Nicholas Hoult wondered if he should go for the accent when training for his role as Tsar Peter III of Russia in the television series The Great. The 31-year-old had just finished filming The Current War, a film in which he played the part of inventor Nikola Tesla, and it happened to him that, without too much difficulty, he could turn his Serbian into a passable Russian. Hoult is conscientious, thoughtful and takes his work very seriously. He says of his attempt at Russian, “It didn’t flow the right way,” and he went back to the drawing board, to the exaggerated version of his own accent more precisely. A new comic antihero was born. Hoult is in London with his girlfriend Bryana Holly, an American model, and their two-year-old son Joaquin, in the midst of filming The Great’s second season. “I don’t do the full public schoolboy, but I’m very posh – educated, but childish.”
It’s a wonderful series written by Tony McNamara and starring Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great, who also wrote the Academy Award-winning film The Favourite, in which Hoult starred alongside Olivia Colman and Emma Stone.
It is riotously entertaining, and as Peter III, Hoult is spoiled, impulsive, infantile and profane, a character who can execute or excuse a whim summarily.
He is really funny as well.
While this is a period piece, because of the impressive amount of swearing and Hoult’s indignant abuse, there is a touch of The Thick Of It about it, mostly. For Hoult, his catchphrase “Huzzah!” was the challenge of making the character both endearing and brutal.
As an actor, from his title role in the indie biopic Rebel In The Rye (2017) to Nux in the blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road to Hank in the X-Men films and his role as Kenny in A Single Guy, Tom Ford’s great 2009 film, he has passed through every genre imaginable. Hoult has a certain guilelessness about him, no matter what part he plays, the flashing smile and bouncy attitude of someone who at age 30 always seems youthful. On so many ways, he’s horrible,” he says of Peter, “but I also think he has to be fun to be around. You think at first, what a bully, what a monster, and then you see all the hints of what it’s like to try to run a country under the shadow of your father. To have all these people around you who don’t trust you and who never say no to you, and the impact of being able to do whatever you want.
Perhaps Hoult represents the state of contemporary fame that he has found difficult to resist for the past 20 years. He was 11 years old when he played Marcus, the boy with the bowl haircut, in the 2002 film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s hit novel ‘About A Boy,’ by which time he had been an actor for six years. Hoult was the antithesis of the fictional child star, an actor whose screen prese
But it was a down-to-earth household, and he was not especially excited when Hoult (after following his sisters to ballet classes and acting in “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker”) was spotted by a casting director and invited to audition first for the stage and then for TV.
In reality, he always found acting profoundly embarrassing: “Oh, totally,” he says with a wolfish grin, “that is acting in general.”
Hoult is a former Reading Rockets youth basketball player at 6-foot-3 who looks more like a brash upstart than a traditional leader. “The best point is when you have so much fun with a character that you don’t care – so you laugh it off and move on if something goes wrong.” The factor of not being valuable or thinking about failing has to be there.
And when you are trying to play a character, there is nothing worse than being self-conscious. He’s bad on so many levels,”He’s terrible on so many levels,”but I think playing him still has to be fun. “but I think it still has to be fun to play him. “