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Growing into 'A Single Man'

The 'About a Boy' and 'Skins' actor makes an intimate study of his latest role as college student Kenny, with director Tom Ford providing valuable insight.

December 10, 2009|By Michael Ordoña
  • UPLIFTING: "Everyone was really involved in something they cared about," says Nicholas Hoult of "A Single Man."
UPLIFTING: "Everyone was really involved in something they cared… (Eduard Grau )

Having just turned 20, Nicholas Hoult -- son of a piano teacher mother and a now-retired commercial pilot father in Wokingham, Berkshire (about 13 miles west of London) -- has already marked 13 years in the business. He has evolved from the round-faced boy of BBC television episodes and the Hugh Grant film "About a Boy" to the angular, runway-handsome epitome of searching, youthful beauty in Tom Ford's "A Single Man."

"Some people grow up, they think they know who they are and there's kind of a beat where suddenly nothing makes sense around them, why they're here on Earth," he says of his character Kenny, a student who shows an unusual interest in one of his professors (played by Colin Firth) in 1962 Los Angeles. "I never comment about Kenny's sexual orientation because I think that's something even he doesn't really understand."

"Single Man" is the filmmaking debut of fashion icon Ford, who directed his own adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's novel. The movie chronicles what the professor, George, intends to be his final day, having received the news of the death of his longtime partner (played by Matthew Goode). Isherwood's novel is semi-autobiographical; Ford drastically altered it for the film, layering much of himself into the screenplay.

"It's a very personal story to Tom, quite autobiographical and also a love letter to his partner, Richard [Buckley]," says Hoult by phone from England, adding that Ford's intimate relationship with the material was key to the actor.

"Tom knew my character, Kenny, inside and out," he says. "Tom would say that some things Kenny did were things he did when he was 18, 19 years old and he pretty much was that character. That gave me a great understanding of Kenny."

Hoult, with his Tom Cruise-like eyes, has done some modeling, but admits he knew little of fashion and nothing of Ford before meeting him to discuss the part.

Fashion is "not something I'm too hot on," he says. "I met Tom in Los Angeles for dinner -- I asked him why he wanted to direct this, and he explained very humbly and modestly. It wasn't until afterward, when I looked him up, that I realized quite how much he'd achieved in the fashion world."

Then, once Hoult signed on and started shooting in the Los Angeles area, he says, "I'm driving to work in the morning and see a poster of Tom advertising his fragrance."

The production had only 21 days for principal photography, but despite the pace -- and having to take on an American accent after being cast only about a week before filming started -- the actor felt confident they were getting it right.

"Everyone was really involved in something they cared about; it wasn't something people were in for the money, which I think you can sense a lot of the time, when people's hearts aren't in something," he says, speaking with admiration of Firth and Julianne Moore, who plays George's boozy best friend. Hoult says Firth, with whom he had all his scenes, particularly put him at ease -- even when the elements didn't.

"Doing the scene with Colin where we go swimming" in the ocean, he says, "in the film, it's very uplifting, but at the time, it was freezing cold. I got ash in my eye, there were fires raging at the time. We tried washing my eye but we couldn't get it out, and Colin thanked me because it meant he wouldn't have to go in again."

Although the film is primarily a quiet character study, Ford has admitted to a few political statements, including George not being invited to his beloved's funeral, and the unused wedding ring among George's effects. Such themes were not lost on the cast as California's Proposition 8 (banning gay marriage) passed during production.

"Obviously, the film is set in the '60s, so it's very different," Hoult says. "At the same time, it's amazing how far we think we've come when, in actual fact, we haven't come that far at all. So the issues are the same today."

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