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admin | Mar 24, 2023

Nicholas Hoult Talks to Elle Fanning About Vampires, Nicolas Cage, and ‘The Great’

With over two decades of work, Nicholas Hoult has cemented his place in the spotlight. Now, with not one but two vampire films in the works, the actor dives into the world of the undead.

Despite what his filmography might suggest—starring as a lovesick zombie in 2013’s Warm Bodies; reuniting with former The Weather Man costar Nicolas Cage to play Dracula’s beleaguered assistant in Renfield, out this April; and playing an as-yet-unnamed character in Robert Eggers’s upcoming Nosferatu remake, currently shooting in Prague—Nicholas Hoult promises that he does not have an obsession with the undead. He just happened to be offered two exciting scripts centered on vampires.

“With Renfield, I thought it was a fun take because Renfield is normally a secondary character, and I was like, ‘How fun to explore these codependent, toxic relationships in this scenario—a work environment between Dracula and his familiar,’” Hoult explains.

And besides, with over two decades of experience under his belt, he’s sure to repeat a motif or two. Hoult first made waves in 2002’s About a Boy, but it was his role as Tony Stonem on the iconic U.K. series Skins back in 2006 that officially put him on the map. Since then, Hoult has appeared in everything from big-title blockbusters, like X-Men and Mad Max: Fury Road, to more experimental fare, like 2018’s critically acclaimed period drama The Favourite and 2022’s sleeper hit The Menu.

The role that has garnered him the most attention to date, however, is playing Russia’s Peter III in Hulu’s The Great, which has earned him two Golden Globe nominations and one Emmy nomination. He stars alongside Elle Fanning in the comedy-drama series—and, exclusively for L’OFFICIEL. Hoult speaks with his friend and costar about picking up diverse skills beyond acting on set, dealing with having scenes cut, and working with iconic actors as a child.

NICHOLAS HOULT: I would like to start with something that I think will make Elle laugh: Guess what I’m doing at the moment? I’m practicing my calligraphy. I’ve got my quill here, my ink. It’s going terribly, as always. This goes back to when we were shooting The Great, and there was a scene where I had to sign over Russia to Catherine. Behind the scenes, I guess I was meant to have been practicing my penmanship, my quillwork, because I’m truly terrible at it. And I said to Elle in between takes, “Oh, because you’re so good at it.” And she was like, “No, really I am,” and I was like, “BS, it’s so difficult. What’s going on here?” Turns out, Elle had calligraphy lessons when she was a kid, and writes out the Russian word for Catherine in the most beautiful handwriting I’ve ever seen in my life.

ELLE FANNING: You had to eat your words!

NH: You were like, “Now you write Peter.” And I didn’t even know how to write Peter in English, let alone in Russian, and it was just dots of ink and blobs and horrible squiggles.

EF: Do you have to [write using calligraphy] in a scene?

NH: It is for a scene, but now I know that I’m terrible, so I told them, just as a heads up, “This isn’t really my thing, if you want someone to do this.” [Laughs.]

EF: You have to learn how to do so many different things as an actor—that’s the fun of it. Nick, you love to learn new activities; I would say that’s probably one of your favorite things about acting.

NH: That’s similar for you as well, right? What’s your favorite skill that you’ve learned?

EF: I had to play the trumpet for Ginger and Rosa, but they cut it out of the scene. I trained for months; I was supposed to play trumpet and then I didn’t. But I liked the process of it! That was fun, it was so unusual, and it was something that I never would have done in real life. I had to ice-skate for Somewhere, and that was probably the one I felt most proud of, because I did a whole routine.

NH: Any that you’ve kept up?

EF: Nope! [Laughs.] I leave that in the dust. But you ride your motorcycle! You scoot around on that all the time.

NH: Yeah, I learned to ride a motorcycle when we did Young Ones. That was the skill I’ve kept, and I was happy to have learned.

EF: And you’re a very good dancer! You do some dancing in Renfield.

NH: Cut! Gone. There was a whole dance sequence that we practiced for weeks. It was a dream fantasy dance sequence. We shot it all in one night, we had all these amazing dancers, and then it’s not in the film.

EF: That’s showbiz, though, isn’t it? That happens all the time. Sometimes the things you’re most excited about get cut.

NH: It’s been a bit of a learning curve for me; when you get really attached to things in the script, and you put in a lot of effort to learn them, or whatever it might be, and then it just doesn’t work in the end.

EF: Oh, completely. I’ve definitely had that feeling before. But when I’m acting, I’m editing in my brain at the same time. So sometimes, maybe it’s not scenes that are completely cut, but they’re edited in a way that wasn’t what was in my head. That, for me, can be hard. Inevitably, there’s always a reason for it, but you do get attached to the way that you see your vision. Even when you come into work, and I’ve been imagining the scene a certain way, then the blocking is completely different, the location looks nothing like I imagined it. But that’s kind of a part of having to be spontaneous.

NH: I think I kind of edit along. But there are definitely times when you’ll do the scene and you’ll be so in it emotionally. And then they’ll come to you like, “That was great, but we couldn’t see your face.” So you have to keep some sort of awareness; that’s the trick.

EF: Oh yeah, I had a scene once—it was a 10-page scene, crying hysterically, one of those big scenes. We finished the take, and everyone was like, “This was incredible; this was it.” They weren’t rolling. But we’re just like, “Okay, we just have to do it again.”

NH: You’re good at being objective about that, though. You’re always watching edits of the show, and keeping on top of stuff like that, making sure that scenes are really paying off in the right way.

EF: I enjoy that part. I think we really understand each other; it feels very safe and comfortable. Doing a show like The Great, you have to be very uninhibited, and working together in the scenes that we have to do, we’re not embarrassed; we’re very uninhibited together and feel like we can try things out. We’re both going to push each other and challenge each other and be honest with each other. I think we’re both very brutally honest, which I respect more than anything. If it’s bad, I want [you] to look at me and be like, “Tone it down,” and I’ll do the same for you.

NH: There’s trust and an ability to push each other and expect a lot. We’re both kind of competitive and think of acting almost in terms of an athletic sort of thing, at times, so it’s showtime when you get to set. We have similar approaches to being on set, and are also willing to laugh and take the piss out of each other without upsetting each other. We both know that the other one’s capable of really great stuff, so we’re willing to push and try for that and reach for it, but then also admit that sometimes it goes wrong.

EF: I will ask you—I’m warming you up for the press tour when they ask you about this—what’s your obsession with vampires? Are you one? Is that why?

NH: [Laughs.] That’s it. I just like leeches and anything that drinks blood, basically. Mosquitoes, all blood-sucking creatures.

EF: I remember you telling me that you had to eat bugs for Renfield.

NH: I did. I ate quite a lot of bugs. They’re dried-out and flavored crickets, though, so they were pretty tasty, to be honest with you. Salt and vinegar was the best; there was a barbecue flavor. But the one that I didn’t like was a potato bug that hadn’t been flavored, and that tasted quite buggy. It was quite big as well. They were all dried and dead though; I wasn’t just randomly picking bugs off the floor.

EF: If you were a real actor, you would’ve.

NH: They made little caramel cockroaches—those were the best ones, actually, apart from that they get stuck in your teeth, but it looked exactly like a cockroach made of caramel. We had this discussion, though, because you were eating dirt in The Great. The food and prop team are amazing in terms of a dedication to creating these beautiful things for us to eat. There were two times I put my foot down, though: It was the chicken hearts, because I was like, I don’t want to eat 50 chicken hearts today if I can help it, and when they had the lard ice cream. I’d been looking forward to it for ages, and I was meant to be gobbling it down, and the fake ice cream they’d made was room-temperature, gritty sugar lard.

EF: Are you doing a crazy accent [in Nosferatu]?

NH: You know me; I always flirt with an accent, so I was doing that. Then I was working with a dialect coach, and they were like, “Don’t do that. That’s terrible. That’s offensive.” [Laughs.] No, they were much more political about it; they’re like, “It’s good what you’re doing, but it doesn’t necessarily help us with the story.” I think it was me consciously being like, I’ve just done Renfield; I don’t want to end up in the same realm as that. But then I was like, that’s silly: Renfield is an action comedy set in modern times and is almost like a spoof, and Robert Eggers is doing a very serious Nosferatu, a Gothic horror movie. They’re different; I’ll be different naturally. But I was trying too hard. Do you ever have that?

EF: Yeah, and you also create problems for yourself that no one else is thinking about. You’re thinking too far ahead. But you had an English accent in Renfield?

NH: Yeah, but in that, I’m using more of my own voice, and the language in that is modern, whereas [Nosferatu] is more the language of the era—but not in The Great way. I don’t get to say as many funny things in this. Have you ever done things that you’re like, Oh, I’m in the same world here? Have you passed up anything because you’re like, This is too similar?

EF: I’ve definitely had that. Normally, it’s always about period things for me. Obviously, The Great, we’re so much in the 18th century and it’s very period, so I am aware of that, because then you just become someone who always does period. I’ve been in a corset so many times. Also, a casting director once said that I have a very period-looking face. People have also said I look like Bill Hader; there was a Twitter photo of me and Bill Hader side-by-side saying we look alike, which is true. I see it. Who do you look like? You don’t look like anyone to me; you look like you.

NH: Who do I get mistaken for? Basically any young English actor around my age. In the coffee shop not far from me, for a while, I would accept praise for Me Before You, a movie Sam Claflin did. This person at the coffee shop was convinced it was me, so I accepted all the praise. They thought I was very good in it.

EF: Is there anybody that you look up to, actor-wise? Any careers that you want to emulate?

NH: It’s a mix of different people. The people I grew up watching were Robin Williams and Jim Carrey. Do you?

EF: I mean, Nicole Kidman I’ve always loved. She’s my number one. And I love Carey Mulligan. She always makes the right choices.

NH: I’d like to see you do a thriller—very dark, action-y, like a Seven-type movie—I’d like to put you into that world where it’s like, Oh, Elle’s in real danger. Not because I want to see you in danger! But I just like those movies anyway.

EF: I’ve always wanted to do an action movie, where I had to train for it—it seems fun. You’ve done that a lot; you’re always training. You have done a wide variety. I feel like you have a good balance of a lot of things. I’d like to see you do a family-drama-comedy, where it’s an ensemble—like an August: Osage County vibe, Rachel Getting Married, something like that. What was it like to reunite with Nicolas Cage?

NH: I was so excited for him to be coming in to do this, because that was a crazy experience when I was 14, to work with him then [on The Weather Man]. I think at that age, I hadn’t seen a lot of his work, and I wasn’t fully aware of quite how iconic Nicolas Cage was, so it was nice to get to work with him again. I’m almost more in awe of him the second time—but then also, to see him as Dracula is pretty incredible, because it’s such an iconic role, but then you put Nicolas Cage into it, and it doesn’t get more iconic, in many ways, than those two combined. And also watching the way he works—where his inspiration came from, his dedication—it was really wonderful, and I was very happy to get the chance to work with him again and have a front-row seat.

EF: I remember you heard that he was going to do it when you were on the set [of The Great], and you were so excited. You were hoping that he would say yes, because that was a name that was circling.

NH: I want to ask if you’ve had that: someone that you’ve worked with as a kid, and you didn’t fully appreciate who they were in the moment, and then years later ended up working with them again, or just running into them again, and re-evaluating.

EF: I’ve definitely had that: Jeff Bridges, who I worked with [on The Door in the Floor] when I was four. I mean, I had absolutely no idea who he was. I was drawing a lot, and Jeff Bridges and I would draw together because he’s an amazing artist. He taught me how to draw legs so it’s not just a stick figure. He basically was like, “Okay, legs aren’t sticks. You should draw four lines, and then connect them at the bottom.” He taught me how to draw.

NH: That’s incredible that you’ve got that memory of him: Jeff Bridges teaching you how to draw legs.

EF: I know, but I did not appreciate that it was Jeff Bridges at all.

NH: You just thought, This guy knows how to draw legs! [Laughs.] I hope he was simplifying it a little bit for you at that point, saying just two lines for each leg. [Source]

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Nicholas as Peter
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A royal woman living in rural Russia during the 18th century is forced to choose between her own personal happiness and the future of Russia, when she marries an Emperor.

Nicholas as Renfield
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Renfield, Dracula's henchman and inmate at the lunatic asylum for decades, longs for a life away from the Count, his various demands, and all of the bloodshed that comes with them.

Nicholas as Thomas Hutter
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A gothic tale of obsession between a haunted young woman in 19th century Germany and the ancient Transylvanian vampire who stalks her, bringing untold horror with him.

Nicholas as Unknown
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In 1983, a series of increasingly violent bank robberies, counterfeiting operations and armored car heists frightened communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. As baffled law enforcement agents scrambled for answers, a lone FBI agent (Law), stationed in the sleepy, picturesque town of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, came to believe the crimes were not the work of traditional, financially motivated criminals but a group of dangerous domestic terrorists, inspired by a radical, charismatic leader (Hoult), plotting a devastating war against the federal government of the United States.

Nicholas as Lex Luthor
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Follows the titular superhero as he reconciles his heritage with his human upbringing. He is the embodiment of truth, justice and a brighter tomorrow in a world that views kindness as old-fashioned.

Nicholas as Justin Kemp
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Family man Justin Kemp who, while serving as a juror in a high profile murder trial, finds himself struggling with a serious moral dilemma...one he could use to sway the jury verdict and potentially convict-or free-the wrong killer.

Nicholas as Mason
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Taylor makes a last-ditch effort to find love by becoming a contestant on a reality dating show. But she begins to feel the artifice of the show fade, and the game becomes terrifyingly real. Rivalry turns into treachery.
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