When I last spoke with Nicholas Hoult, the GQ-ready actor with the Vulcan eyebrows and alpine cheekbones, he’d just split from his very famous girlfriend, Jennifer Lawrence. It was January 2013, and the Brit had just wrapped filming Mad Max: Fury Road—a grueling shoot that he’d credited for the breakup.
“It’s tricky, because you’re all over the place,” he said. “We were shooting Mad Max: Fury Road for seven months in Namibia, so you’re never really in one place, and when you are, they’re strange places that are difficult to get to. I wouldn’t change it, because you’re very fortunate to travel, meet new people, and embark on these new experiences, but it’s not great for that side of things.”
Well, quite a lot’s happened since then. Hoult’s ascended to leading man status. Another X-Men film came out, grossing $750 million worldwide. Fury Road finally came out, defying any and all expectations as one of the best movies in years. And the 25-year-old reunited with—and re-split from—Lawrence, which was documented voraciously in the tabloids.
Days after those tabloids picked up on the parting of ways, Hoult embarked on a journey to Japan to shoot Drake Doremus’s Equals, a sci-fi film set in a future society where emotions have been eradicated, and those that express them are sent to their death. His character falls for coworker Nia (Kristen Stewart), and the two decide to go on the run rather than succumb to their grim fate.
Stewart, too, had recently re-split from her on-and-off boyfriend and Twilight costar Robert Pattinson, so the project—and its remote setting—couldn’t have come at a better time for the pair.
“It was incredibly painful,” Stewart told me. “It was a really good time for both of us to make this movie… We all felt akin by how much we’ve been through, and to utilize that is so scary.”
Hoult agrees. “It was nice to feel so isolated from everything, from our lives,” he says. “It’s often the way we are on location, but particularly in this movie it was very intimate, and a nice environment to be in.”
The civilization depicted in Equals is dubbed the Collective, where its inhabitants drift about in Nehru white suits, eat, work, and sleep. To break the monotony, they’ll solve a 3-D puzzle—if they’re feeling adventurous, that is.
According to Hoult, the world of the film is in many ways a commentary on America’s prescription drug culture, and the overmedication of our youth. “Not to piss on any countries, but the States has a much bigger culture of it than England does of kids who don’t really have anything wrong with them. Yeah, they’re hyper sometimes and somber, but it’s just kids growing up. There were times when I was an absolute pain in the backside, and times when I was calm as hell. It’s hormones and you’re growing, so to dampen those and say, ‘You’re bipolar,’ and give people medication for it, there’s a massive problem with that,” he says.
But Equals is, first and foremost, about “love prevailing and the human spirit,” and the great lengths people will go for love.
“Most of the time, what we’re doing is for love,” says Hoult. “That thing when you get dressed in the morning and think, ‘Oh, I want to get dressed nice for this,’ that’s all fueled by love—particularly that unrequited love, and the love you can’t have. Because that is just, ugh, torture.”
His Fury Road experience wasn’t exactly a smooth ride, either. Hoult signed on to George Miller’s project in January 2010, but the shoot was pushed back to 2012. The delay allowed Hoult to accept the role of Hank McCoy/Beast in X-Men: First Class, where he met Lawrence.
“That’s why I ended up on X-Men,” he recalls. “Originally, I wasn’t available for X-Men and then I found out it was getting pushed, so I rang my agent and told him I’d be free.”
Hoult’s character of Nux in Fury Road, a white-painted kamikaze War Boy hellbent on achieving immortality, has become a bit of a fan favorite—with his chrome-sprayed mouth and quotable lines.
“What a day, what a lovely day!” he says, laughing. “It’s a great feeling when you’ve played a role, it’s been picked up on, and it’s become a tagline where people have picked up so much on it. I spend quite a lot of my spare time doing Dubsmashes, and I got sent someone fully dressed as me in Mad Max who sent me a Dubsmash the other day. Their makeup was good, it was wild.”
The surprisingly tall (6-foot-3) actor says there were days on set where he’d return from shooting in the desert, wash off the paint, and have a V8 engine block suntanned into his chest. As for the chrome spray? “It was cake spray,” he says, “this cake-coloring mixture. Non-toxic!”
But back to Equals, there’s a scene in which Hoult and Stewart, who are experiencing love for the first time, experiment with their first kiss. It’s a powerful sequence set in a bathroom stall replete with swelling music, light, explorative caressing, and the eventual payoff.
“It’s gotta be kind of bad, but also not laughable—and there has to be so much feeling and discovery about it,” Hoult says of his kiss with Stewart. “Not a bad job for me!”