Nicholas Hoult’s come a long way since his first films as a child actor in movies like About A Boy and Wah-Wah. Having taken the lead in last year’s Jack The Giant Slayer and also the role of Beast in X-Men: First Class, he’s about to reprise the latter character in this summer’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past.
As part of our visit to the set of Days Of Future Past in Montreal last June, here’s our lively group chat with Mr Hoult, in which he talks about playing Beast (aka Hank McCoy), his memories of working on Skins, and making the transition from child to adult actor. Plus, there’s a bonus, fleeting appearance from James McAvoy, who appeared to be clutching a BB gun…
Do you have to wheel around Professor Xavier a lot?
All the time. I’ve been lumped with pushing James around, which is good. Good fun.
Has it changed the relationship between the characters in this movie?
Yeah. Since the last film, Charles has been on a downward spiral in many ways, and I’ve been looking after him, which is really nice. Me and James have been having fun playing that relationship.
We were wondering why you’re not blue, because when we saw you at the end of the last film, you were blue.
I was, yeah. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to give away. Obviously, Hank is very intelligent, and in the last film, there was a serum he developed that helped control his mutation and stuff, and there’s a similar thing in this. It’s still the Jekyll and Hyde aspect to it, but he does get to switch between the two.
The Beast character seems a little bit more human than he was in the last film, is that right?
The Beast look is different, yes. It’s a different makeup team this time around, and Bryan wanted a slightly different thing. Which is working well, it’s moving well. I’ve only been in it for a couple of days so far, but it’s good having two very different characters to play.
Is your personality different depending on whether you’re in or out of makeup?
His state is slightly different, yes. He’s trying to learn how to control it, but the Beast can be unleashed.
Does Hank play into the future timeline?
The future… urr… I’m not entirely sure what I can say and what I can’t.
Will we see a brotherly relationship between Hank and Logan?
It starts off on slightly the wrong foot, but Logan’s coming back from the future, and he has to explain to us in the past what’s going on. And that’s quite a lot to take on board for us, and he can be a quite intense character, Logan, he’s a lot to take in. But obviously, it’s very important that we to figure out what we’re going to do.
Hank’s relationship with Mystique was an important part of the first film. How will that continue in this one?
Well, her relationship with all the characters was important, because obviously Charles took her in and looked after her, and was very much a brotherly figure to her. And then there was her relationship with Magneto at the end of the film, where she sides with his view of things on the human-mutant divide.
In this film, it’s a similar thing. All of us have some sort of relationship with her, and care for her. So there’s still a bit of that. In the last film Hank was left with Charles and Mystique joined Magneto’s side.
Did you have a connection to the comic books before coming on board? Did you dream of playing Beast?
I grew up watching the X-Men cartoon. That was my introduction to it. And Beast was always my favourite character to watch, so yeah, it was brilliant to get the chance to play him. I was lucky enough the first time, but to come back into it with Bryan directing as well – I’m getting on really well with him, and he just loves the X-Men universe, really cares about it, and has some great ideas.
Is it easier to work with Bryan again [having worked with him on Jack The Giant Slayer]?
It is. It’s easier, definitely. Once you have a rapport with someone and an understanding of how they work, then it just makes communication a lot simpler. That’s a great thing about this film, it’s a bit like going back to school after the summer holidays.
Is there much humour in this movie? It feels like the stakes are really high and there’s a really serious problem to solve.
Yeah, hopefully. Certainly for the 70s part of the film, we’re trying to keep that in there. No matter how intense the situations are and how much the people are struggling, you want to catch a lighter side of things, because then you feel more attached to them.
[James McAvoy sneaks around the corner of a tent, and appears to be brandishing a BB gun.]
I’m terrified. We do have rules, but you’re on edge constantly. You’ll go back to your trailer and there’s someone hiding in the toilet.
Yes. James is very sneaky, and a BB sniper. I shot him in the back the other day. He was trying to sneak into my trailer, and I saw him, snuck out the other door and shot him in the back. It was really great.
Can I ask you a question about Skins? I spoke to Kyra the other day in New Orleans. She’s having the time of her life on Maze Runner. You’ve finished now, right? What’s your feelings on it ending? Is it the right place to end?
Yeah. I finished, I guess, when I was 17 or 18, so nearly five years ago when I finished shooting. But it’s great to see Kyra and everyone doing really well, and we’re all still close friends, so it’s nice to experience that for a few years with people. I got the chance to watch people grow up and spread their wings and carry on working. It’s exciting to see. And we had a blast doing it.
I get a sense that this is a very different film from the last one. How does Bryan differ from Matthew [Vaughn]? How has the experience been different from working in London on the first film?
The main thing I guess on the first one was that everyone’s getting to grips with their characters and figuring stuff out. On this one, everyone got into their stride very quickly. Bryan, having shot the first two X-Men films and being a part of the last one, it all clicked very quickly. It’s felt pretty easy so far.
In the last film, you were one of the mutants who don’t accept that they’re mutants, and try to change. How are you in this film? What’s happening in this movie with Hank?
Hank doesn’t like the attention. He’s ashamed of it. He doesn’t want people staring at him and pointing fingers. He’s still not at peace with his appearance in this film.
What exactly is happening in the scene we’ve seen today?
This is kind of the final third, before it all kicks off. Nixon’s about to give a speech with Trask, and Professor X, Logan and I turn up to try to change what will happen in the future. We’re preparing for something very big and dramatic to happen.
How have events over the past ten years affected Hank? He’s seen the Cuban Missile Crisis, and now Vietnam and Watergate. Has that affected his world view in any way?
It’s affected him completely, because in those ten years, they’ve built the house, the lab, the school. This has all been happening, and a lot of the teachers and students have been recruited and drafted for the [Vietnam] war. So that’s made the situation in the house regress a little bit, and made Charles retreat into himself even more. And Hank’s been more of a support for him. So that’s all linking in, and that’s the brilliant thing about being able to mingle and slightly change history in a film, and have fun with it. Where events everyone know how they happened connect to the mutant thing.
How did you prepare for the physical scenes?
I dropped a load of weight for Mad Max [Fury Road] so I was really skinny. So I ate a lot, and then, when you’re in the Beast costume, it restricts your movement a little bit. So you have to train to be strong enough to move around in that. Apart from that, I had a brilliant stunt guy and gymnast, and he makes me look very cool. Because I’m all for trying to do my own stunts as much as possible, so I turn up saying, “What can I do?” And they show me videos of what he can do, and I say, “Well, I can’t do anything near that.”
How long does it take for the makeup?
About three-and-a-half hours. We just kind of chat, me and the makeup guys. We sit there and we talk and listen to music. They tell me to look up occasionally, to close my mouth and stop fidgeting. That’s about it.
When you were a kid and making About A Boy, did you have any idea that you’d still be making movies now?
Growing up, I was very aware that acting can be a difficult business. I was aware of the child thing and it not working out as an adult. So I was always preparing myself slightly for not carrying on working, just in case it didn’t work out. So it’s a great relief.
Did you ever have a backup plan?
The backup plan went out of the window when I started shooting Skins. But up until then I stayed in school, and then I was working so much that I stopped school then. It was weird though, because I saw Hugh Grant the other day for the first time in 10 years.
How was it?
It was great. He was exactly the same as I remembered him. He was slightly shocked – I don’t think he recognised me at first. But it was good to see him.
When you’re playing Beast, is it very freeing, doing that performance?
It is very freeing. When someone has something they’re trying to contain, they’re very controlled and clear in what they’re doing. Self-possessed in a way. So it’s fun to suddenly be able break loose from that. And also when you’re wearing the makeup, you can see how people respond differently to you. You can perform big – you can roar at people. When I roar at people like this, it’s just funny. But when you’re in that, if you roar at someone, they feel intimidated. It’s scary. So you do get to have two very different techniques in your performance.
Have you had much feedback from fans since the last film?
The feedback’s been great. The seemed to really enjoy what we did. And with this one merging the two casts, I think the fans are really going to love it.
Nicholas Hoult, thank you very much.
We’ll be running the full interviews with X-Men: Days Of Future Past‘s cast and crew over the next few days. You can read our interview with director Bryan Singer here. The finished film is out in UK cinemas on the 22nd May.
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