Kicking Back With Mr Nicholas Hoult
The British actor on the art of the perfect party, what he learnt from Mr Tom Ford and becoming an adult.
Mr Nicholas Hoult is more of a house party than a nightclub kind of guy. He says he’s not a great dancer, unless someone plays “Le Freak” by Chic, then he’ll have a go anyway. “Last night, I went to a friend’s house and we all got a little drunk. You know when it’s unexpected, those are the best nights. When you see someone randomly and you’re just chatting and drinking and then suddenly you’re both like, ‘Hey, we’re having a good time, we’re both drunk, why don’t we go ahead and do this?’ And then it turns into something impromptu. I had no idea that last night would end with me singing Tom Jones on karaoke with a disco ball going in someone’s house.”
His hangover cure? “Run a sink of cold water, fill it with ice, then stick your head in it.” But Mr Hoult rarely wakes up feeling rough these days: “It’s not like when I was in Skins. Now I’m older I realise that I’m working and if I’m not on point, I can’t do it, my brain isn’t up to speed.”
No. These days he’s more likely to get his weekly highs from hot yoga. He goes to classes as often as he can when he’s home in northwest London in between filming. (He’s currently gearing up to play Professor JRR Tolkien in a biopic of the writer’s life.) But he’s keen to stress he is not that guy. You know the one, in his pants on the front row, deep-breathing louder than anyone else – “probably has sort of bun, topknot situation… I’m like back row, normal baggy gym shorts, shaking, wobbling, falling over, occasionally lying down”.
He’s enjoying his hot-yoga routine (mixed with boxing and cardio) while he’s home for a few weeks to promote his new film The Current War, the story of Thomas Edison (Mr Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse’s (Mr Michael Shannon) technological battle to supply electricity to the World Fair in 1893. Mr Hoult plays Mr Nikola Tesla, “A strange ethereal genius, who was well ahead of his time, but couldn’t see eye to eye with Edison in terms of them working together so tried to start his own business. Then he went to join George Westinghouse and together [spoiler alert], they won the bid.”
We’re sat on a sofa in a small room in the MR PORTER shoot location house. It is not dissimilar in its styling to the louche interiors of Mr Tom Ford’s setting for the 2009 film A Single Man, in which Mr Hoult plays the love interest of an older gay professor (played by Mr Colin Firth), in a role which saw him segue from British student TV drama Skins to serious Hollywood contender. Action blockbusters X-Men and Mad Max: Fury Road followed, via indie dramas, Warm Bodies, Equals and Kill Your Friends. He is eating salad off a paper plate balanced on his knee. Is that something Mr Ford would strongly disapprove of? “Yes,” says Mr Hoult, “he’s got an eye for detail like no one else I’ve ever met before so of course, everything’s very precise aesthetically, for sure.”
The Serbian-born engineer Mr Nikola Tesla was also a man with a very particular sense of order in his life: “He had three of everything,” explains Mr Hoult. “He worked out the cubic volume of food before he’d eat it. Oh, and he was obsessed with pigeons. But he would have these flashes in his brain of the things he wanted to invent and he could build them completely in his mind first.” He says Tesla (after whom Mr Elon Musk has named his electric car and energy company) was also very conscious about taking care of his appearance, “in terms of clothes and style. Even when he was broke, he was like, ‘I’m going to dress well.’”
Mr Hoult says his favourite era of all the films he’s starred in has been A Single Man, with its early-1960s wardrobe – (who can forget that white jeans, white angora sweater combo). Though he’s also recently filmed The Favourite with Ms Emma Stone, which is currently in post-production. “It’s set in the 18th century in the UK in Queen Anne’s court, when guys were dressing as dandies. So, it was full-on white powder, wigs, high heels, long white socks, amazing stuff.”
Today, he is dressed in dark denim, desert boots and a faded blue cotton T-shirt, which, although loose, hints that all the hot yoga has left him with a lithe physique which he can easily bulk up (“When you’re playing a character called The Beast in X-Men, you kind of have to”) or slim down (“For The Current War, they asked me to lose some weight, so I just didn’t eat as much, which is miserable.”) As for his own Mr Tesla-like quirks, he says he has none, which is easy to believe. Mr Hoult appears, at 27, uncomplicated, self-possessed and like the kind of man who’d happily join you at 1am for a spontaneous espresso martini, or pack a flask of tea and make his own sandwiches if you suggested a morning hike. That he is well balanced and socially adept makes him easy company. He grew up in Berkshire before moving to London to attend the Sylvia Young Theatre School. His family life is, he’ll admit, exceptionally normal.
“I did the DNA ancestry thing and it was pretty much, ‘Your dad’s from the Midlands, your mum’s from Essex,’ and I was like, ‘Yep, alright.’”
We talk about the fact that so much of his time is scheduled to the minute, so when he’s off he has to remember, “What I enjoy and what I want to do in this free time.” He says for a long time he found this daunting, but now he loves it: “I’ll catch up with old school friends, travel and I got my race license last week, so I can compete in car racing now to a certain level. I also love a bit of cooking. I do an annual Christmas dinner for friends before the real Christmas when my family and I will do a big lunch together at home.” When asked if he’s a white-tablecloth, ironed-napkins kind of host, he raises that famous skewwhiff eyebrow: “Nah. It’s all very casual.”
Did Mr Ford teach him nothing? He smiles: “I probably should be more particular about those things, shouldn’t I?” And while on the subject of dining he sheepishly admits that last week he stole another man’s food delivery. “It was on my doorstep! Addressed to someone else, but at my address. It would have all gone off if I hadn’t cooked it… That’s bad, isn’t it?”
A recent survey that found that millennials consider themselves officially grown up at 27. Does he? “I guess that resonates for me. I’m certainly starting to really prioritise and order things and start to question myself a lot more.” He probably hasn’t reached peak adulthood just yet, considering that his mum just came over to “Marie Kondo” his drawers, folding all his clothes up like book spines in a book case. “She’d read the book [The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up] and did it while I was at work. It’s so lovely, but also very difficult to maintain.”
Mr Hoult is currently dating 24-year-old US-based lingerie model Ms Bryana Holly. Has he given her a drawer in his bedroom? “I don’t feel as though I’m that possessive over things like that. She can put her stuff wherever she likes. My dad was an air pilot so he was flying a lot, and I grew up with my two sisters and my mum so I was used to ‘girl things’ being around and a ‘girl environment’ in the household.”
Mr Hoult says most of his closest friends are women. When asked what he gets from those relationships that he doesn’t from his male friends, he says: “There’s just a different balance of things, I suppose. I’m probably more likely to – I mean it’s such a big generalisation – but sit around and have a conversation in more depth. My female mates will ask questions I hadn’t thought of. They just cut straight to the middle of something and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, of course!’”
We meet in the middle of the week in which allegations of Mr Harvey Weinstein’s treatment of women break, and while we don’t discuss this specifically, we do talk about what it means to be a white, straight male in 2017: “I feel, more and more with everything that’s going on in the news at the moment, a responsibility to pay more attention, to be aware of those things and to change them because that’s not how I want the world to be. There has to be some sort of awareness. You’ve got to be able to put yourself in other people’s shoes and see things from different perspectives, otherwise you could have a very different view of the world. Particularly in my line of work, it would be pretty easy to see lots of good things and never actually take in [the reality of the world].”
Mr Hoult says he keeps educating himself through his films. For Tolkien, he’s been learning to speak Quenya, the fantasy language created by the writer. (He thinks Spanish might be more practical.) And during The Current War, he and Mr Benedict Cumberbatch were sent for science lessons. I imagine, perhaps unfairly, that Mr Cumberbatch was the class swot, shooting his hand up in the air with an answer to every question. But, of course, he’s not really Sherlock Holmes, though he did study at Manchester while Mr Hoult forwent university to focus on his acting career. “You know what, we were both pretty lost. And [Mr Cumberbatch] said that I did better in that lesson than him but I don’t think I did. You know when one question starts, and you’re like, OK, but then you try and run before you can walk? So that opens up a thousand more questions. I was trying to understand electromagnets and dynamos and all those sorts of things.”
Given the theme of the film he’s promoting, has Mr Hoult have any “lightbulb moments” of his own recently? Without missing a beat, he says, “I thought I had a great business idea. I wanted to sell muffin tops. Nowadays, no one wants the calories of a full muffin and the bottom bit is just like, ‘What are you going to do with that?’, so you’ve got to figure out how to make just the muffin tops and sell them on the side in coffee shops. I told a friend about it, I was like, ‘Dude, what do you think about this muffin-top idea, quite a good name for a company as well? This is going to be great.’ My friend said, ‘I think that happens in an episode of Seinfeld,’ and I was like, ‘Oh.’ So, that was the end of that. I’m going to have to go back to the drawing board.”
He probably doesn’t need to worry.
The Current War is out next year