Nicholas Hoult is in yet another film getting significant awards attention, “The Favourite,” where he has a supporting role as Robert Harley. Hoult previously had a notable role in 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and actually worked with his “Favourite” co-star, Rachel Weisz, in 2002’s “About a Boy.”
Hoult recently chatted with Gold Derby senior editors Daniel Montgomery and Susan Wloszczyna about getting to play such an over-the-top character in “The Favourite,” what it was like to work with director Yorgos Lanthimos, and the responsibility of playing a real person. Watch the exclusive webchat above and read the complete interview transcript below.
Gold Derby (Daniel Montgomery): Nicholas Hoult, you co-star in “The Favourite” as Robert Harley, who’s kind of jockeying for a position in Queen Anne’s court. What did you think about this script and about this role when you first read the screenplay? It’s a very unique and sort of unusual film.
Nicholas Hoult: I just loved the writing, first of all. Tony McNamara had this beautiful dry sense of humor and wit, and the dialogue of all the characters wasn’t written like a standard British period drama. I can find those to be a little bit slow-paced for my taste. This one was whip-smart and very sharp with the dialogue and made me laugh a lot, so I just loved it on first read. Then the more I read Harley’s dialogues specifically, I just fell in love with him as a character. He’s very manipulative, smart and cruel, but also makes sense and is jockeying for position, as you say, within this court and using all the pieces and people he can to get the results he wants, politically.
Gold Derby (Susan Wloszczyna): I admire you for doing another movie after “Mad Max: Fury Road” where the women are sort of the main event, and I just wonder if that crossed your mind or maybe some actors would feel they were not in the forefront enough in the script?
NH: First of all, this has been in the works for a long time so it’s not necessarily a product of this current movement but to see three female leads who are complicated and powerful, nuanced, vulnerable at times, but really well fleshed-out characters, it’s pretty rare, and to see that power and love triangle between the three of them, particularly when it’s such phenomenal actresses bringing them to life, Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, they’re all so amazing in those roles. For me as an actor, I never look at things like, “I’m a lead or it’s a small part” in terms of those sorts of things. I just look at if I want to play that character. I also go for varying tones and I like characters that you can disappear into.
GD (Susan): Well you had that big wig, so you did disappear in that.
NH: For “Mad Max” I lost weight, shaved my head and ran around in a pair of trousers. In this, I’ve got on giant wigs, full face of makeup and high heels. I like to transform like that if possible, physically, and then that helps with the creation of the character to craft something different.
GD (Daniel): With your transformation in this, you mention “Mad Max” and the X-Men films, you also transform yourself. How does this compare to that ‘cause this is the wig, the makeup, very involved costumes. How does it compare to those previous experiences? Was this more work or less work?
NH: The costume, apart from the high heels, the costume was pretty comfortable. The wigs were a little warm but they were plopped on like hats or you could take them off in between. In terms of the experience overall, I would say that working with Yorgos Lanthimos, the director on this, his approach in many ways was kind of similar to George Miller’s approach on “Mad Max” at times, in terms of during the rehearsal period, we didn’t sit down and break down the history of characters and go through what we intended to portray. It was not a cerebral process. It was very much about running the scenes, but whilst we were playing games, dancing, theater games basically. We did that for two weeks with the core six members of the cast. I found that process kind of similar to some of the things that George Miller was doing on “Mad Max,” and it’s lovely ‘cause it puts you in a very different mindset and creates this world and character for you to portray but without you having to vocalize or verbalize what exactly it is. It just transforms you through this period of time and what you’re doing.
GD (Susan): Yorgos is kind of an unusual director. His films are different, in a good way. I don’t know much about him except that he’s Greek, but what is he like in person? His characters are a little off the charts.
NH: No one knows much about Yorgos. He’s a little bit of an enigma. That’s where he thrives. His work, you’re never quite sure where you stand with each character and where they’re gonna go out in the wash. So it’s this beautiful reaction you see people coming out of his films and sometimes some people would laugh at a particularly dark humorous moment whilst other people it makes them feel very uncomfortable, that thin line that he manages to tread so beautifully. Something that he says is how he talks about morals of characters, how they vary moment to moment, and I think you see that with this film really well portrayed where there’s someone that comes in that you see at first and you understand their situation and then you do one thing that you think is perhaps too far and too manipulative and then they verge on being these cruel characters at times as well. That’s something that he’s very good at playing around with. As a person, it’s similar when you’re working with him. I said in the audition, “What do you think this character’s like?” And he said, “I don’t know, we’ll see.” He lets you free and then sculpts you without you fully understanding how or what his process is into what he needs for the shot and lets it unravel in front of him.
GD (Daniel): Particularly his work with actors is unique. The style of performance in his films is not usually the kind of outward style of acting that you would see, more emotional reactions that you might expect. It’s a flatter affect sometimes. Was it a leap of faith when you get a direction from him and you’re working on a scene with him and it’s not intuitive, or was it intuitive?
NH: Some of my favorite direction I’ve ever got from directors is, “Do nothing.” It’s amazing when people are confident in their scripts and the story and the characters. You can get away with doing very little as the actor, so I think sometimes when everything else isn’t in the perfect shape, that’s when you fall into the trap of trying to make it work for your performance, which then actually backfires. You do have a lot of trust in Yorgos and that’s something that’s incredible of him to formulate considering he keeps you so in the dark in terms of a lot of things. You still have full trust and faith in what he’s doing. It creates this weird environment where you’re not fully grasping all the concepts and ideas he has, but you know that he’s happy and moving on with the take and he’s got what he needs. I do remember one day doing one scene with Emma Stone and him coming up to us after the scene and saying, “Guys, what kind of movie do you think is?” And we both were like, “We don’t know! We’re trying to figure that out.” He was like, “Have fun with it. Relax.” He’s very freeing as a director. He lets you explore and then for me he would let me mess around for a few takes and then he’d be like, “Okay, give me one with nothing.”
GD (Susan): Did you get to act with the rabbits at all?
NH: With the rabbits, I wouldn’t say I got to perform, but they were wonderful (laughs).
GD (Daniel): With a film like this, a historical film, you’re playing a character who actually existed but it’s also its own sense of history. It’s almost like a remix kind of history. Did it require a lot of research or were you really just focused on basically this script?
NH: Again, that was unconventional ‘cause I’d played real characters before and real people, and you try and learn as much of their history and their life and get an understanding as much as possible of what you’re getting into. It’s kind of like creating a ghost of what you think they might have been to service the story you’re telling. With this, it was very much you were free to portray it exactly as you wanted. There are surprisingly strange things that are true within it. Queen Anne losing 17 children and the rabbits representing each one of them, that is actually a true thing, but a lot of it we’ve taken artistic license with, I would say. Although, there is actually the Harleys as a family and Robert Harley’s relatives are alive and they’re still in Oxford and went to see the film at the premiere in London, which I wasn’t at unfortunately but I heard that they really liked it and that I nailed it. They said I was spot on with my performance. “Uncanny.” (Laughs.)
GD (Daniel): You mentioned working with Emma Stone. Another interesting element of the casting is Rachel Weisz, who you actually both co-starred in “About a Boy” way back when. What is it like co-starring with her now that you’ve had this career transitioning from a child to an adult and working with her again?
NH: It was lovely. Rachel, I loved working with her in “About a Boy.” To get the chance to work with her as an adult, it’s a very different process when you’re a child to being an adult actor. You learn different tools and you’re a different human from I was then when I was 11. It was nice to get to do these scenes with her and have fun and just spend time with her again. She’s wonderful in this but also to be around she’s got a glorious sense of humor and is very kind. Very happy to work with her again.
GD (Susan): It seems like a rite of passage for English actors to do a royal film. Is it required? (Laughs.)
NH: Yeah, I guess at some point most do, yeah.
GD (Daniel): What do you think this particular bit of royalty can reflect about… it’s sort of like the absurdity of politics then butting up against the absurdity of politics now that we’re living through. Do you think there are modern resonances that people can take away?
NH: I do. The alarming thing about this film is you see these three women and this central core around Queen Anne and you realize that it’s a microscopic world in these vast opulent rooms and buildings. You realize the fate of the country and battles and the outcome of the country and millions of people’s lives is all decided upon the whim of how someone’s feeling in that moment in that day, or who’s got the ear or who’s powerful in that moment. I think that does resonate today. I think a lot of us would like to believe that through democracy the power is more spread and level, but I think sometimes you see that you get someone who’s a little bit insane at the forefront or leading and bizarre events occur and everyone feels quite unsettled by it. So yeah, I think it is relevant.
GD (Susan): I don’t know if there’s ever been a movie about Queen Anne. She’s a difficult character. I think the right director is doing it because I think he got it in the way that maybe some others would not.
NH: Yeah, and I think that’s maybe because Yorgos isn’t too precious about English history. Sometimes there’s this thing where you have to try and recreate what it was and be truthful to the story, whereas he’s taken the history and crafted a story out of that, which has got a lot to say. Also, casting Olivia Colman was a stroke of genius ‘cause she just manages to bring this character to life in such a wonderful, warm and painful way. She sits there and she’s petulant and fun and a joy to watch her play that character.
GD (Daniel): I wanna thank you so much for talking to us about “The Favourite.” Congratulations on the film and congratulations on getting out from under that wig and those high heels. I’m sure that’s a relief.
NH: I miss them, actually. I’m gonna try and find them and get back to them for a Halloween costume or some sort of fancy dress party.
GD (Daniel): That sounds great. Look forward to seeing those photos. Thank you so much.
NH: Thank you for taking the time.