Nicholas Hoult is all grown up. The adorable child who melted cynical Hugh Grant's heart in About A Boy put that childhood role firmly in the rearview mirror when he starred in the controversial BBC teen drama Skins as the manipulative lead character Tony Stonem. He co-stars with Colin Firth and Julianne Moore in A Single Man the new film from fashion designer turned movie director Tom Ford. Based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man deals with grief, loss, desperation and hope, all based around a decidedly unconventional student-teacher relationship and the acting skills of Mr Hoult. Nicholas sat down with Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier in Los Angles, CA to talk chemistry, sexuality and infamous angora sweaters...
Emmanuel Itier: I think the last time most of us saw you was in About A Boy. What’s been happening since then, and how did this film with Tom Ford come about?
Nicholas Hoult: What have I been doing since then? I was at school. I stayed at school since then and I finished my education 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.
EI: Is that the sex show?
NH: I 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, 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. So I did that for a couple years, and then this got sent along. 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 e-mail from Tom saying how much he liked the audition and thought I was a great Kenny. A week later, we pretty much started shooting.
EI: Do you think your character is gay in the movie?
NH: Do I think he’s gay? 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.
EI: Your chemistry with Colin on screen is pretty fantastic. What was the chemistry like on set when the cameras weren’t rolling?
NH: It was very much like two dry-sense-of-humored British guys making it as un-awkward as possible, I suppose, for themselves. 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 he looks out for me. 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.” So it was key for us to get that, but it wasn’t something 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.
EI: What was it about the script or the film that really made you want to do it? Also, were there any scenes that weren’t in the film that you’re looking forward to seeing on the DVD?
NH: I know Tom had a lot of fun in the editing suite, and that’s one of the things 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. We didn’t know a lot of the stuff that he was going to do. When I first sat down with Tom, that’s when I realized 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. Then there was the chance to work with Colin and everyone involved in it. It was a great opportunity.
EI: Have you seen this film in its entirety?
NH: I’ve seen it in its entirety quite a few times. There are a couple scenes that weren’t in the film that have been taken out. I think most of my stuff is in there, so I’m pretty happy about that.
EI: What kind of preconceived notions did you have about this fashion designer-turned-director, and how did those go away when you started working with Tom?
NH: I was in a fortunate position, growing up in a small town in England, that I wasn’t aware of Tom’s fashion past, to be honest, 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. I looked up him afterward and realized what a big deal he is in the fashion industry, but as he explains, it’s a very similar thing, creating a fashion line. 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.
EI: Can you talk about what it was like getting naked and jumping in the ocean in the middle of the night?
NH: It was when they say, “Cut,” then that’s the awkward moment — when you’re left as yourself and they are moving lights around, and everyone is resetting the take and you’re still there with your pouch on or whatever, 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… Tom explains all those scenes quite openly. 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 he hasn’t done for a long time. Kenny is dragging him back into the present, into the now. It was freezing cold, though. I think we did it three times and then I got ash in my eye, and Colin thanked me because we had to stop.
EI: Where was that shot?
NH: The beach scene was filmed in Malibu.
EI: Can you talk about the sweater you’re wearing in the film?
NH: The infamous angora sweater…
EI: Did you keep it?
NH: I didn’t, no.
EI: Who did it?
NH: It was made by a factory in Italy. I think it’s one-of-a-kind, pretty much.
EI: The LA Times said on Sunday that it was woven in England.
NH: Oh, really? I got told Italy, but who knows? I don’t have very fond memories of it, to be quite honest with you. It got quite a lot of attention — more so than me a lot of times, whereby it would go frizzy underneath the lights and they’d hairspray it and slick it back down. The idea behind most of the costume, for myself, was the fact that my character was kind of a guardian angel to George, so I was quite light and glowing.
EI: Was an interesting challenge to play an American and learn about that period?
NH: It was. 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, 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. That has to come naturally with the character.
EI: Can you talk about your favorite scene in the film to shoot, and also the most difficult?
NH: 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. That was a great scene just because of watching… Oh no, I’ve got a new one. There’s quite a lot of them. My favorite shot is on Colin right toward the beginning of the film, where he’s straightening 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.
EI: I would think the swimming scene would’ve been the most challenging because of the cold.
NH: 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 once you’ve done it, that’s kind of enough. The first time you run in there and you go, “Yeah, that wasn’t as bad as expected,” then you come out and it’s freezing and you think, “Yeah, no. I don’t need to do that again.”
EI: So you’re not going to join the Polar Bears or anything like that?
NH: No. It was quite late at night and everyone was tired, so I suppose that was quite challenging.
EI: Was there something unexpected in the film when you got around to seeing it? Did the movie change from what you thought it might be?
NH: There was some stuff. The main thing 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 an audience with George’s emotions and feelings. 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 superbly in this and it’s a joy to watch that. Obviously, I wasn’t around Julianne and Matthew [Goode] doing their pieces, so to watch those for the first time was exciting.
EI: The prejudice of this era wasn’t really a part of this film, which I liked. It’s just in the background and we know it existed. Did that inform how you played this character, knowing that it’s there, even though he doesn’t encounter that in the film?
NH: You have to be aware of the era and what was taking place. Ironically, at the same time as we were filming, Prop 8 was taking place in California, so that’s 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. That was something I thought about. I don’t think 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.
EI: What would you say that your character wanted from George?
NH: I think he wanted a connection and an understanding. 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.
EI: But wasn’t Kenny looking at George in a sexual, amorous way and not someone who just wanted to be friends?
NH: Again, that’s part of someone just trying to find who he is as well. 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.
EI: What’s next for you?
NH: 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. It was exciting to do something where you have a very small part of something that’s so epic. It’ll be interesting to see all the CGI stuff, because that’s something I’d never experienced before.
'A Single Man' is in theaters now from The Weinsten Company