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War Boy Nicholas Hoult

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Actor Nicholas Hoult, of "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "Warm Bodies," was nineteen when I interviewed him. He was starring with Gabriel Byrne in Richard E. Grant autobiographical film about growing up in Swaziland, "Wah-Wah." Hoult has grown up on screen in starting with "About A Boy" and on through playing Hank/Beast in the "X-Men" films.

Show transcript

Beth Accomando: Hi, I am Beth Accomando your resident Cinema Junkie here at KPBS. From the archives this week I decided to pull up an interview with Nicholas Hoult. Hoult can currently be seen in Mad Max: Fury Road playing one of the War Boys, Nux. He was also seen in Warm Bodies and he also plays Beast in the X-Men movies. I interviewed for a film called Wah-Wah directed and written by actor Richard E. Grant. Grant had written this screen play based on his own child hood growing up in Swaziland. He cast Hoult to play his alter ego in the film. Audiences have been watching Hoult grow up on screen starting with About a Boy and running through Mad Max: Fury Road and the fact that Hoult has become more popular on screen may make people want to go back and look at some of his earlier works. Wah-Wah reveals that actor Richard E. Grant is as adept behind the camera as he is in front. And the film stars Gabriel Byrne, Emily Watson, Julie Walters and Miranda Richardson. Before I dust off that interview from the archives let us play the trailer from Wah-Wah so you can get a sense of what the film is about.
[Trailer plays]
Beth Accomando: What is it like to play a person who is actually the person directing you as well?
Nicholas Hoult: It is quite a strange experience because normally the director, all the directors that I have worked with basically have just got the script and there is not anything to really do with them. So when you are playing a character who, the person that you are playing is, was set on their life, they had written it and they were directing it and so it was quite scary for me because you know I could let him down tremendously because you know because it is not created the great character that he has written or just not portray the emotions well enough and he obviously knew exactly how it was. So he would be able to see if it wasn’t correct how I was doing it very obviously. So it is a bit scary. But once I got out there and got into the character and realized what a great director Richard was and how he puts you at ease and is very clear with what he wants and you know he just made it very easy for me to play. And then he didn’t really, he didn’t necessarily want to create a character of himself, a younger version of himself. I mean he just wanted to create the character of Ralph who hell happens to. So it wasn’t too terrifying once I realized that he didn’t you know necessarily want a perfect image of himself portrayed. It was more about the story and what was going on for character and all the other characters and the hand over to independent Swaziland.
Beth Accomando: So you didn’t feel intimidated as much as you felt like you had the life source right there to turn too?
Nicholas Hoult: Yeah, really. It was useful, yeah. I mean it was kind of scary at first just because I didn’t want to let him down but because I know how much hard work he put into it and how much he adored the film. So I didn’t want to let him down and then that was worrying at first but then you know once we got into playing the character and just got settled up there in Africa, none of that really worries me much anymore. You know he is a very complementary director and just pretty easy to work with and a really nice guy who, he has got loads of energy constantly and he'll, he just did anything to get the film made ready and you know he was just a brilliant director to have around and a great guy to have on set. So it was all good.
Beth Accomando: Now did he take you aside and like tell you anything that maybe wasn’t in the script that he thought would help you get that character right?
Nicholas Hoult: There wasn’t anything in particular. He kind of didn’t basically, he didn’t try and make me act like him initially. I mean it was, the film was based on his life and everything but the character wasn’t exactly him, although everything that happened was true and everything. So he wasn’t trying to necessarily get me to play him. I mean, you know, he made me a CD of the music that my character would have listened to and that was probably the hardest thing to get into was the era and how the standard life that people had in colonial Swaziland which is a lot different from what we live in today basically.
Beth Accomando: Was this the first time you had ever gone to Africa?
Nicholas Hoult: It wasn’t, no. I have been to Nairobi before when I, but that was when I was 46 or something. So this was the first, basically the first time I really got to go and managed to appreciate it properly because when you are younger you don’t really it is just part of a holiday so it was amazing to go out there. It is such a beautiful country. And, you know, it is just a joy to be there for seven weeks filming. I mean, yeah, I think the film does do justice to how beautiful the country is and, you know, we were, all the locals were really, really nice and, you know, it was just a really fun shoot and because everybody was out there they kind of, we all kind of bonded and became like a giant family basically.
Beth Accomando: And how did you kind of get a feel for what that time period was like and what it would have been like to be British in Swaziland at that time just before the country was getting its independence?
Nicholas Hoult: Yeah obviously when you read the script you get quite a good sense of how it was like because, you know, the women didn’t really work, they were bored and they had nothing to do out there really. So they were having affairs and it was quite boring for most of the people who lived out there basically. So, you know, they turned to having affairs and my character smokes pot and stuff and you kind of get into the air, you know, this weird thing when I find, when I put on a costume or something and when you see all the other people in their other costumes and you see the sets as they would be in that era and stuff you kind of just go into that mind frame and it just becomes kind of life for you, see what I mean.
Beth Accomando: Did Richard comment at all about how the country had changed from when he was there? Was there any, you know, real perceivable difference to him or was there any feedback that you were getting from the people you were working with that were from the country?
Nicholas Hoult: I don’t think it had changed drastically that much. I mean quite a few perceptual things were actually where the event had actually taken place, quite a few of the people in the film were around when he was growing up there like the teacher in the car scene, his actual teacher when he was there.
[Trailer plays]
Nicholas Hoult: It was kind of based very much around his childhood and I think it was very true to type and I don’t think the country had changed that much because obviously it is not a very economically developed country. So it is not like other countries that going to spread uptown blocks all the time and change very quickly. So I think it was quite similar to how it was which obviously for the set service they made it a lot easier to make it look like it was still 1970’s.
Beth Accomando: And can you talk a little bit about working with Gabriel Byrne and how that was and what kind of an acting relationship you developed with him?
Nicholas Hoult: Gabriel was a brilliant actor. Well, he is a really, really nice guy. I don’t know, he was kind of a, kind of a brother figure whilst was out there. I just got on really well with him and I know a lot of him from just watching him and how he conducted himself and, you know, whenever we were sitting around on set and had nothing to do, he would always have lots of great stories to tell from all the times he had been acting throughout his career and all the people he had met. And he is just a genuinely nice guy with a lot of times for everybody and, you know, a brilliant actor to work with. You know, when you work with great actors like that just watching them sometimes when you are acting a scene you think wow that is incredible.
[Trailer plays]
Nicholas Hoult: Although obviously you can’t just add on your acting or whatever being your character but he is quite a festive and then yeah we just got on really well and at the end of filming there is a part of the film where Richard wears two watches, one from his wife and one that his father gave him. And there is a part in the film where Gabriel hands me over his watch as he is playing Richard and after filming finished, Gabriel gave me a watch as a present for the end of filming which he got engraved saying, “Wah-Wah, with love from Gabriel” and he gave me a watch which was really, really nice of him. And he is just, you know, one of the nicest people you will ever meet really.
Beth Accomando: Now the character he plays isn’t one of the, I mean he is a person who has a problem with alcohol so how was, how difficult was it to do those confrontational scenes with him?
Nicholas Hoult: It wasn’t difficult at all, obviously, because, you know, he played it so well and he was truly terrifying basically when he started to scream and shout and you know throw the bottles and stuff. I mean it wasn’t difficult for me act terrified or whatever because I was actually terrified of him even though he was the nicest bloke ever normally. I mean when you see him doing that and he just completely switches obviously and becomes this character. So when you see him doing that it wasn’t difficult for me because I was actually terrified and that is the great thing about working with these brilliant actors is that it makes life a lot easier for you because you know they are so good that they make it easier for you to act alongside them and just believe what is going on really.
Beth Accomando: Now what kind of a director is Richard E. Grant? I mean he is someone who has been an actor. So do you think he works better with actors because of that background?
Nicholas Hoult: He can be quite hands on or call it hands off depending I mean you know he would let you try your own things and if he thinks the scene is okay he wouldn’t direct just for the sake of directing and change things when it wasn’t necessary to change them. So he would like, you know, let you put your own input in and just let you play around with it. But then obviously because he had experienced it and could he have been an actor before he, for me he made things very clear and it was just easy to understand what he wanted because you know some directors they are kind of quite vague with what they want. Obviously he knew exactly what he wanted which made my life quite a lot easier and he could explain it very well from an actor’s point of view as well which was, you know, really useful and I think I was better for it.
Beth Accomando: I was just curious if he is the kind of director who tends to try to verbalize what he wants or does he, you know, kind of get up and say, “This how I want you to do it” and act it out himself?
Nicholas Hoult: Yeah, you know, he would do a mix of all those relative things basically. He would, you know, physically he would stand up and, you know, if it was a movement that you weren’t doing right he would show you how to do the movement or sometimes he wouldn’t almost verbalize the emotions. He would just kind of make random noises like grrring and stuff and just pretentious list and stuff and show you the emotions that either then be fading from doing that sort of thing which is, you know, it is bit where at the first you get used to it and it is, I think it is a really good way of directing basically and it worked well for me.
Beth Accomando: Did you have particular scene that was either a favorite scene or a scene that you found particularly satisfying from an acting perspective to do, to accomplish?
Nicholas Hoult: I think probably the scene where Gabriel holds the gun to me, that was obviously, yeah, I had never had a gun held to me before. So it was quite a difficult thing for me to do because I hadn’t anything to base it on in real life.
[Trailer plays]
Nicholas Hoult: Once we got that in the cannon, once we have played around with it and rehearsed it and got it feeling right I think that was a really good scene to film and I think that came across quite well. So that was obviously good fun. And also from a scene I quite enjoyed doing was the scene at the cinema ticket office flirting with Mrs. Malaga.
[Trailer plays]
Nicholas Hoult: It was quite a fun scene to film where it wasn’t too heavy handed. I could kind of mess around a bit and try and be more, I don’t know, cheeky with character basically and show that side too, which was good fun.
Beth Accomando: And can you talk a little bit about, you know, within the film your character takes on a role in the play Camelot that these Britishers are going to be performing, you know, it's like part of the ceremony for the independence. And could you just comment a little bit about kind of the choice of that and what it reflects on those British characters?
Nicholas Hoult: What it is, is obviously Princess Margret is visiting and all the Swazi people put on a tribal dance and stuff and the British folk which some of them quite well decide to put on perfect production of Camelot which is basically nothing to do with Swazi independence or anything. And, yeah, they decided to put that on and they actually have a colored man play Lancelot, who they, you know, it is quite politically incorrect because in the time to not offend Princess Margaret or whoever, because they weren’t really allowed to perform their painting right...
[Trailer plays]
Nicholas Hoult: ...and that one went to helm on and it just sums up the general opinions in society and how society was you know with the hierarchy and how people weren’t allowed to perform and just what they thought was a good idea of putting on Camelot as an independence ceremony performance basically, which obviously it wasn’t their best idea probably. And it all goes, well it doesn’t go horrifically wrong but obviously one of the Genie Walters who basically he gets horrendously drunk and you know it is kind of an amateur production of it which to my eyes the director takes very seriously and thinks he is a brilliant director and it is just quite funny to watch really this amateur production who were taking it very seriously.
Beth Accomando: Well it also seemed there was a, an odd mix in the choice of the play. I mean on the one hand it kind of revealed a kind of blindness that they had as to, you know, what they were choosing to perform. But on the other hand there is kind of a certain naivete that has a certain appeal to it too.
Nicholas Hoult: Yeah it is kind of a mix that way you can laugh at it and just see how ridiculous it was, and, yeah, it is good fun to watch it and just feel the shenanigans going on basically and see the characters taking themselves quite seriously in their dramatics.
Beth Accomando: How difficult was it to go there and shoot in Swaziland? Were they very accommodating or was it difficult to go there to shoot?
Nicholas Hoult: For the first week I was there I found it quite strange you know being in the middle of nowhere and not having all the home comforts that you are used to. That was quite weird but then once you settle into the lifestyle and kind of forget about all the things that you don’t really probably need at home you just kind of get engrossed to that and it is delightful to live there. I mean it is such a beautiful place and all the locals were just delightful. I mean it was the first film ever made in Swaziland so they were quite curious and all very friendly. Yeah, on the last day filming in Piggs Peak the locals came in and sang to us whilst we are eating lunch and they sang see ya bonga wawa which means Thank you, Wah-Wah, you know it is just a completely different experience, it's life changing basically. Because you wouldn’t really get that anywhere else in the world and it was just very touching to be out there and be a part of it and you know see how all these people live and just see other cultures basically.
Beth Accomando: When you go there I mean is it obvious that it had been a country that had been associated with Britain before? Is there reminisce of any of this kind of you know British culture or is it completely erased from there or how...?
Nicholas Hoult: I wouldn’t say it was particularly erased. I mean obviously the British installed when they were there the, you know, everybody got clean running water and all things like that and yeah some of the buildings you could probably see it is colonial buildings built by the British but you know it is you wouldn’t walk into and think wow this was definitely inhabited by the British. I mean just a few little things like running water and stuff which they had inserted probably that one might give it away. But apart from that there is nothing really to tell it apart, I wouldn’t say that.
Beth Accomando: And can you describe the title a word that comes from in the film?
Nicholas Hoult: Yeah it is Wah-Wah which is basically the colonial speech was kind of very, I don’t know how to describe it, but they used you know funny slang almost which was tootle pip and cheerio and chin chin and all these sort of random things which people obviously wouldn’t say and then Ruby’s character is an American who marries Gabriel Byrnes' character. She is played by Emily Watson. She marries him whilst I am off at boarding school and I come home to meet him and she picks up on all this hush hush and billy bob language that they speak and she comes up with the word Wah-Wah which is basically, it is basically the interpretation of how the British colonial spoke with all there uppity stuck up English talk basically. It is her interpretation of it saying it a Wah-Wah and it is gobbledygook basically.
[Trailer plays]
Beth Accomando: So with the entrance of the American character I mean does, did Richard tell you anything about, I mean did that really kind of cause that kind of a turmoil? I mean was it that much of a kind of shock to the culture there to have someone like that who tended to speak her mind a little more plainly or...?
Nicholas Hoult: Yeah, obviously. The culture there is very different from what she has been used to and obviously this character had been to college and been an air hostess and all these sort of things which these colonials would probably look down on, you know, working and things like that and it is not from their culture and it is not what they would do. So it was looked down then but obviously she is actually a rich character who can deal with the dysfunctional family that she marries into and you know she at first the society doesn’t really accept it but I think towards the end they kind of understand her and gets accepted sort of.
Beth Accomando: There were a lot of really amazing actresses in this film too. What kind of working relationships did you establish with them?
Nicholas Hoult: You know Emily Watson, Julie Walters, Miranda Richardson and they were just lovely because you are out there for so long with all of them I mean it did become like a family and I honestly think I just gotten really well with everybody. It was just lovely to go to work every day knowing that you are going to be with these great people and that you know there wouldn’t be any devious drops or anything and that everybody would get along and do their jobs well and, you know, I had done a film before with Julie Walters when I was 5, I played her grandson. And then suddenly I was 14, she was playing my aunt and stuff it is just nice to be with people who are really down to earth and just brilliant actresses who don’t necessarily take themselves too seriously with themselves and just really nice genuine people who you can get along with when you are working. And I know for certain just enjoy being with basically.
Beth Accomando: And do they all tend to have similar approaches to the way they act or are they all very different in terms of kind of how they approach a character or a scene?
Nicholas Hoult: I can’t really describe the different approaches. Obviously they are playing very different characters. Miranda Richardson’s character is very cold and reserved. So yeah that is very difficult too. Emily Watson's different, to Emily Watson's character who is you know very warm and friendly and then there is Julie Walters character who is a bit of a drunk and kind of a joker almost but it you know such difficult, different characters obviously to approaches to the movie different because you know the mindset that you have got to be in to play them has got to be quite a lot different because, you know, just being ice cold to being very friendly and warm is quite a transition. So obviously the mindset that you have when you are playing them has got to be quite different.
Beth Accomando: One thing that I found interesting was that you know a lot of times when you see a film that is autobiographical and you know the person it is about is either the writer or the director, you know, you really tend to sense that that character might be glossed over a little bit or, you know, somehow stands separate from the other characters but I was really impressed how it didn’t seem like Richard E. Grant was trying to, you know, make himself, you know, seem better than anyone else or I mean he seemed, the character seemed very real and flawed.
Nicholas Hoult: It is his story obviously and it is about his character growing up but it is an ensemble cast and you know all the things that happened to them just to create the character and he is not perfect. It is not everybody else's fault the whole time he can’t handle things he runs away and he is the one that gets annoyed and gets upset and you know it is him trying to deal with himself and obviously growing up and becoming a man and there is a changing age growing up basically as well. The story of him trying to, he didn’t grow up with this dysfunctional family in Swaziland and yeah he is not perfect but none of the characters really are when you look at them. So no, not many people in the world really but anyway so you know it is just an interesting story because obviously he hasn’t made himself perfect just to make himself awesome in the film and everything, that he is a saint or whatever. So it is interesting to see.
Beth Accomando: What are you most proud of in the film?
Nicholas Hoult: What am I most proud of? I can’t discus it. I am just trying to be a part of it over all because you know what I say, I don’t generally like to watch myself but I enjoy watching and seeing other peoples' performances. I am just proud to be a part of the film. My role to be a part of you know Richard worked so hard get the film made and everything and I am just proud to be part of his story and putting it together really. That was privilege enough for me.
Beth Accomando: And what do you think audiences will come away from the film thinking about?
Nicholas Hoult: Well most times it is a family life which goes on, you know. The drunken father and, you know, the mum is running away and getting remarried and stuff and I am not sure, I think, you know, hopefully people when they see the film there is funny bits and they will enjoy those and hopefully they will, not that I want to upset people, but hopefully they will you know feel the pain that the characters go through. And then you know it is an emotional roller coaster hopefully where they get the ups and the downs and then they will leave just, you know, seeing, I am not sure. I don’t know how to answer that I don’t know I don’t think there is any major moral issue being shown through it. But I don’t think a film really need some big moral message for you to enjoy it. I think you know just enjoy for the decent film it is.
Beth Accomando: And what did you, what appealed to you the most about the character you played?
Nicholas Hoult: Just the fact that all these you know crazy things happened in his life basically and it is just a difficult life for him to live anyway. And then at the same time he trying to grow up and become his own man. So he is going through all this and obviously the fact that he can’t always cope with that and it is just interesting to see how he deals with it and how that his life was because most people don’t have life’s I mean I don’t. So it is just interesting to read about a young life like that and get the chance to pretend to be him and play him. So the whole thing just interested me really, the lifestyle the culture, the era, and just the whole, everything about the character was just something really gripping to get into and I felt though it is something that I could immerse myself in for the seven-week shoot without getting bored of him or any which you know he is a very layered character who I don’t think you really fully understand probably.
Beth Accomando: And one last thing. I just wanted to ask you about the puppets that are used in the film and how was that, you know, working those and kind of using that as a means for the character to express himself?
Nicholas Hoult: Some of the puppets were actually Richard and that is how he kind of got away from it all because I mean people out there think when they have bad times at home and stuff they have that thing which they immerse themselves in maybe playing sport and stuff, and the thing he immersed himself in was his puppets and his acting and stuff and obviously his father called him a dolly boy and whatever for it and took the mickey out of him but that was one thing that you know Richard immersed to find an escape and sort of thing. And I thought it was a good kind of, it was a good way of displaying that throughout the film you know the scenes with the puppets and the lighting and how the puppets move and just the emotional thing. You can kind of display a lot from the puppets of how the character was feeling which was useful, you know, kind of where we are doing it rather than using voice over or something like that and I think it worked really well.
Beth Accomando: So were some of those actually the puppets he had when he was the age he was in the film or are they ones that, I mean does he still to continue to kind of create those?
Nicholas Hoult: No there was, I think quite a few of them were actually his puppets from his collection which he had kept from back in the era and that you know obviously some of them were new and stuff but quite few of them were actually his own puppets which he brought over to Swaziland.
Beth Accomando: Okay great. I appreciate that…
Nicholas Hoult: You are welcome.
Beth Accomando: Alright, thank you very much for your time.
Nicholas Hoult: Okay, thank you.
Beth Accomando: Alright, bye.
Nicholas Hoult: Take care, bye.
Beth Accomando: You have been listening to the Cinema Junkie podcast I am Beth Accomando. Please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and make sure you give us a rating. Thanks very much for listening.

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Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place