By Gareth Mclean
When Nicholas Hoult first met Tom Ford, he had no idea who the designer-turned-director really was. 'I'd looked him up on film websites, and the only thing that showed up was Zoolander,' Hoult explains. 'I thought that was a bit weird, and it wasn't until we had dinner that it all came out about his past in fashion. Afterward, I went back to my hotel room and Googled him. And then I realized what a big deal he was.'
That's one way of putting it, and it's typical of Hoult's predilection for understatement. He may be extraordinarily striking-looking, he may be on the cusp of international stardom, and he may have a film career that, at just 19, already spans nine years and has seen him star with the likes of Hugh Grant, Toni Collette, Kenneth Branagh, Nicolas Cage, and now Colin Firth in Ford's directorial debut, A Single Man, but there's something thoroughly unassuming about Hoult -- all six-feet-three of him. In a baseball cap, hoodie, and low-slung jeans, he arrives at our interview without an entourage -- without even so much as a publicist in tow -- and meekly apologizes for being late, even though he isn't. He's flummoxed by questions about his good looks. 'I don't see myself like that at all,' he guffaws. 'You should see me wake up with a hangover.' And he is emphatic when he says he doesn't suffer for his art. 'There are people who suffer, there are people who really don't, and then there are people who pretend to suffer because they think it will make them better. If you don't enjoy it, if it's torture for you, don't do it. I wouldn't.'
Starry, Hoult is not. In fact, when we have to decamp from our initial meeting place in a bistro to the private members' club upstairs -- on account of a nearby gaggle of middle-aged women celebrating a birthday way too loudly, complete with frequent, raucous choruses of 'Happy Birthday to You' -- it's a move that makes Hoult uneasy. Scrunching up his handsome face to make it -- rather annoyingly -- only marginally less handsome, he says, 'I hate clubs where they make you feel like you're not good enough to be there.' Thankfully, this isn't the case upstairs, where we settle down and he orders a burger, fries, and a Coke. While plenty of actors practice a studied reticence and project a contrived normality, Hoult is manifestly genuine.
This easy nonchalance is all the more arresting given Hoult's background as a child star. His breakthrough role was in 2002's About a Boy, with Hugh Grant, in which he played the titular moppet who taught Grant's feckless bachelor valuable lessons about life (About a Boy's writer-director Chris Weitz was responsible for recommending Hoult to Ford). But Hoult's career stretches back further still, to the tender age of 3, when a theater director spotted him in the audience of a play in which his older brother was acting. 'She was impressed with my capacity for concentration apparently and offered me a part in the next play, Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle. That was that, really. At that age, you don't know what's going on other than it being a bit of an adventure. I enjoyed it as a hobby.'