Roles as precocious dispensers of sage advice in Diary of a Wimpy Kid and (500) Days of Summer helped raise Moretz’s profile, but it was 2010’s Kick-Ass that made her name. The tongue-in-cheek superhero movie centers on a teenage boy who decides to fight crime, but for many, Moretz’s 11-year-old assassin, Hit-Girl, stole the show with her blasé self-assurance, casual ultraviolence and decidedly adult vocabulary. Yet she was also her father’s brainwashed “baby doll,” and you believed her when she pined for cocoa with marshmallows.
“There was something about Hit-Girl and I,” Moretz says of the role, which involved months of physical training and saw her perform many of her own stunts. “We clicked a lot. She was super close to my own self at that age, being a tomboy.”
Kick-Ass was a commercial success, a pop-culture sensation and an instant cult hit. “It turned into this whole thing and it got kinda crazy,” Moretz recalls. “Kick-Ass put me in the spotlight. After that, we were like, ‘Okay, well, where are we going to go next?’ ”
Turns out: right to the top. Her starring role in Let Me In confirmed her ability to play ambiguous roles, at once monster and victim. And before long, Moretz found herself working with the cream of Hollywood directors, playing a girl in 1930s Paris who befriends the young hero of Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese. Though the film isn’t without moments of peril and melancholy, this was the closest Moretz had come in a long time to playing cute. “We read that Martin Scorsese was making a movie with young kids, and we thought, ‘The last movie he made with a kid was Taxi Driver, so this is probably not going to be the lightest movie ever,’ ” she recalls. “Then we got the script and were like, ‘Oh! It’s a kids’ movie.’ But any chance to work with Scorsese is a chance I’ll take.”
With characteristic precocity, Moretz segued into teenage roles with sensual undertones, appearing as a surly adolescent in Dark Shadows, Tim Burton’s ironic update of the supernatural 1970s soap. With her drawling delivery, psychedelic grooving and sardonic sense of humor, Moretz’s character was a knowing foil to Johnny Depp’s anachronistically proper vampire. She was, predictably, happy to play up in age. “Usually it’s older people playing younger, but that’s not my kind of feeling at all,” she says. “When I’m 20, I don’t want to be playing 17!”