Streisand’s as Fanny Brice purring “Hello, Gorgeous!”
Hit Girl, the 12-year-old masked vigilante in a purple Clara Bow wig and leather jumpsuit crashes into the villain’s hideout, strikes a menacing pose, and utters the line, “Okay, you guys ... let’s see what you can do now.”
Only she doesn’t say “guys” — she uses one of the most offensive words in the English language, before proceeding to unleash bloody vengeance upon the bad guys. This is how “Kick-Ass,” the new action-comedy about ordinary people striving to be superheroes, introduces Hit Girl, played by Chloe Grace Moretz. Up to this point, the film’s audience has seen her only as her alter ego, hyper-intelligent but sweet Mindy Macready, and has no idea of just what she is capable.
Hollywood, however, seems to be well aware of just how much the 13-year-old Moretz can handle. Though it’s a cliche to talk about child actors as wise beyond their years, Moretz is quickly making a name as the go-to young performer for heady material. After counseling Joseph Gordon-Levitt on love in last year’s “(500) Days of Summer,” she played a world-weary student in the recent “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”
“Kick-Ass,” which opened at No. 1 at the weekend box office with a disappointing $19.8 million, will find her performing stunts and spouting dialogue actors twice her age would blush at. And in the fall, she’ll appear as a hundreds-year-old vampire trapped in the body of a 12-year-old girl in “Let Me In,” the American remake of the Swedish drama “Let the Right One In.” And she recently signed on to star for Martin Scorsese in his historical drama “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”
Moretz already has big fans in her directors and co-stars — including Nicolas Cage, who plays Hit Girl’s warped but loving father, Big Daddy. “I knew she was going to be an enormous star because of how well she performed,” Cage says, adding he gave Moretz a silver starfish necklace when the film wrapped “because real stars are nice people, and that’s what she is.”
Moretz has always been a bit of a performer; the Georgia native can recall at age 4 how her elder brother Trevor would dress her up in various outfits and film her — most memorably as Princess Leia floating in the pool while being attacked by a sea monster, played by the cleaning tube. She began begging her mother to let her go on auditions. “She would say, ‘I don’t know, Chloe; it’s not a business for kids,’” Moretz admits. “She kept asking, ‘Is this really something you want with your heart and soul?’ and I would say yes. I love it.”
After the family relocated to Los Angeles, Moretz was finally allowed to go on auditions. Soon she landed her first role on two episodes of the CBS series “The Guardian.” Roles in “The Amityville Horror” and “The Eye” followed, as did an appearance as Peter Krause’s daughter on ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money.”
But Moretz considers “(500) Days of Summer” her biggest onscreen break. She sounds like an old pro when she says, “I knew the film had Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, and I’d always wanted to work with them and always wanted to do a movie like that.” It only took one audition with the casting director and one with the producers and director for Moretz to land the role.
Not that it was always easy for her. “You’ll get a thousand noes and one yes,” she says of auditioning. “There’s a couple parts that I really wanted badly that I didn’t get. But I tell myself that when a door shuts, another bigger, more beautiful door opens.”
To avoid getting too attached to roles, Moretz says she usually doesn’t read entire scripts until she gets the part. But two years ago, her mother brought her a screenplay and said, “Chloe, it’s what you’ve been wanting.” Moretz had recently seen “Wanted” and longed for an action role in the vein of Angelina Jolie’s Fox. The script was “Kick-Ass,” and Moretz instantly fell in love with the characters.
“I read the script and said, ‘I have to be Hit Girl,’” she recalls. “It was an amazing character and so different from what any other kid has done, aside from my idols: Natalie Portman in ‘The Professional’ and Jodie Foster in ‘Taxi Driver.’”
Moretz put herself on tape for “Kick-Ass” co-writer and director Matthew Vaughn, then tried not to think about it too much. Months later, she was skateboarding in Santa Monica when she got a call that Vaughn was in town and wanted to meet her.
“I was wearing jeans and a pink top and looked really cute, but I thought I had to be a tomboy, so I threw a big jacket on and hid my outfit,” Moretz recalls. “Then Matthew started talking about how Hit Girl is actually a girlie girl, and I said, ‘Oh! Well, this is me!’ I unzipped the jacket, and he saw I was pink and frilly, and he said, ‘That’s Hit Girl!’ From there, we really hit it off.”
Vaughn had thought casting Hit Girl would be his most difficult task, so he almost couldn’t believe his luck when Moretz was only the second girl he saw.
To prepare for the role, Moretz spent two months learning combat training, gymnastics, bow staff, and how to take apart a gun and put it back together. “Even on my days off, I was training from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” she reveals. “Every single day I would wake up, do crunches, pull-ups, push-ups and go do my training, then come home and go running and swimming. Somewhere in there, I would fit in school.” Moretz is homeschooled by her mother, Teri, whom Moretz considers “my best friend for life.”
As for the violence and language the role requires, and which likely hurt ticket sales, Moretz shrugs and says, “It’s a movie. It’s a character — a great character — and a role that challenged me and stretched me as an actor.”
But Vaughn was aware they were in treacherous territory; when he had originally tried to obtain financing for “Kick-Ass,” many studios blanched. “Most of them said they liked the concept but only if it was done in a PG-13 manner, with no Hit Girl,” he reveals.
And though the aforementioned line is in the comic upon which the film is based, he admits it was left out of the original script. It wasn’t until they were filming the scene on set that Vaughn realized the takes weren’t having the right impact. Teri had read the comic and understood the importance of the right word. “She and Chloe agreed that it made sense to shoot one take with the word included,” Vaughn says.
That take ended up in the final film, and it reassured leagues of fanboys worried that it could lose the dark, subversive tone of the graphic novel.