"Did I just get stung by a bee?" Chloë Grace Moretz asked.
She examined a fresh red welt on her hand, and then pressed her cool glass of lemonade against the spot.
"Ow," she said with a sigh. "It's hot."
There had been little fanfare as the insect buzzed around her plate — no typical teenage histrionics, no shriek-and-run. But Moretz rarely betrays her age. At 17, she's been acting in films for more than half her life. This year, she starred in an off-Broadway play and appears in three films — two of which hit theaters this fall — and yet considers herself less busy than usual.
"Usually," she said, "I'm filming movies simultaneously with press tours."
Right now, she's in promotional mode. In August, there was "If I Stay" — an adaptation of a bestselling young adult novel in which the actress had her first romantic leading role. This month comes "The Equalizer," in which her part is far less substantial but drastically different: Equipped with tiny skirts and colorful wigs, she's a prostitute Denzel Washington's undercover commando seeks to protect from abusive pimps. On Oct. 24, she'll be seen playing her age again in "Laggies" as a high school student who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a twentysomething slacker (Keira Knightley).
"On paper, I think I'm a lot like my character [in 'Laggies']. She's very me — dry and [a straight shooter]. I had some of the most fun I've ever had on that movie. But for some reason, I really enjoy the darker projects."
It's clear that Moretz is trying to establish her versatility. She first made an impression on moviegoers in the "Kick-Ass" franchise as a foul-mouthed, vigilante teenage superhero — the kind of character that's in her wheelhouse, she admits.
"I think I'm good at doing a hard character — really aggressive or nonchalant — that's easy for me," she said. "But I prefer the darker roles — things that are really messed up. My family is really normal, and I have a great life, so I feel that I need to experience these emotions that I'd never otherwise be able to experience."
For a child actor, Moretz's family life appears to be surprisingly stable. She lives with her mother, Teri, and one of her four brothers, 27-year-old Trevor, serves as her acting coach. He stays with her on-set and will text her in between takes with suggestions. He also accompanied her to an interview on a recent summer afternoon, cautioning her to sit with her back to the sidewalk in case paparazzi showed up.
Her school life is a bit less average. Her friends — most of whom she met at Beverly Vista, which she attended until age 9 — have all headed to college. Moretz, meanwhile, has decided to wait two years to "see what it's like to be an actor without obligatory school," and then hopes to study cinematography at UCLA or New York University. But she's worried about how kids would react to her on campus.
"I have friends who went to Brown with Emma Watson, and it's sad, because everyone is like, 'Oh, my God, I shared a pencil with her,'" she said. "They act like they don't care, but they actually really do. It's kind of a curse."
Moretz spends a lot of time fretting about whom she can trust. She finds she has to defend against rumors "that I'm slutty or something like that" and frequently skips the party scene. When she's not dolled up for photo shoots or the red carpet, she opts for a tomboyish look — usually T-shirts and jeans.
"People invite you and try to get you to do things, but I'm an incredibly strong-willed person," she said. "If I feel like anyone is trying to make me do something, I'm like, 'You need to get out of my face right now.' I'm very protective of myself."
Antoine Fuqua, who directed Moretz in "The Equalizer," which opens Sept. 26, was surprised by how self-assured she was. Amy Pascal, the head of Sony Pictures, suggested the actress to the filmmaker, but Fuqua was reluctant because of how young Moretz was.
"But then we did a reading and she was clear about where she felt she was going in her career," he said. "I thought it was a very mature thing to be thoughtful about that — especially with a director who is considering hiring you."