Now available on VOD and playing in select theaters is director Jake Paltrow’s Young Ones. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland where water has become scarce and the only hope for a family becomes an irrigation pipeline that can revitalize their land. This conflict sets off a battle between the family’s patriarch Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon) and a young man (Nicholas Hoult) looking to romance Ernest’s daughter Mary (Elle Fanning). The film also stars Kodi Smit McPhee as Shanon’s son. For more on the film, watch the trailer.
Last week in New York City I landed a fantastic interview with Nicholas Hoult. During our wide ranging conversation we talked about what the past few years have been like, the process of making Young Ones, working with Michael Shannon, what it was like making Mad Max: Fury Road with George Miller, working on Drake Doremus‘ Equals with Kristen Stewart, Comic-Con, X-Men: Apocalypse, Autobahn, Kill Your Friends, if he still has to audition, what he collects, what he’d like to do in the future, and so much more. If you’re a fan of this very talented actor, I promise you will dig this interview.
Collider: How have you been doing? I think the last year has been pretty good for you.
NICHOLAS HOULT: It’s been…yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. I was talking to Jake and I was like, “How long ago did we make this movie?” It’s nearly two years I think now since we made it. It’s that weird thing where you’re doing press for a film and you’re like, “Wow, so much has changed. I feel as if I’ve grown up so much. I’ve had so many different experiences since then…good and bad, weird, whatever, and you sit there and now we’re back and you’re kind of thrust into all these memories of a bygone era.
Also, I’ve spoken to people who made a movie a while ago, as you’re doing for this one, and you’ve made like twelve movies since this or whatever the number it is, it’s a lot. So all the sudden you’re trying to remember.
HOULT: I can barely remember last night [laughs].
We’re on the same page.
HOULT: So I struggle sometimes. People will ask me questions and I’ll be like, “Um, I think that was the case, but that was a while ago and my memory’s not great.”
You’ve been doing a lot of cool work, especially in the last two or three years. What has it been like for you winning the actors lottery? Because you’re one of the few people who have really won the actor’s lottery in terms of different types of performances and the directors you get to work with. What’s that like for you from the inside?
HOULT: I think you just – either it’s very cold in here or you gave me chills by saying that.
But it’s very true though.
HOULT: Because I do feel very lucky and fortunate whereby, even in this year or in the last twelve months, you can go from doing X-Men, which is a franchise I grew up watching I was a kid and suddenly you’re in the corridors of Cerebro with Hugh Jackman thinking how did this happen? Then I can do a little indie film like Kill Your Friends, which is like this satire comedy playing another interesting character. That’s the main thing, looking for interesting characters, good directors, and experiences where you’re growing and learning. Yeah, I can do that, and go do an action car-chase film, and then go and do this last film I’ve just finished called Equals, which is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on a film. So you sit there and you’re just like…very lucky. I love acting.
I have a ton of things I want to talk about, but let’s start with Young Ones. That must have been, of all the shoots you’ve been on – although Mad Max might be close – filming in the desert hours away from civilization. Talk about the challenging shoot. What was it like?
HOULT: It was so hard [laughs]. No I mean, smallest violin in the world and all that, but this was a five week shoot and during that I had to do weeks of press for two films that I had coming out at the time, so I would fly into Cape Town and then it was like a six hour drive into Springbok, which is where we were shooting, where a lot of the time you can’t get radio reception and we only had one CD in the car – Bruno Mars Unorthodox Jukebox – which I now know every song word for word. So we’d drive up there, I’d do a week on this, it’d be baking hot, long tough days, whatever, everyone has a job and sometimes it’s difficult, and then drive back six hours, jump on a plane, go do press for a week, then come back and do it all again the following week. So it was weird like that, getting in and out of it. But I always find those sorts of things it’s mind over body. Whenever you’re on a shoot and people complain a lot and stuff I’m like, “Well that’s not helping. The complaining doesn’t help. You just got to suck it up and get on with it, because this is what we’re dealing with. Drink a lot of water.”
I’ve had this conversation with other people that, and I’m sure you feel the same way, that what I get to do is like winning the lottery in terms of like, I have friends who do construction. That’s a real job.
HOULT: No, exactly. It’s crazy for us to be like, “Oh it was hot and rough in the desert, and sometimes lunch wasn’t what I wanted.” But it’s like, we’re not working down in the mines. It’s fun pretending.
We’re on the exact same page. I think the unfortunate part is that sometimes people lose track of what’s real, because especially in this industry so many people surround you and say yes to you – not on my end, but I have actor friends.
HOULT: Oh, it’s horrendous, yeah.
Unless you physically realize what’s happening, you can easily succumb to this machine that is completely bullshit.
I’ve seen it.
HOULT: I’ve seen it.
Anyway I’m off on a tangent. You got to work with Michael Shannon on this. I fucking love Michael Shannon. What was that experience like?
HOULT: I love the man. Obviously, he’s an insane presence on set, on screen, just in life. He’s got that kind of grumbly Chicago voice where at first I was like, “I think this guy hates me. He definitely hates me.” But then we grew to get to know each other and I’d love to have had more scenes with him in this, because honestly watching him – in the evenings I’d go back and we’d have a drink and I’d sit there and be like, “So what were you thinking about when you said that line, because it wasn’t what I expected. There was a lot going on in there.” He’d explain it do me and I’d be like, “Great.” Then the next day I’d try to put that into one of my scenes when I thought it was an appropriate moment I’d be like, “Well, that’s what Shannon’s doing so I’ll think about that. It’s working for him so maybe it can work for me.” Yeah, he’s great.
I’ve interviewed him before and I don’t want this to come out the wrong way, but I’m going to say that he’s a kooky cat, but in all the best ways.
HOULT: Yeah, he’s funny as well. Like, such subdued, underplayed humor. You’ll sit there and you wont even realize he’s making a joke. Once you get dialed into his humor then you crack on. When I make a joke I’m like, “Ba-dum-dah, here we go! Let’s throw that one out there, I’m going to laugh at it. Whatever.” I’ll just keep throwing jokes out and I’m like, “One of these is going to land eventually.” But he’ll just quietly say something and you’ll be like, “[Pause] Damn, that’s really fucking funny.”
He has presence on screen and you buy into what he’s selling. It just feels authentic when he’s doing stuff. Let’s talk about Equals, because I love Drake’s work. I think he’s a really talented director. For people that don’t know, tell people what it’s about and the fact that you got to film all over the place.
HOULT: Yeah, we filmed all over Japan and Singapore. You know from Drake’s work, he’s all about love stories, he’s all about connection, humans…just that, he’s all about that. It’s honestly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had on a film. I felt really inspired working with him and Kristen each day. I’d sit down and I’d be like, “Wow.” His style of filmmaking, I love. There’s so much soul in it. I’ve seen little clips of that film now and it evokes so much emotion and he evokes so much on set. I felt as though – I haven’t seen it, I don’t know – but in terms of my acting, it felt like the best experience in terms of him guiding me and just wanting…it’s simple what he asks for. He wants you to be vulnerable and he wants you to be honest. He’s like, “You don’t have to portray anything. Don’t say anything if it doesn’t feel real to you. Just be honest.” This is the first time he’s worked with a script, but there would also be a fair bit of improvisation and…yeah, sorry [laughs].
The film’s about this kind of futuristic world where humans destroyed the world, and then they’ve kind of made this collective where everyone works for space travel and all that stuff, but because human emotion was essentially what caused us to destroy the world, now when you’re kids you get genetically modified essentially so that you don’t feel and you don’t feel love. You’re not like an autobot, you can still create and you can still work. It’s all still there, but the soul’s kind of been taken out of you. Then my character starts to see things in this world, it all starts to unravel around him, and he starts noticing Kristen Stewart’s character and he’s like, “Hang on a minute, there’s more here going on and I’m starting to feel things,” and then the movie takes off from there.
So basically the modification maybe has failed a little bit.
HOULT: Yeah, so basically there’s this thing called “SOS”, which is Switched On Syndrome, and it’s a utopian world, but if you get this disease you’re taken to “the den”, which is this horrible place where essentially you end up dying and it’s all over. Yeah, feeling is not what they do. So then it was amazing because you’re playing this character who has never experienced or felt all these things before, so you’re doing all these things, which is kind of similar in some ways to the character I played in Warm Bodies where its that thing of awakening and then feeling too much, not being able to handle it, and wanting to try and get away from it – we’ve all been there. You know what? I just can’t wait for people to see that film. I can’t wait to see it.
I can’t wait either. Especially when it’s filmed around the world like that, because it adds so much production value to something when you’re filming on location in real places, and maybe places that are off the beaten path.
HOULT: Yeah, and it’s also the look of it. The look of it and the music. Drake created this thirty song playlist for me, which before going up to do the movie I’d listen to it pretty much every day and walk around and just hear this music. On set I’d be playing it the whole time in my ears, and he’d play it on set as well for kind of the mute stuff where me and Kristen are doing scenes but the sound’s not going to be used, he’d have the music playing. I called him Dream Flare, Dream Flare Doremus [laughs]. He loves a bit of flare in his movies. It’s shot beautifully.
I would expect nothing less. Whiplash was shot and wrapped in October and then they premiered at Sundance. Has he mentioned to you that maybe he’s going to try or is it too soon?
That’s a very tight edit it, to try to make it by January, but if you see Whiplash you won’t believe that he did that in ten weeks in the edit.
Yeah, Whiplash is a fucking awesome film, sorry for the cursing, but they shot in nineteen days, they made a ten week edit and then they’re in Sundance, and it’s easily one of my favorites of the year.
You should go see it.
HOULT: Yeah, I missed it. I wanted to go see it at Sundance.
Well it comes out around the same time as your movie, so you can see that, they can see yours.
HOULT: Everyone’s a winner [laughs].
Exactly. Now that people have seen footage from Mad Max, I’ve seen a bunch of footage now, now we can actually talk.
HOULT: Did you see the stuff at Comic-Con?
Yeah, I did. The stuff at Com-Con warped my brain.
HOULT: I haven’t seen that. I saw the trailer that got released. I haven’t seen the Comic-Con. They sent it to me on a link then I couldn’t open it, blah blah, then it expired, and I was like “Well I’ll see the film”.
Well, I think you know what you shot. Although visually – it was like five minutes.
HOULT: Do I do some cool stuff?
Yeah, well I have a friend who saw the test screening in Burbank and he said it’s literally a non-stop chase movie.
Beginning to end.
He said it’s non-stop.
HOULT: Yeah, it’s relentless.
Looking back on the process now and your look in the movie, is it cool to finally be able to talk about it and be like “Get ready”?
HOULT: Yeah, that’s a film that really – I mean I can’t even remember when we shot that. That was before this. That was before Young Ones and it’s still not coming out until May next year.
Yeah, get ready to do press on that one next May [laughs].
HOULT: Do you know what I mean? That one’s completely – I can’t even remember how old I was when I was doing that.
You were twelve.
HOULT: [Laughs] Yeah. The whole look of the film. I mean, people can tell from the trailer, from the moment I got down there and saw my character’s vehicle and the attention to detail on, the designs – Instantly I go, “Wow.” And then starting to go through the makeup process and develop that character. It’s a completely different look for me, which is something I always try and do, something different, and I was like, “Well this character is very different, this world is very different. I’m in.” Even just form the audition process and that, you could tell that George was a director I wanted to work with. We did a four hour workshop just for the second audition where we did these honestly games and acting exercises and all this. I walked out of the audition and I was like, “Wow, I have no idea what just happened for the last four hours, but even if I don’t get that role it was a great experience.” Because a lot of times with auditions you walk in, you sit down, alright, scene one, scene two, thanks very much, see you later, and you walk out kind of feeling dissatisfied with it and like you maybe didn’t get a chance to work with it. But with that I felt as though even from just that session I’d learned from George. I was like, “This is something special.” So to get the chance to do the film was very lucky.
You saw the trailer, what was your reaction? Because obviously when you’re on set looking at dailies, you’re not seeing any sort of finished footage or the finished visuals. What was your reaction when you saw the trailer? Were you like, “Oh shit he really did something here.”
HOULT: Yeah, I’ve seen a rough cut. You always knew – there were images of what potentially was going to be there in the film. Like essentially when I first read the script, it wasn’t a script. It was a three hundred page comic strip of just images with an odd piece of dialogue. The dialogue was very strange. Yeah, I’d practice the dialogue, I’d jump rope and run the dialogue to try and get rhythms on it, because some of the words you’re saying they’re just not speaking patterns or things that you’d say.
It’s interesting. I spoke to Tom Hanks about Cloud Atlas. I love Cloud Atlas, I think the Wachowskis are amazing filmmakers and he said, and you may be surprised to learn, he said that he has always still felt a little bit of self conscious with the way he looks in a movie, but it was Cloud Atlas and his delivery of the unconventional dialogue and his look in the movie that really helped him finally get past having any sort of self consciousness, because he had to strip down and just be naked and say these words and just be part of it. Do you sort of feel that by doing Mad Max and saying these lines that it was just another way of helping you as an actor to become somebody else and not think of yourself?
HOULT: Yeah, I always find that the further the character is from you that the easier it is in some ways. I find it more difficult to act in an English accent than I do an American accent just because doing films where I have to be American and that then works where it takes me away from – some little switch going off where you’re like, “Ok, well this is different.” Certainly on that film getting the makeup done. Every morning you’d sit there with a shaved head and all these welts and scars. You sit there and go, “This is different.” It’s…different [Laughs].
For Days of Future Past and X-Men, you obviously hope it’s going to be a big hit, but you never know what’s going to happen. It made like 700 million dollars to the point where Brian had to get a tattoo. I don’t know if you heard about that.
HOULT: I did read something about that.
I guess he said if the movie made 700 million worldwide he’d get a tattoo.
HOULT: Was it Kinberg that did that as well?
I haven’t asked Simon if he got the tattoo as well, but Brian tweeted a picture of himself getting the tattoo because it made that much money, it’s like the biggest X-Men movie ever. What’s it like being a part of a franchise that’s only getting bigger.
HOULT: [Pauses] I don’t know. It’s obviously great in terms like, I love all the people who make those films, they’re so much fun to make, and the cast and everything. If people keep going to see them and we can keep making them then great because I like that character a lot. I like, you know this last one, getting to do the scenes with Hugh and James and Michael. It was a great experience. So the money that films make, it’s good when they’re successful because it means we get to make more.
I know Apocalypse starts filming early next year in Montreal.
Are you already thinking about tat or is it sort of like, “This is March of next year. I’m not even worried yet”?
HOULT: No, I’m not thinking about it at all. I’m not thinking about it at all. I’m in such a daze coming out of the Equals world at the moment. That was last week or something that we finished. And now I’m just…yeah, it feels very odd.
Are you doing anything before X-Men or do you need to take some time to decompress and enjoy that buzz of Equals?
HOULT: Yeah, at the moment that was kind of a sign that I don’t want to work for a little bit. It’s kind of changed what I want to do. It’s changed my perspective on acting a fair bit.
I’m curious because you’ve worked in a lot of different genres. Is there one that you – for example I interviewed Miles Teller recently and he said he really wants to play Elvis, like a younger Elvis. And when you look at him you can kind of see him maybe pulling that off. Is there a roll or a genre that you now after exploring what you’ve been doing that you’re looking to do? Or is just about the director and the script?
HOULT: Director and the script, different characters. I mean, I am sappy. I do like love stories, a good love story. I’d like to do a Western. I’d like to do a boxing movie. Yeah, those are all things that I’m interested in.
I’ve spoken to a lot of actors and after they’ve been doing it for a while they realize that the best way to get a great role is to start helping to produce your own thing and start being involved in the preproduction and putting together a project. Have you started thinking about that yet?
HOULT: Yeah, on certain levels, yeah. But I’m not one of those people who’s saying “I’m going to set up a production company”, because I like acting and not having to be a business man and do that side of things. I’m fairly simple in many ways [laughs]. You want a good director who can get a good performance out of you, other talented actors, and then just a good script and character. I think if I do end up doing something before X-Men there’s one Iraq war film. I haven’t done a real war film and that’s a good one if hopefully the money all comes together. Because it’s an interesting character again, to see how this person is changed by their experiences. Which is what everyone is doing all the time, but it’s nice to distill it into a tiny few months and pretend to be that person, and then that changes you as well.
Before I run out of time let’s talk about Autobahn and Kill Your Friends. What can you tell people about both projects. This is part of your line up of twelve unreleased movies.
HOULT: [Laughs] Autobahn is – if you can tell from a few of my choices recently, Mad Max and that, I’m a bit of a petrolhead.
So what car do you drive then personally?
HOULT: I actually don’t. I ride a bike.
You live in LA or London?
HOULT: In London, yeah.
Ok, in London you don’t need a car.
HOULT: The traffic is…yeah, so I ride my bike.
If I lived in London I would never have a car.
HOULT: No, it’s pointless. So Autobahn is essentially about, again, how far this guy is willing to go for love. He gets caught up in this world where Felicity Jones plays my love interest in it, brilliant actress, and she gets ill and I kind of do something very stupid to try and get the money to try to pay for an operation that she needs. I try and steal off Anthony Hopkins, who’s a major drug lord essentially, and from that moment it’s a big chase down the autobahn and my character is very stressed. [Laughs] It was a stressful film to make actually. My character is always frantic and stressed. I realized after finishing like, wow if I had thought about what I had to do in this movie.
You take it home with you.
HOULT: Yeah, which was nice to then go on to Equals. Because it’s like this serene utopian world where you feel nothing. They’re the perfect antidote to each other where they couldn’t be more different. And then Kill Your Friends is this kind of music industry film in the ’90s where I play an A&R manager called Stephen Stelfox who’s basically driven by fear of everything and a bit of a psychopath.
Have you reached the point now where you’re still auditioning for everything, or do you audition selectively, or not at all?
HOULT: I still audition. It depends, yeah. I don’t audition for everything. It’s odd. When I first started getting offered things outright, when I was a few years younger, if they came outright they were terrible. If something came in as an offer I would be like, “Well this is clearly not a good film because they’re offering it to me straight up.” Now it’s got to the point where sometimes an offer will come in and I’ll be like, “Wow, this is actually good and interesting and good people. What a compliment.” And other times where you read a script and you, “Right, I really like this,” and you need to tape or you need to go meet the person. Sometimes it’s just a meet and to chat with them and see if you have the same ideas and get along.
I’ve spoken to a bunch of people who say they actually enjoy auditioning for a lot of roles because it just shows that everyone’s on the same page.
HOULT: Yeah, there’s that thing sometimes where I’ve turned up on things and I sit there like, “No one’s seen me say a single word.” So day one the nerves build a lot more because suddenly you’re like, “Uh, this could not be what they’re imagining at all.” Hopefully by that point you’ve figured something out, you’ve spent a bit of time with the director or something. But it is an odd thing where you kind of question it like, “Well I don’t know if I can even do this. They don’t know if I can do it.” I mean they’ve got faith in something, they must have seen something, but who knows.
I’ve been asking this of a lot of different people. Is there anything that you collect?
HOULT: Anything I collect?
This is not movie related. Is there anything that you go on Amazon or Ebay and you’re constantly looking for? Or not at all? This is where we find out if you’re materialistic at all.
HOULT: I don’t really collect things. At the moment I spend a lot of time looking at skateboards. Looking at them being like, “Oh, that looks like fun. I could probably use one of those.”
Are you allowed to skateboard while you’re filming? Because I have a friend who’s broken a few things.
HOULT: Yeah, I got told off on Equals because I did come off one day and then the next day Drake saw me with a massive bruise all down my arm. He was like, “How did you get that?” I was like, “I fell over.” He was like, “Have you been skateboarding again?” “Yeah” “Nick…” I was like, “I’m done. Stopping.”
[Laughs] Did you just turn white from nervousness?
HOULT: It was just one of those things where the disappointment was like reeking out of him and I was like, “Oh no, I was an idiot. I’m sorry Drake. The movie means more.”
I have a friend who likes to snowboard. He’s an actor and he hurt himself, and he just hid it. He felt terrible, but shit happens.
HOULT: Yeah, you can’t wrap yourself up in cotton wool the whole time.
My last question for you, because everyone’s been very generous. When you are now standing in line at Starbucks what is the one project that people want to talk to you about? Is there one thing that has come through? Or is it pretty much X-Men or those big projects?
HOULT: It does really vary depending on the people. X-Men is definitely one, and it’s amusing that people refer to you as Beast. They’re like, “Yo, Beast!” And you’re like, “Hello. Not what you’d expect, right?” But then sometimes Skins, randomly that show still surfaces up a lot. I’m kind of blanking on all my work at the moment. But yeah, Beast is definitely…
Yeah, not to dwell on the X-Men thing, but Days of Future Past was really hard to pull off what you guys pulled off. Making all these different casts work-
HOULT: I still don’t fully understand it. [Laughs] I’d sit there and be like, “Brian, so this isn’t time travel, it’s time displacement, so what does this mean? What should I be doing? And how does this….what?”
The fact that it even works at all. That’s why Avengers is so amazing to me, because you have all these different characters. You have to make sure that everyone has enough screen time to justify being there, that these storylines work. And the fact that it doesn’t talk down to the audience, and generally speaking these big budget Hollywood movies go to the lowest common denominator and Days of Future Past requires you to think and it doesn’t talk down to you. And that’s why I’m blown away that so many people came out for it.
HOULT: But see, that’s perfect. Audiences are always a lot smarter than people give them credit for. When you’re sitting there watching a film, you’re normally thinking – a lot of times when something happens you’re thinking ahead. Where is this going? What’s happening with this person? You’re normally one step ahead, so when you get spoon fed you sit there and you just turn off because you’re like, “I’ve figured out the next twelve scenes and probably the end of this movie,” so you switch it off.
The biggest problem is that you and I understand this, but I think there’s a lot of – I don’t want to discredit certain producers or studio execs, but I think some of them are lets just say justifying their job by interjecting a line or a sequence that shouldn’t be there. Let’s focus on letting the director do his thing.
HOULT: Yeah, completely. It’s just…yeah, it’s weird, subtle. People pick up on things, people are very observant.
A hundred percent. I will leave you by saying I am looking forward to you guys making Apocalypse and venturing into the ’80s with Storm and a mohawk. Have you read all those comics from the ’80s?
HOULT: I haven’t read them, no. No, the first film I read through loads of them. I had a big book and they put together folders of the comics. I like the dark Beast kind of stories, I enjoyed those a lot. [Laughs] And part of my research then was to watch the cartoon, which is what I watched when I was a kid, so in prep for that film we’d read the comics, go work out – because obviously we have to try and look like we’re in some sort of powerful mutant shape or whatever – and then I’d sit there and record X-Men cartoons, watching it being like “This is technically work” [Laughs].