Call Me by Your Name: Are Elio and Oliver Based on Real People?

In Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Call Me by Your Name,’ Timothee Chalamet plays the role of 17-year-old Elio, whose life is changed in the course of one summer. And it begins with the arrival of Oliver, a student of Elio’s father. In the beginning, there is some caution on both sides, but slowly, the romance develops, and they fall in love even though they both know that by the end of the summer, they may have to bid goodbye to each other.

The film explores Elio and Oliver’s story through a romantic gaze of a breezy, sun-kissed summer in Italy, where they laze by the river and hang out in Elio’s family’s orchard. Interestingly, the scene of enjoying a holiday in a company Italian villa laid the foundation for the story. SPOILERS AHEAD

Elio and Oliver’s Fictional Story was Completely Unintentional

‘Call Me by Your Name’ is based on the book of the same name by Andre Aciman. The story is entirely fictional, with the characters of Elio and Oliver coming out of Aciman’s imagination. However, when it came to writing the story, the characters weren’t what the author was thinking about. In fact, at the time, Aciman had been working on another novel, which was much more personal to him. Even though he had a deadline by which he needed to submit the novel, the author found himself drifting to an imaginary Italian villa where he could spend a summer lazily with his friends and family. The lure of this idea got Aciman to start writing, and before he knew it, Elio’s character had already formed in his mind.

The story of a young romance is what Aciman was going for, but in the beginning, he started with the story of a boy and a girl. It didn’t take long for him to realize that what he was writing had already been done to death. The story needed some conflict, something that would give his protagonist a personal challenge that could emerge as a lifetime journey. So, the story about a boy and a girl changed into a story about a boy falling in love with another boy. Once Oliver’s character entered the picture, everything made sense in the story.

Even when he started writing it, Aciman knew that Elio and Oliver were not meant to end up together. At one point, he considered killing Oliver but thought better of it. Another thing that Aciman was intent on was not to create an outside villain for Oliver and Elio. He didn’t want to throw in an unaccepting family or a bunch of homophobes who would terrorize the couple for being in love. Even though the story is set in the 80s and Aciman is entirely aware of the challenges that the LGBTQ+ community had been facing in that decade, he didn’t want to infuse his story with any sort of violence or malevolence. Rather, he wanted to give his readers “two people who can be perfectly happy and live satisfied and in love.” The fate of their relationship would rest on their hands alone, not in some outside force.

The Actors Brought Their Own Spin to the Characters

When the time came to adapt the book for the screen, Luca Guadagnino handpicked Chalamet and Hammer for the roles. No one else was considered. A few weeks before the commencement of filming, the actors were introduced to each other at Guadagnino’s home in Italy (somewhat like the villa we see in the movie). The duo immediately clicked, and their chemistry set the tone for the film. Because the film was mostly shot chronologically, it gave the actors time to develop their characters with the story and channel their feelings in real-time.

For Chalamet, the book was a great resource because it was told entirely from Elio’s perspective. There is a lot of inner monologue in the book that we don’t see in the movie, and knowing what was going on inside Elio’s head informed Chalamet’s performance. He also honed his piano skills and learned Italian to get into the skin of the character. For Hammer, on the other hand, things were not so easy. Because the book is limited to Elio’s perspective, the actor had to dig deep into subtext and other indirect hints to bring Oliver’s feelings to the surface.

Guadagnino’s collaborative process gave him the freedom to try out new things and bring a different side of the character, something that the audience didn’t get to see in the book. The director also allowed him to make a few adjustments along the way. In this manner, Hammer was able to bring his own spin to the character. The chemistry between him and Chalamet also helped things along and made the two fictional characters believable and relatable to the audience.

Read More: Call Me by Your Name: Where Was the 2017 Movie Filmed?