From About a Boy to X-Men, Nicholas Hoult has notched up an impressive number of supporting appearances. Now, with a first leading role in a big budget blockbuster, his name is on everyone’s lips. Al Gordon meets him.
When you start typing a name into Google, and the chap you’re looking for heads the list by the time you’ve hit the fourth letter, you know said chap is hot. Very hot. And that’s exactly what happened as I set about conducting a little basic research into Nicholas Hoult. He’s already been seen in one 2013 release, zombie romance Warm Bodies, while Jack the Giant Slayer hits the screens next week. Add to that his role in the long delayed Mad Max: Fury Road (now in post-production), his recent romantic break-up and his recently-confessed long-term goal of playing James Bond – “give me 15 years” – and it’s clear we’re lucky to get any time with him at all. He’s a busy, as well as popular, man. He’s also a delight, and happy to chat about the pleasures and pitfalls of becoming better known.
Jack the Giant Slayer, based on the classic tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, sees him in the titular role. A former child star (his big break was at 12, as Hugh Grant’s quasi son in the 2002 adaptation of Nick Hornby's About a Boy), he’s also appeared in such recent hits as A Single Man with Colin Firth, whom he now regards as something of a mentor, and X-Men: First Class (on the set of which he met Jennifer Lawrence, the American Oscar winner with whom he had a relationship for two years, although he is now single again) – and he’s shown, too, that he’s just as at home on television, playing manipulative Tony Stonem in the long-running E4 drama series Skins. This, which he took on at the age of 16, while he was at Farnborough Sixth Form College, was the role that helped him make the transition from cute child actor to adult stage and screen professional.
Hollywood’s new superhero was born and raised, unlikely as it sounds, in Berkshire, the son of a piano teacher and British Airways pilot. He’s tall (6ft 3in) and handsome in stature; charming and self-deprecating in nature – and definitely excited about his first lead role; a role demanding as much tolerance of the elements half way up a beanstalk as adapting to potential super stardom.
“We would clamber up there, 50 feet off the ground, and it wasn’t just fans and wind machines but it was like wind cannons,” Hoult explains. “It was blasting and they’d have the rain machines on top of that. You couldn’t hear anything because of everything going on, so you would have someone screaming over a microphone and you couldn’t open your eyes because the water would smash you in the face so hard. I think the main note I got was ‘try to keep your eyes open and scream your line’!”
Going up in the world is clearly something Hoult is becoming accustomed to, but will this be the film that launches him into the Hollywood A-list? “I don’t know,” he says, reflectively. “You never want to count your eggs before they’re hatched. The most important thing I have learned is to enjoy the jobs, and I have great memories from actual filming and enjoy that part of it because once there are reviews and the box office and all those things, they are out of your control. So you kind of just have to step back from that and not worry about it. And yes, just enjoy the bits that you can be part of.”
Hoult’s refreshing humility could be down to having to accustom himself to stardom before he was even a teenager, but he doesn’t see himself as being very famous – “I can walk down the street and no one really bothers me” [I rather suspect that’s about to change…] – but it’s also a career that has had many more ups than downs. Is this because he’s always made the right choices?
“Well, there is no strategy to it,” Hoult says. “I have turned stuff down, but that’s the stuff that I read and was like, either I don’t like this character or I don’t understand it. Or I don’t want to see this film. Or I don’t think that it’s going to work.”
As well as steadily making both big and small screens his own, Hoult is no stranger to treading the boards. “I would go back to the stage,” he says. “I did a play a few years ago and I had the best time doing it. To have that, to be able to make people laugh in the room, and get that instant feedback and also, there’s no proof; there’s no evidence.”
No evidence? He laughs: “There are a few reviews but that’s it. I was speaking about that to a friend of mine last night. He said that as far as he’s concerned, the work he has done on the stage is the best work he has ever done. Well, there’s no proof!”
Hoult will soon be returning to X-Men, for the filming of X-Men: Days of Future Past. What can he tell us about it? “I have no idea but the story sounds fantastic, and it will be nice to have Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman back – that makes it feel very much like an X-Men film to me. Before it was all with us younger cast, it felt different. But to have the originals back – those were the guys that I grew up watching in the X-Men films. That’s very exciting and Bryan (Singer) seems really pumped up about the story and what I am going to be doing in it, so I am looking forward to it…”
Jack the Giant Slayer is in cinemas from 22 March