Designer Tom Ford is one of those insanely talented men you want to hate. He’s gorgeous, a brilliant clothing designer, and now a first-time director with Oscar buzz building around his debut, A Single Man. Based on the book by Christopher Isherwood, it tells the story of a professor George Falconer (Colin Firth) in 1962 Los Angeles who, bereft at the death of his partner (Matthew Goode, Ozymandias in Watchmen), decides to commit suicide. As his presumed last day unfolds, George sets about putting his life in order, planning a last night with his devoted friend Charlie (Julianne Moore, looking ravishing in period gowns), and enjoying a sexually-charged conversation with a handsome James Dean-like hustler (Jon Kortajarena).
He is interrupted in his mission by Kenny, one of his students, who may be just what George needs to shatter his suicidal funk. Kenny is played by a striking young man, Nicholas Hoult, who you’ll be amazed to recognize as “the boy” in the Hugh Grant film, About a Boy. Hoult took time from his twentieth birthday to speak to me about A Single Man, and why British actors have fewer hang-ups about playing gay characters than American actors.
NC: First of all, happy birthday. You’re not a teen-ager anymore.
NH: Thank you. Yeah, I’m twenty today. Odd.
NC: And I just remembered, we (the Phoenix Film Critics Society) gave you an acting award for About a Boy in 2003.
NH: Yeah, which was fantastic. It’s in my house.
NC: So how did your love of acting come about?
NH: It was more of an accident, to be honest with you. My brothers and sisters were involved in the same thing. My mother took me along at three, and the director saw me in the audience, and used me in her next play. It sort of all kicked off from there. It was kind of a hobby which I continued to do — instead of playing for a sports team, I’d act.
NC: Kenny’s a pretty forward character. How did you approach playing him?
NH: The main thing about Kenny is, he’s not necessarily that confident. He’s about embracing the moment and living in the now. I think anyone would seem that confident if they were just about the present, and not worrying about the past or the future. I think that’s where Kenny’s coming from.
NC: It’s just what George needs at that moment.
NH: That’s why their relationship works so well, because George is someone who is living in the past very much and dealing with the loss of his lover. He’s not been spontaneous and gone swimming in the ocean at night and all that. A lot of people in life don’t have those experiences enough.
NC: For you, what was the best part of working on A Single Man?
NH: For me, it was working with such talented people as Tom and Colin and the whole crew. It was a real labor of love for everyone. It’s a nice experience on a film set when it’s not all about making money.
NC: A colleague was grateful that the film showed a healthy gay relationship (before the lover’s death), rather than self-loathing characters.
NH: That’s a key part of the story is that it’s about love and loss, and it would have worked as well if George’s partner who died had been female.
NC: Was it hard slipping into the time period and the American accent?
NH: I had a great dialogue coach and she just made sure that the accent was specific to the time and place we’re in, and it gives you the confidence to forget the fact that you're speaking in an accent when you’re acting. The script was so beautifully constructed by Tom, that everything you needed was in there.
NC: What are Kenny’s motives in respect to George?
NH: I think it was to have a connection and an understanding with him. It’s pretty rare in life when we do have a beneath-the-surface sort of connection with someone.
NC: I notice that British actors seem to have a lot less hang-ups about playing gay roles. Why is that?
NH: I don’t know if it’s that British actors are so happy to be working (laughing). There’s not such a huge air of not being cast in something else because you played a gay character, because people aren’t defined by their sexuality — they’re more defined by many other things in their personality. I think maybe it’s something to do with looking past that as well.
Hoult will also be seen in the big budget film Clash of the Titans, which he enjoyed. “It’s great to see how those films are made. I think it could be a very popular film,” he remarked. For now, he hopes people will see A Single Man. “It’s a great piece of cinema,” he said, that teaches people to live for the moment and enjoy life.
on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.