Nicholas Hoult first got the attention of audiences outside his native Britain with a role as young Marcus Brewer in About A Boy. Now he hopes to continue making an impact in America, with his latest film A Single Man, the directorial debut of fashion designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford.
The now 20 year-old actor replied to our rather predictable question of what he's done since his Hollywood breakthrough with the kind of candid, dry wit to be expected from one hailing across the pond.
"Right, okay,"Â Hoult says, "What have I been doing since then? I was at school. I stayed at school since then and so I finished off my education over in England and I did a few films like ‘Wah-Wah’ and ‘The Weather Man’ and worked with Kenneth Branagh on TV in England. I did a TV series called ‘Skins’ which I think they show over here on BBC America.
We asked Hoult if this was the same show that has gotten controversially dubbed as "the sex show"Â.
"The sex show?"Â Nicholas replies, "I kind of don’t describe it as that. It’s more of a young adult [show]. Some people describe it as Dawson’s Creek or The O.C. on speed. Those sorts of things, but it’s a more realistic British version where you’ve got people who are the right age for the characters playing them and some great writing actually as well."Â
"So I did that for a couple of years and then this got sent along,"Â he continues, "I got an audition to go on tape in London. It was the scene in the bar with Colin [Firth], which is a six page dialogue scene. So I read that and sent it off and got an email from Tom saying how much he liked the audition and thought that I was a great Kenny. A week later we pretty much started shooting."Â
"The key thing for us was to have a connection because that’s one of Colin’s lines. ‘One of the few times I’ve felt alive in life is when I’ve managed to have a connection with someone.’"Â Nicholas adds, "So it was key for us to get that but it wasn’t something that we over rehearsed or spoke about too much. We just let it happen and let it be quite natural and Tom was very good at letting that happen as well.
Hoult claims that he had no preconceived notions of being directed by not only a novice filmmaker, but a fashion designer, because he had no idea about Tom Ford's past.
"Well, I was in a fortunate position in that growing up in a small town in England that I wasn’t aware of Tom’s fashion past, to be honest,"Â he says, "So that wasn’t clouding my judgment I don’t think. I just met him and had an understanding of him as a filmmaker without that."Â
"I looked up him afterwards and realized quite what a big deal he is in the fashion industry, but as he explains, it’s a very similar thing, creating a fashion line,"Â Nicholas adds, "You have a vision and an idea and then you have to portray that to other people and all come up with the same end result. So it’s a very similar thing when you’re making a film, where he has a vision and an idea and is very eloquent and great at portraying that idea to other people and getting the best out of people.
In the film, Nicholas plays college student Kenny Potter who sympathizes with his professor George Falconer, played by Colin Firth, who must try to go on with his life after losing his partner in 1962, a time where homosexuality was still considered deviant, criminal behavior in America. We asked the actor whether he interpreted Kenny to be gay himself in the story.
"Do I think he’s gay?"Â Hoult says, "I think that’s debatable either way and people can take from it what they want. I think he’s somebody who’s trying to understand himself and possibly doesn’t know himself if he is or not but he wants to have a connection with George and an understanding of himself and the world surrounding him, yeah."Â
Hoult shared what he believed Kenny's intent was in his bond with George.
"I think he wanted a connection and an understanding,"Â Nicholas believes, "As George says, the few times that he’s really felt alive in life is when he’s had a connection with someone. I think that’s something that we don’t do a lot in life. You kind of feel like you’re connecting with someone but not on a very deep level. I think that’s what he was looking for, an understanding of himself and the world around him that he was growing up in.
"Again, that’s part of someone just trying to find themselves, who he is as well,"Â he adds, "In the film he does have a girlfriend but at the same time he’s not particularly into her and doesn’t have the same intellectual connection with her that he has with George. So I think he’s intrigued in that sense.
A particularly odd highlight involving Nicholas is a scene where Kenny gets naked and jumps into the ocean.
"All the naked stuff was not so much actually doing it at the time,"Â Hoult comments, "It was when they say cut and then that’s the awkward moment, when you’re left as yourself and everyone, the sparks are moving lights around and everyone is resetting the take and you’re still their with your pouch on or whatever, sort of at work and naked. It’s a lot of people’s worst nightmare, but at the same time when you’re in the moment it feels and Tom explains all those scenes quite openly."Â
"I think the ocean scene, when the score comes up over the background, it is quite uplifting and George is living in the present and being spontaneous which is something that he hasn’t done for a long time,"Â he adds, "Kenny is dragging him back into the present, into the now. It was freezing cold though, yeah. I think that we did it three times and then I got ash in my eye and Colin thanked me because we had to stop. It was actually quite exciting. Those are the sort of things in life that a lot of the time I think is the spontaneity we don’t have and the rush of just going to do things like that. So it was actually quite uplifting in a way. Although it was freezing and so once you’ve done it once that’s kind of enough. The first time you run in there and you go, ‘Yeah, that wasn’t as bad as expected,’ and then you come out and it’s freezing and you think, ‘Yeah, no. I don’t need to do that again.’ It was quite late at night and everyone was tired, and so, yeah, I suppose that was quite challenging."Â
Hoult also shared what scenes were the most fun and the most challenging for him.
"My favorite scene to shoot was the scene I auditioned with which was the scene in the bar, sitting down there when I followed Colin’s character to the bar,"Â he says, "That was a great scene just because of watching"Â¦oh, no, I’ve got a new one. There’s quite a lot of them. My favorite shot is the top on Colin right towards the beginning of the film where he’s straightening up his tie and putting on his armor for the day basically. I think that’s probably my favorite shot. I love the stuff with Julianne [Moore] as well. The most challenging bit for me, I’m trying to think. It was all a challenge, I think.
Nicholas also shared with us how he got along with fellow Brit co-star Colin Firth both onscreen and off.
"It was very much like two dry sense of humored British guys making it as unawkward as possible, I suppose, for themselves,"Â Hoult replies, "But Colin is a fantastic actor who is so in the moment when you’re doing a scene with him that he makes it very easy for you. He’s very subtle and he’s just a great man to work with and also very caring about life outside of acting as well and looks out for me."Â
We asked Hoult if he felt it challenging to play an American and learn about the period, which is set in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
"Yeah, it was,"Â Nicholas replies, "I had a fantastic dialect coach called Liz Hammerstein who was great on getting the accent spot on, for the era I think as well. She was very specific but then at the same time everything in the script was just fascinating and it was quite an era in America with the Cuban Missile Crisis taking place. It’s becoming quite popular, someone said to me earlier, with ‘Mad Men’ and all those things. I don’t think it was particularly challenging to do the accent because that’s the something that the second you start acting you can’t be worried about, the accent. That has to come naturally with the character."Â
We also asked how he felt about playing a character that bonds with a gay man during a time where homosexuality was still practically considered a criminal mental disorder in American society.
"You have to be aware of the era and what was taking place,"Â he continues, "Ironically at the same time as we were filming Prop 8 was taking place in California and so that kind of how far we’ve come, that we’ve moved a long way since then but surprisingly not that far at the same time. But that was something I thought about, yeah. I don’t think that Colin’s character is battling with the fact that he’s gay. It’s a love story that would work with an opposite sex couple as well. It’s about love and loss and understanding and hope as well.
Nicholas also shared what he most enjoyed about working on the film.
"Well, I know that Tom had a lot of fun in the editing suite and that’s one of the things that he was quite surprised by in the editing process, that he hadn’t quite expected to be such a part of the movie making process,"Â he says, "I’m sure there will be a lot of interesting stuff. We didn’t know a lot of the stuff that he was going to do. Like the color saturation, we weren’t aware of that whilst we were shooting which is probably a good thing for us as actors, to not be too aware of what’s going on with that."Â
"When I first sat down with Tom that’s when I realized that I thought this could be something quite special because it was such a personal story to him and he’d written such a great screenplay at the beginning,"Â Hoult continues, "Then there was the chance to work with Colin and everyone involved in it was a great opportunity."Â
Hoult also shared with us how he felt when he saw the final cut of the film.
"I’ve seen it in its entirety quite a few times,"Â Nicholas says, "There are a couple of scenes that weren’t in the film that have been taken out. I think most of my stuff is in there and so I’m pretty happy about that. The main thing, as I said earlier, that was a surprise to me was the color saturation. I wasn’t aware of that while we were shooting which is probably a good thing. I would’ve tried to act more colorful or less colorful. So that was maybe the biggest surprise in the edit but also hearing the score over the top because that is really something that helps as an audience with George’s emotions and feelings."Â
"It was great to see it all together because as much as you can really understand in the script to watch other people’s work and to go on the journey with Colin’s character, he does superb in this and it’s a joy to watch that,"Â he adds, "Julianne obviously, I wasn’t around Julianne and Matthew [Goode] were doing their pieces as well so to watch those for the first time was exciting for the first time."Â
Finally, we asked Nicholas where he would be going from here in the world of film.
"What’s next?"Â he replies, "I did a role in the remake of The Clash of Titans which will be out probably next year. It was interesting. It’s only a small part but I wanted to be a part of an epic adventure piece and to learn how they work."Â
"It was exciting to do something where you have a very small part of something that’s so epic,"Â Hoult continues, "It’ll be interesting to see all the CGI stuff because that’s something that I’d never experienced before. So doing that and then for the rest of my birthday, I don’t know. I’ll just walk around and see what happens.