As Nux, the manic war boy with a heart of gold, Nicholas Hoult emerges as the soul of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. But it wasn’t the white-knuckle stunt work, the whiplash desert winds, or Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in various states of undress that Hoult remembers most about the grueling seven-month shoot. Instead — a few words of wisdom he gleaned from co-star Melissa Jaffer, the regal Australian thesp who plays the eldest road warrior woman in the acclaimed franchise reboot.
“We had a fair bit of downtime together shooting that final sequence,” Hoult says over the phone from Montreal, where he’s reprising his role as Beast in X-Men: Apocalypse, the final chapter in Bryan Singer’s mutant trilogy. “She told me the most simple thing I’ve ever heard: ‘Nick all you have to remember is to love and be loved.’”
“She told me the most simple thing I’ve ever heard: ‘Nick all you have to remember is to love and be loved.’”
Since breaking out as the titular 12 year-old in About a Boy, the London native has been a human sponge, absorbing whatever he can from a dream team of co-stars like Colin Firth, Michael Fassbender and Tom Hardy. “I’ve managed to work with a lot of people I look up to. I remember while shooting the last X-Men watching James McAvoy do a couple of scenes I was thinking ‘Damn this guy is so good,’ and being like ‘Oh shit! Nick, don’t forget that you’re in it too!’”
It’s been a stratospheric rise for Hoult, who, at 25, has already completed the rites of passage required of any future leading man: There was the surprise hit (Warm Bodies); the big budget flop (Jack the Giant Slayer); the studio tent poles (X-Men and now Mad Max) and, of course, the tabloid-ready romance (he and ex, Jennifer Lawrence remain close).
But despite Hoult’s success, he is not yet a household name, as proven when he and Lawrence landed separately at Montreal’s Pierre-Elliott Trudeau airport earlier this year — she with a full blown security detail, while he slipped through customs virtually undetected. “I feel like it’s different for guys and girls. Guys don’t have fashion blogs to worry about. They can have a much more low key life in general.”
“I remember while shooting the last X-Men watching James McAvoy do a couple of scenes I was thinking ‘Damn this guy is so good,’ and being like ‘Oh shit! Nick, don’t forget that you’re in it too!’”
For Hoult, “low key” means “Puttering around my house, watching some daytime TV and learning to play the guitar,” as he did on a recent London staycation. “I know I’m very fortunate that I can work in big movies but then still go down to the pub or walk around on the streets and not worry about it.”
But if Hoult’s ascendance continues, his cherished anonymity will likely evaporate, a terrifying prospect for someone who witnessed firsthand how deeply success and lack of privacy are intertwined. Hoult dated Lawrence during the height of J-Law mania, watching as her privacy was stripped away piece by piece. While he never spoke to that experience specifically, the actor does seem wary of a life spent in the paparazzi’s crosshairs. “Dude, could you imagine that?” he asks, incredulously. “It already takes long enough to get ready in the morning, can you imagine the pressure of everyday knowing that you’re going to be photographed and judged?”
If Hoult is intent on avoiding a similar fate, he has a funny way of showing it. His next movie is Collide, a high-speed thriller that marks the first time he’ll carry a film since the ill-fated Jack The Giant Slayer. In the film, Hoult plays a man who goes to extreme lengths to pay for his girlfriend’s emergency medical procedure. If it hits, Hoult could become the savior Hollywood sorely needs: a versatile leading man who can leap from comedy to drama, indie to blockbuster, in a single bound.
“It already takes long enough to get ready in the morning, can you imagine the pressure of everyday knowing that you’re going to be photographed and judged?”
Hoult’s Collide costar is Felicity Jones, another young actor on the verge of superstardom. But the way Hoult sees it, superstardom is downright exhausting. “We were doing some pick up shooting in Germany, and it was during the awards season so Felicity was in L.A. doing lots of press for The Theory of Everything and going back and forth,” he recalls. “She had to fly out to Germany and worked several nights in a row and had to go to the airport and was so dedicated and so sprightly and happy to be there, and I just looked at her and thought ‘Damn if I were you I would be just knackered. I’d quit right now. I’d have nothing left.’ I’m a fairly lazy person so I was exhausted just watching her.”
It seems Hoult has a knack for being cast opposite It girls. Another young actress he had the privilege of getting to know recently is Kristen Stewart, who he stars alongside in Drake Doremus’ upcoming sci-fi romance Equals. “What strikes me is how different they all are,” he says of Stewart, Jones and Lawrence. “They have the ability to completely transport, and even though you’re in the scene with them, everything else around you just disappears. They’re very captivating.”
Hoult speaks like someone who grew up on movie sets, and in a way he has, but he also understands the importance of cultivating a life outside of Hollywood. “As fun as they are and as exciting places as they are to be and as good people as there are around, film sets are very insular and I think too much time on them could make you a bit stir crazy. You need real life experiences. You need to be out in the real world.”
Text Daniel Barna — Photography Guy Aroch