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Brief Encounter With … Nicholas Hoult

Best known for his role as Tony in E4’s teen drama Skins and from films such as About a Boy, Wah-Wah and Kidulthood, Nicholas Hoult is about to make his West End debut in New Boy, adapted from William Sutcliffe’s best-selling coming-of-age novel.

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Tell us what can we expect from New Boy.
Russell Labey has done a really good stage adaptation of the novel by William Sutcliffe about a sixth form public schoolboy called Mark who is quite bright but not all that great socially. His entire life changes when a new boy called Barry (Gregg Lowe) joins the school who’s very popular and totally cool. Mark becomes obsessed with Barry and decides to use him to improve his own social status – and get laid! The relationship develops and lots of crazy little things happen to Mark. It’s great fun – and a great chance for me to make audiences laugh, something I haven’t done on stage.

What appeals to you about Mark’s character?
He’s a kid with a funny way of looking at the world and comes out with some hilarious lines. He’s also obsessed with sex, but slightly confused by it as well. And he’s attracted to Barry, but at the same time he’s typically homophobic. So Mark’s full of contradictions within himself, which makes him a very interesting character to play. Mark says Barry has “the face of an angel, the body of a god –-and the name of a plasterer” and he has this huge attraction towards him, but at the same time he’s adamant that he’s not gay. He just gets taken over by these feelings of suppressed homosexuality and it’s even more confusing – he has some very amusing interactions with Barry’s sister as well.

Did you ever have a schoolboy crush?
I guess you always draw on some part of yourself to create a character otherwise you can’t understand where they are coming from. But hasn’t everyone had a crush or fancied a teacher at some point at school?

How would you compare Mark with Tony in Skins and Marcus in About A Boy?
In their different ways, they are lonesome characters, but there aren’t many similarities between Tony and Mark. Tony was manipulative and knew how to deal with other people, whereas Mark tries hard to fit in. Tony relied on his coolness and could get away with murder. Everyone fancied him and he used his sexual power to control lovers, whereas Mark is a virgin and doesn’t know what to do about it. Actually, there was more of me in Marcus in About A Boy – I was only 12 at the time and quite withdrawn. I think acting was probably one way I came out of my shell.

Was you own teenage phase easy or troubled?
I was pretty lucky and always managed to find other kids I could get along with and relate to. But the play does remind me of how at that phase of your life, even small things like walking out into a playground and not being able to find any of the friends you hang out with, can become really important to you.

Did you fit in at stage school?
I only spent two years at Sylvia Young Theatre School, which I enjoyed a lot. But I moved back to our local comprehensive in Wokingham, partly because I had to travel up to London so much. Stage school gave me a chance to learn about acting, singing and dancing. But at the same time, it was impossible to step out of theatre and have a normal life where you weren’t surrounded by kids always talking about performing. You can get like that, even at the age of eleven.

How did you get into acting so young?
I think I had a normal childhood at home and I wouldn’t say we were a typical showbusiness family either, although my older brother and two sisters have all gone into acting. Apparently, when I was around three years old, a director saw me watching a play and said she was impressed by the way that I concentrated on the actors that she wanted to cast me in the next production, Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle. I remember doing the photo shoot for the publicity poster and being given biscuits and squash, but I can’t recall a thing about the performances. To me acting was fun – something you did outside of school. It wasn’t quite so much fun I suppose when you were away on location and had to have a tutor.

How have you coped with fame?
It can be difficult to deal with. It’s nice when people recognise you, but when you’re having a quiet pint down the pub with friends it’s a bit intrusive. I just think it’s better to keep away from the celebrity thing and be known for your work.

Fellow Skins cast members Aimee-Ffion Edwards and Hannah Murray have also made their West End debuts recently. Did they give you any tips?
Hannah was in That Face by Poly Stenham, which was fantastic – the best play I’ve seen for a long time. When I went to see Aimee in S**t Mix I already knew doing New Boy was a probability, which was a great because I discovered how close to the audience you are at the Trafalgar Studio 2. They both just said that stage acting is fun, but I’m sure that when the nerves start to kick in I’ll be going back for some more advice. I’m obviously a bit anxious about going on stage after doing so much film and television, but we have a good director in Russell Labey. I’m just hoping that I won’t get so nervous that I can’t act at all!

You’ll be 20 in December. Where do you see your future?
I have no idea at all. I hope I can keep on acting but you have to take things as they come. I don’t know where I’ll be in four months time, although I have got a couple of film projects that I hope might come off. This business is so unpredictable. Last year I was getting ready for a Halloween a party at our house and suddenly I had a midnight call from my agent in America telling me to jump on a plane first thing in the morning to start on a film. Your life can change that quickly. One minute I was at home, the next I’m in Hollywood making A Single Man with Colin Firth. I played a character called Kenny – like Mark in New Boy, he’s a student who is confused about his sexuality.

- Nicholas Hoult was speaking to Roger Foss

New Boy, which also stars Mel Giedroyc and Hollyoaks’ Ciara Janson, opens on 19 March 2009 (previews from 17 March) at Trafalgar Studios 2, where it continues until 11 April. An abridged version of this article appears in the March issue of What’s On Stage magazine, which is out now in participating theatres. NOTE: After the April issue, the magazine will be available on subscription only as one of the many benefits of our Theatre Club. To guarantee you receive all future editions, click here to subscribe now!!


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