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A Single Man’s Nicholas Hoult on the Nickname Tom Ford Gave Him

Most probably remember British actor Nicholas Hoult as Hugh Grant's quirky 12-year-old co-star in About a Boy, but in the years since, he’s made quite the transformation, steadily working in film, theater, and TV in his native England, most notably as girl-magnet Tony Stonem in the cult teen series Skins. Now, he’s starring in Tom Ford’s directorial debut, A Single Man, as Kenny, a college student who takes an interest in Colin Firth’s grieving, closeted Professor George Falconer. On a recent visit to New York, Hoult spoke to Vulture about his first meeting with Ford, nickname-sharing with Firth, and one magical angora sweater.

How did the part come to you — did Tom have you in mind for Kenny?
No, Tom actually had another actor on for it and then two weeks before shooting, it opened up. My agent called up to say I should audition, so I sent a tape over, and Tom sent me an e-mail saying how much he liked my audition, and it kind of went on from there. Only a week before shooting, I had to go to Toronto and get a visa — it was all a bit of a blur. Knowing someone was there before you is a bit of an odd thing. You feel a bit of a fraud, like everyone’s judging you. But Tom made me feel very comfortable, and he said everything was meant to be, and he was very happy it worked out the way it had.

Did you have any reservations initially about signing on to do a film with Tom, a first-time director from fashion?
Growing up where I’m from, it’s nothing you hear too much about. So I wasn’t really aware [that he was a big designer]. When I met him for dinner and sat down to speak about the script, the screenplay was fantastic. I asked him, “Are you going to direct it?” He explained himself rather humbly, and I thought, "Hmm, I’ll sort this out afterward." Later, I looked him up on IMDb, and saw he’d only been "Himself" in Zoolander, so I was like, "Okay, that’s odd." So I had no idea he hadn’t been in this field, and really had no preconception of what it would be like. Or the fear other people had of a fashion designer having no right to direct something, or that it would be very aesthetically pleasing but have no depth to it. I knew him as a person before.

Kenny’s scenes with George have the feeling of some great, unspoken thing going on. How do you think George views Kenny, and vice versa? Is it sexual or not?
That’s something everyone has had an opinion on: how their relationship works. Colin and I didn’t particularly rehearse or have any huge chats about what we were going to aim for. But it was very much about his character having not been living in the present, and that with Kenny, he’s having a connection with another human being, one of the few times in awhile he’s felt alive. Kenny’s spontaneous, and dragging him back into the present — it’s kind of giving him oxygen and the right to breathe for the first time in a long time. As far as what he says about thinking George needs a friend, he’s being 100 percent genuine about that, I think. And beyond that, everyone can decide what they think.

Are you, Matthew Goode, and Colin buddies now?
I didn’t know either of them beforehand, and we’ve become close, traveling around together. Colin and I were christened “Lollipop” and “Jellybean” by Tom, after two sisters came up to set one day to audition to be Kenny’s girlfriend, Lois. Their names were actually Lollipop and Jellybean, so now Tom calls Colin “Jellybean” and myself “Lollipop.” It was my birthday yesterday, and Colin bought me a giant lollipop, and I’ve bought him jellybeans previously. But on set, we both took care of each other, and had that quite dry British sense of humor about what was happening between our characters.

It seems like you made a rather sudden transformation from this awkward boy in About a Boy to an actor directors now seem to view as an ideal, almost beefcake character. Did you go through an awkward period we somehow missed in America?
Well it was eight years or so, wasn’t it? As you’re growing up, it’s odd, because directors don’t expect you to grow up. They think you’ll be young forever, but as an actor, there is an awkward period when you’re too young for old or too old for young, and it can be an odd time. So I think I’ve been very lucky to carry on. I haven’t gone into rehab yet, which is a relief.

But Skins was a total phenomenon in England, right? Did you encounter any crazies at that time?
Skins was very popular here, especially with people my age, and there was an odd period for a little bit, I remember. I’d be sitting in a car waiting for my little sister to come out of her classes, on a street corner, and there were like a hundred people gathered outside the car watching me. I felt very much like an animal in the zoo. I remember thinking at the time that maybe acting wasn’t the right path, cause that was quite a scary experience.

We were obsessed with Skins and can't believe it ended on such a tragic note. Did you know this was where it was headed?
What, that we were all going to leave? Yeah, we knew, and I thought it was fantastic — for me, two seasons of a character is enough, otherwise, you become too known as that character. At some point you need to get out at the right time. A lot of times with American series, you’re part of the same cast for very long periods of time, and I think it was good to step away from that. I think we went out on a high note, the last episode, driving through the streets of Bristol in a Mini with a coffin strapped on top was one of the funniest moments of my life.

We must discuss the fuzzy sweater you wear for most of the film. It’s quite an item.
Oh the angora sweater?Yes, it definitely had a life of its own. It got a lot more attention than me, most of the time, whereby it would frizz up under the hot lights and need to be hair-sprayed down, because it would get too fluffy. It needed a lot of attention. I’ve become quite intimate with that sweater.

Photo: Courtesy of the Weinstein Company