Five years after his departure from Skins, Nicholas Hoult has emerged as one of Hollywood’s most exciting young actors. Susan Griffin catches up with the rising star
FAKE tanning isn’t a topic you expect to be discussing with Nicholas Hoult, and yet here he is happily expounding on the pitfalls of a spray tan.
“Me, Colin (Firth) and Matthew (Goode) were staying in the same hotel and we had to apologise because we’d wake up and there would be brown sheets,” says Hoult, recalling the beauty treatment he and his co-stars underwent while shooting Tom Ford’s 2009’s stylish drama A Single Man.
No, he didn’t wear the usual paper pants for the procedure but apparently they did use Ben Stiller’s tanner – “so I felt really honoured”, he says, smiling.
It’s 11 years since Hoult appeared alongside Hugh Grant and Toni Collette as a young boy with a chronically depressed mother in About A Boy.
Now, aged 23, he’s one of the country’s most exciting exports, having starred as Eusebios in Clash Of The Titans and Hank McCoy, otherwise known as Beast, in the X-Men prequel X-Men: First Class.
Next is the 3D adventure Jack The Giant Slayer in which Hoult plays the title character.
Based on the fairytale Jack And The Beanstalk, it’s an all-action caper about an age-old war that’s reignited when the young farmhand Jack unwittingly opens the gateway to a fearsome land of giants.
“I remember the story from the pantomime version but it’s changed a lot in this,” says Hoult, who cuts a tall, slim figure in his jeans, jumper and leather jacket.
He’s also wearing a sports cap that he later removes to reveal a shaved head for his role in the new Mad Max movie.
“I feel exposed but I kind of like it because I feel free as well,” he says of his shorn look.
At least he has the features to pull it off. As his ex, the Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence (the pair met on the set of X-Men: First Class and dated for two years before splitting recently) remarked, Hoult has no idea how good-looking he is.
“It was very nice for that person to think that – their opinion only though,” he says, clearly embarrassed.
Hoult describes Jack as a have-a-go hero. “He feels useless but bad things happen to him even when he’s trying to do good,” he explains.
“Throughout the story he faces some of his fears and then manages to save the day.”
And Hoult’s own fears? “Spiders,” he says immediately. “I’d scream and hide but I have to pretend I’m not terrified because I’m a guy,” he admits laughing.
He’s not a fan of heights either, which was both a help and a hindrance during the shoot.
While much of the action was filmed against a green screen, a huge chunk of the magic beanstalk was built for the actors, including Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci, to climb.
“I did some climbing practice but my character’s not supposed to be a great climber and he’s scared of heights, so I didn’t have to look like an action hero,” says Hoult, who grins like a big kid when recalling the giant-sized sets.“It was like being in The Borrowers,” he says.
He also learned to ride a horse, but wasn’t what you’d call a natural in the saddle . . .
“Not at all,” he says. “And it was painful, but then the wardrobe lady got me a pair of jodhpurs to wear underneath my costume.”
Acclaimed filmmaker Bryan Singer, who also directed The Usual Suspects and the original X-Men movie back in 2000, helms the film.
“It’s fun working with him because he’s a very intelligent guy and knows how to tell a good story,” says Hoult, who reveals Singer has been waiting years for technology to reach a point where he could make the movie he’d envisioned.
This included bringing the giants to life through motion capture. “There’s a really sinister tone to the giants because they’re being played by real actors, like Bill Nighy,” says Hoult. “They’re very human, fast and intelligent and that kind of changes the ball-game.”
Hoult first met Singer at the read-through for 2011’s X-Men: First Class, which Singer wrote and produced.
“He mentioned he was doing this film but then I was supposed to be making Mad Max,” reveals Hoult. But then Mad Max was delayed, so he could sign up to play Jack.
“It’s stressful,” says Hoult of playing the title role. “Luckily as an actor you’re not holding the whole production together, but I feel the pressure definitely because you’ve still got to try and put in a performance that’s maintained to the high level.”
About A Boy was his big breakthrough but Hoult has been acting since he was eight and, bar a stint at the Sylvia Young Theatre School, learnt his trade on set.
“I’ve got good memories of all the jobs I’ve done because I’ve worked with great people,” he says.
He doesn’t watch any of his movies back, though. “Maybe one day when I’m sitting in a rocking chair, I’ll get the grandkids over and make them watch them all,” he says, laughing again.
While his turn in About A Boy endeared him to millions, it was teen drama Skins that made people sit up and take notice.
The cute schoolboy had grown into a 6ft tall, handsome young man who put in a brilliant performance as the cocky yet charismatic Tony Stonem.
“Reading the script, I thought I was more suited to the role of (nice guy) Sid,” says Hoult. “So when they asked me to audition for Tony, I thought it was a bit of an odd choice. It wasn’t the type of person I was but I eventually got the hang of it and figured out what made him tick.
“That’s one of the exciting things about the jobs, that you get to pretend to be other people and learn through them.”
While Skins turned Hoult into a heart-throb, the shy actor’s never had any interest in courting the limelight.
“There’s something to be said for an actor to not be too well-known as a person, otherwise people aren’t going to see the character you’re playing,” he says.
But given his career’s going stellar, he’ll have to endure the spotlight for a while yet.
There’s the release of post-apocalyptic saga Mad Max: Fury Road for starters.
“To be a part of something of that scale is fantastic,” says Hoult, who co-stars with Tom Hardy playing the character made famous by Mel Gibson.
“It’s fun to just watch Tom because he does something different and he’s very charismatic and entertaining,” he says.
And this year Hoult will reunite with Singer to make X-Men: Days Of Future Past, the follow-up to X-Men: First Class.
There’s little chance of Hoult forgetting his roots in Wokingham, Berkshire, though – because his mates won’t let him.
“They wouldn’t be mates if they didn’t give you a bit of stick occasionally,” he says. “And it’s a good thing because you can’t take any of this too seriously.”
Jack The Giant Slayer is released in cinemas tomorrow