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Nicholas Hoult in VMAN Magazine (Spring/Summer 2014)
NICHOLAS HOULT REVISITS HIS ROLE AS BEAST IN THIS SPRINGíS X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. HERE, HE TALKS WITH HIS DIRECTOR, BRYAN SINGER, ABOUT QUANTUM MECHANICS, TIME TRAVEL, RELIGION, ASTROPHYSICS, AND CELEBRITY.
Many believe that truth lies in simplicity, that a thing is fully itself when reduced to its most basic. Particle physicists, string theorists, linguists, mathematicians, philosophers, even conceptual artists. Some demand empirical replicabilityóin order to confirm a discovery, the Large Hadron Collider needs 600 million collisions every second for two years. Some are more theoretical, epistemological, or aesthetic. Aldous Huxleyís Perennial Philosophy, Chomskyís transformational grammar, Kantís categorical imperative, Freudís The Ego and the Id. But they all share the sentiment that ultimate truth exists in something like a singularity, and that through this truth, we can answer the bigger question of why? A smaller question is: how could you apply this logic to a person? How could you distill an individual to his or her elemental essence? One answer: very illegally.
But say that person is Nicholas Hoult, the 24-year-old actor, who this spring revisits his role as Hank McCoy, alias Beast, in X-Men: Days of Future Past. In that case, itís completely socially acceptable (and arguably ritualistic), as analyzing an oeuvre is one of the most fascinating means to appreciate art, to say nothing of picking apart celebrities. And before you assume there couldnít be enough data on such a young man, Hoult has been acting since he was three, and has amassed a significant body of work. And it seems that there is indeed a core sentiment or fundamental force clearly evident in his twenty-plus-year career. If you were to summarize the work of Nicholas Hoult in one word, it would be ďtransformative.Ē Hoult is constantly transforming, both before the eyes of the audience and within the very characters he plays. And whether youíre inclined to argue it universalistic or merely coincidental, it is nevertheless consistently evident in the facts. So letís look at them:
Hoult starred in his first major film at the age of 12, opposite Hugh Grant in the adaptation of Nick Hornbyís About A Boy, playing Marcus, the troubled son of a suicidal mother (Toni Collette). Grantís character befriends the boy and attempts to draw him out of his introversion to engage in youth culture and develop an identity of his own. Hoult received rave reviews and awards for the Oscar-nominated film.
The next time Hoult caught the attention of the masses was for the U.K. hit series Skins. The precocious kid audiences had known was completely gone. Skins debuted in 2007, the year Hoult would turn 18, and he became a full-blown heartthrob. But the real transformation that pertains to Skins was one within his character. The show, featuring an ensemble cast that also includes later-breakout Dev Patel, is largely centered around Houltís character, Tony Stonem, a sort of extreme take on the high-school popular guy archetype: a smug, polysexual, sociopathic narcissist who gets off on his own innate intellect and finds manipulation the ultimate form of entertainment. But, in the first seasonís finale, his character entirely transforms after being hit by a bus and suffering a subdural hematoma. The second season, Hoult has to build his character from the ground up, a sort of Regarding Henry path of a sweet moron who must regain his faculties and then overcome the existential crisis of having lost his former identity while reconciling his past with his future selves. And Hoult pulls it off brilliantly, somehow maintaining the inexplicable core of his character throughout.
The film role that followed Skins was not merely another transformation for Hoult, but for the filmmaker as well. A Single Man is fashion designer Tom Fordís first foray into directing and screenwriting, and his adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel is a beautiful portrait of aesthetics and loneliness in 1960s Los Angeles. Hoult plays the handsome student attempting to transcend boundaries and become something more intimate to his depressed college professor, George, played by Colin Firth, who received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Hoult himself was subsequently nominated for a BAFTA.
After A Single Man, Hoult went from Southern California in í62 to the world of ancient Greek Mythology in Clash of the Titans, playing Eusebios, one of the finest soldiers in the Army of Argos, who accompanies Perseus on his quest and is ultimately turned to stone by Medusa. In last yearís underrated Warm Bodies, Hoult played a zombie mid-transformation, his body and behaviors like that of the undead, but his mind still clinging to human sentiments of love and anti-cannibalism.
But itís between those two roles that Hoult made his most literal transformation. In 2011ís X-Men reboot, X-Men: First Class, he took on the role of a young Hank McCoy, a mutant blessed with hyperintellegence. Through experiments stemming from his own insecurity about the physical aspects of his mutation, he accidentally magnifies them, becoming the beautiful, blue Beast. Hoult would spend hours upon hours in the makeup chair to transform into the furry, animalistic character, and itís a role he reprises this Spring in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Director Bryan Singer describes the filmówhich follows Hugh Jackmanís Wolverine as he travels back in time via his own consciousnessóas an ďinbetwequelĒ of the previous X-Men films and of First Class, on which Singer was a producer and story writer. Meaning that Future Past fuses characters past and present, combining the last filmís stellar cast (Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and Jennifer Lawrence, with whom Hoult is romantically involved) with Patrik Stewart, Sir Ian McKellan, and Jackman. The two franchise casts form an X-Men super group, which is likely to continue with the next X-Men: Apocalypse, also helmed by Singer. (Fun fact: Beast is one of the few mutants to be a member of both the X-Men and The Avengers so who knows where that could lead). Here, the talented, transformative Hoult speaks with Singer about being, believing, and what the future holds.
BRYAN SINGER To begin, I originally knew your work from Skins and A Single Man. Initially you were not available for the roll of Beast [in X-Men: First Class, which Singer produced]. You were going to do Mad Max and, fortunately for us, that got pushed and you were able to play the role. I only remember the decision that [director] Matthew Vaughn and I made to cast you, but I donít know how that came to you on your end.
NICHOLAS HOULT I was down in Australia starting prep on Mad Max and they told us it wasnít going to shoot that year, so I called my agent and said I needed a job. The next day I read for X-Men: First Class. Strangely, the direction I got from Matthew for that was to try one version of the scene doing an impression of Stewie Griffin from Family Guy, which I was actually quite adept at doing because Iíd wasted most of my youth away doing impressions of Stewie. That same night, I got a phone call saying ďJump on a plane, they want you to go back and screen test.Ē The next day Jen [Jennifer Lawrence] and I screen-tested together with Lauren Shuler Donner [producer] and Matthew Vaughn, and I remember being very annoyed because I had to get straight back on a plane to Australia and I didnít think I had gotten the job.
BRYAN Well, I knew you had the job because we had already made the decision. Can you give people a little background on how you got your start? Oneís beginnings can translate later into how one deals with things.
NICK The first thing I did, I was three years old. It was a play called The Caucasian Chalk Circle, but I really have no memory of that apart from doing a photo shoot for a day and being given juice and biscuits afterward. I got an agent when I was five, which is not something my parents planned. So I ended up doing a lot of British television shows between the ages of five and eleven. Thatís when the Weitz brothers were casting About a Boy, and I went in for a few auditions for that and then they picked me. So that was my lucky break. How did you enjoy shooting this last X-Men?
BRYAN This last X-Men was the most enjoyable experience Iíve had making a movie and Iím not just saying that because this is a conversation with one of our cast members. It was the fact that the cast seemed to actually be enjoying themselves. I donít know if thatís a function of the environment, the story, or just the simple fact that no one person is carrying the whole movie.
NICK I agree with you. I felt a lot more pressure when we were shooting Jack the Giant Slayer [also directed by Singer] than I had ever felt on another job, just because [as a filmís lead] youíre suddenly tryingóin an odd wayóto do more, but itís not your job as an actor to try and do more. Youíre there to make it real. But in an ensemble you feel quite safe, particularly with this cast where we could mess around and have fun. Iíve been meaning to ask about time displacement, which seems to be such a central element of this film.
BRYAN Time displacement means, in terms of the film, Wolverine [Hugh Jackman] of the future travels back in time, into the mind of his younger self, and while he is traveling, he is the observer. I was on the phone yesterday for an hour with James Cameron discussing a lot of this same stuff. There are theories in quantum physics, such as SchrŲdingerís Cat, which dictate that all observable matter behaves differently when observedóby the very act of being observed. So if, for instance, you were not seeing an event, there are questions as to whether the event occurred yet since it was not observed. It goes back to If a tree falls in the woods did it make a sound if no one was there to hear it? So thereís a theory that two things can happen simultaneously until the observer witnesses it. Wolverineís future consciousness exists in the past, so until he wakes up in the future, the future doesnít set itself, it remains the way it was. Because he is the observer, the moment he sees the new future, the future takes hold. When the future and the past coexist, thatís called the super-position. So when Wolverine wakes up, he ultimately collapses the super-position. Thatís the quantum physics terminology for whatís happening in X-Men: Days of Future Past.
NICK I think that makes sense. My smaller brain understands whatís going on there. There is kind of a liquid state with all the time-traveling until itís certain which time he is going to be in fully. In the future, will time travel become possible, or is it physically impossible?
BRYAN In our lifetime, no. In the distant, distant future, I think before time travel weíll have time perception. I think at some point humans, as their brains advance and as they commingle with technology, will begin to start perceiving time differently. Perhaps the first stage will be suspended animation, you know, going to sleep for long periods of time and waking up 100 or 500 years from now. In order to discuss time travel, you really have to tap into the concept of multiverses and Einsteinís special and general theories of relativity, which articulate, among other things, that the closer you are to a gravitational force, the slower time moves relative to individuals existing far from a gravitational force. In other words, if youíre way out in space, away from our sun, time will move faster for you than if you were resting on Earth, near our sun. Thatís people on Earth aging faster relative to someone travelling in space at great speed. But thatís not time travel, thatís time relativity. The harder thing to grasp is the idea of what gravity is. Everyone thinks gravity is like magnets, but no, gravity is an impression, itís mass making an impression in space and time.