Nicholas Hoult goes from ‘About a Boy’ to ‘It’ guy


Most moviegoers first laid eyes on Nicholas Hoult as Marcus, the gawky 12-year-old London lad who latches onto Hugh Grant’s shallow cad of a father figure in the 2002 comedy “About a Boy.”

Ears are probably still ringing from his “social-suicide” school-recital rendition of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song.”

What a difference a decade or so makes.

Just like the centerpiece beanstalk in Hoult’s “Jack the Giant Slayer,” a male-driven addition to Hollywood’s ongoing fascination with live-action fairy tales that arrives Friday, the cherub-lipped 23-year-old actor with the distinctive Mr. Spock brows has sprouted into quite a striking specimen.

Model handsome and hovering near 6-foot-3, he has matured into a rare commodity: a soulful man of action who appeals to ga-ga girls and geeky guys alike.

“Jack” was supposed to come out last summer, but was pushed to this year to better accommodate the massive task of fine-tuning its special effects. The delay proved surprisingly fortuitous, allowing Hoult to blossom into a full-fledged celebrity.

The reason? The paparazzi descended once he began dating Jennifer Lawrence, the freshly crowned best-actress Oscar winner from “Silver Linings Playbook” and his fellow blue-hued mutant in 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.” That is, until they broke up in January.

A box office hit.

Yet Hoult soon found a consolation prize after topping the box office with his first movie lead as a love-struck zombie who falls for a living human in the romantic horror comedy “Warm Bodies.”

A sign of his rising profile: He has been the target of a fake Twitter account. In retaliation, he started his own — @NicholasHoult — a month ago and already has 80,000-plus followers.

As a result, “We’ve got a movie star now,” says Bryan Singer, the director of “Jack the Giant Slayer,” who worked with the actor as the producer and co-writer of the “X-Men” prequel. Hoult first crossed over into more adult roles as Colin Firth’s angora-sweater-swathed object of desire in 2009’s “A Single Man” and by playing a sexually voracious teen on the racy U.K. TV series “Skins.” Still, Jack is a giant step into the realm of being a headliner.

“Unlike the Hemsworth brothers, Chris and Liam, or Tom Hardy, Nicholas Hoult has a different quality,” says Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst. “He has a physical presence, but doesn’t come off as hulking. He has a look that allows him to be a lead in a comedy, romance or an action movie, and isn’t limited to being the big hero.”

Hoult had competition for the role of Jack, including “Anna Karenina’s” high-society rogue Aaron Taylor-Johnson. But as a fan of his work on “Skins,” Singer knew Hoult was the best choice: “Not only is he really talented and charismatic, but he can also be vulnerable. He has some Hugh Grant-isms about him, some ‘aw shucks-isms’ that are endearing.”

Never more so than when Jack dons ye olde adorable hoodie before scrambling up the famous stalk to rescue a princess from monstrous behemoths in the sky.

He also impressed his elder co-stars. Says Stanley Tucci, who plays villainous royal adviser Roderick: “He is so pretty, tall and slender, and very nice. A hard worker and a professional.”

But as an interview subject, Hoult seems to be channeling his stiff zombie-esque persona more than a robust storybook warrior when speaking on the phone. He is polite. He is pleasant. He only balks when urged to confirm that he is currently single and fancy-free.

His answer? A moment of silence.

There is no mistaking him for a raconteur, but at least he makes an attempt. Asked whether bringing a fairy-tale icon to life was fun, Hoult replies, “No matter what role you are playing, you try to have fun. The best stuff happens when you can relax on set.”

Do people often say they can’t believe he was the dorky kid in “About a Boy”? “I still have that. When I visit friends and they have kids now, I think, ‘Wait a minute? How much time has passed.’ I really enjoyed doing it. At that point, acting was more of a hobby, a fun outside-of-school activity.”

What would be his dream role? “Bond. I’d really like to play Bond. I need a few more miles on the clock, though.”

He also requires more free space on his calendar before he comes close to fitting in a swing at 007 any time soon. Next year, Hoult will be seen as Nux the driver in “Mad Max: Fury Road” opposite Hardy and Charlize Theron; he’ll reprise his role as Beast in a Singer-directed “X-Men: Days of Future Past”; and he’ll appear opposite Michael Shannon and Elle Fanning in the futuristic thriller “Young Ones.”

-USA Today (MCT International)

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