There’s no stopping British actor Nicholas Hoult, who’s quickly making a name for himself in the paranormal and sci-fi world with films such as the zombie rom-com “Warm Bodies” and playing Hank McCoy, also known as the Beast, in the most recent X-Men movies.
The “Young Ones,” director and writer Jake Paltrow’s latest feature film follows the trend as it paints a bleak near future where the water supply is diminishing, tensions are high and morality lies in the grey zone. Scenic images of vast landscapes defined by parched land and cracked earth are juxtaposed against advanced robotic technology. But even in the end, such advances aren’t enough to save the Holm family from ruin. Split into three chapters, the film also stars Michael Shannon, Elle Fanning and Kodi Smit-McPhee.
The first half of the film focuses on Shannon’s character, the gun-toting patriarch, Ernest, who works with the region’s water supply routes. With his disabled wife mostly bedridden (a massive, intricate spinal device allows her to walk during one family visit) away from home, Ernest cares for his children with a heavy hand. Jerome (Smit-McPhee) is Ernest’s aloof son, as well as protagonist of the film’s final chapter with Mary (Fanning) as the rebellious daughter. The second chapter and narrative of the film shifts to Flem Lever (Hoult), Mary’s love interest who steps up to the plate to provide when Ernest meets an untimely end. But with his newfound responsibility comes a dark secret.
What attracted you to the role of Flem Lever in the “Young Ones”? How did you get involved with the project?
I read the script—I got sent the script and I think I was offered the role outright—I can’t remember. Then I met Jake [Paltrow] and I liked Jake a lot. I just thought it was a very original story and world he created for the film and then the character was actually interesting, which a lot of a time roles for my age group of actors are a little bit simple. I read this one and thought wow, this is a guy who does bad things but isn’t necessarily a bad person. He’s a product of the environment and I just like the way the story played out.
And what was working with Jake Paltrow like?
It was great. [Laughs] He’s a really good guy. He’s very talented and thoughtful. He’s very caring and just wants to create something special. It was a tough shoot and he managed to keep the ship sailing the entire time. It was fun.
Yeah. He didn’t want me to eat. He wanted me to be thin. [Laughs] So that was memorable. But he’s just a very smart and eloquent man. But it was also one of those things where it was all there on the page and it was all in the script, so a lot of time we’d just roll with the scene and then he’d tweak. He’s just got a lot of enthusiasm and I like working with directors who care and he really cares.
How was it working with the rest of the cast? Elle Fanning, Michael Shannon, Kodi Smit-McPhee—?
Great—they’re really, really talented. That was one of the draws of the film. It’s nice to see these younger actors who are so smart and intelligent and do scenes with them and go wow you guys—this is the future right here—I’m only a few years older than them but I watch them and I’m like —you guys are so good. Shannon is just an absolute boss. It’s so fun to watch him in scenes and quiz him in the evenings about how he did things because I’d watch him and I’m like wow, this is—it’s special, his performance. I think he’s one of the best actors around. There was so much pain in his performance.
The “Young Ones” takes place in the future, in this dystopia where water is scarce. Do you have any environmental concerns of your own along those lines that the film portrayed?
In terms of the water—I remember quizzing Jake about this at the beginning of the film—and there are towns that are drying up and running out of water, like in South America, where whole towns are moving. I also like doing “Mad Max.” That’s kind of one of the themes of that. Because whoever controls the water—and that will eventually become one of those natural resources that is like oil, I guess, in some ways—whoever controls it has the power. So yeah, humans are messing up the world. We’re a terrible bunch of people. [Laughs]
So you also play the Beast in the X-Men franchise. Those films are huge, big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. How does that experience compare to working on smaller, independent films? Do you have a preference for one over the other?
You know what—they’re all good in different, varying ways. [The X-Men films] are fun because it’s a huge spectacle, it’s a fun ensemble cast and you get to run around on wires and roar and pretend to fight Hugh Jackman and stuff. That’s a lot of fun. That last film, “Days of Future Past” as well, for me, being the in original Cerebro set, walking down that corridor—I was like wow, this is what I watched when I was 11 years old, watching the first X-Men movies and now I’m here. It’s very odd. But the indie films—there’s a lot of passion in them and everyone is there because everyone care about that story. They’re less conventional in terms of the performances and just the way they’re made, the style of them. They’re really inspiring [to be a part of].
You’ve been on both sides of the screen. You’ve been in movies, but you’ve also done television. I know you have more films coming up, but do you have any plans to go back to television anytime soon? Or would you like to?
Yeah. Some of the best stuff’s on TV, you know, “Breaking Bad” and “House of Cards,” those shows.
You were also in “Skins” as well, which was very good.
Oh, thank you. I had a lot of fun making that show. I would definitely if the right project came along, because there’s just so much more time in TV to create the characters and let them grow and tell their stories. It’s phenomenal to watch. I like the fact that movies, that there’s those three months you do that performance—you get in and do everything—then you’re onto the next one. So whether it’s a good experience, a bad experience, whatever it is, it’s that and then you move on and you kind of forget about it. Then a year or two later it comes out and you’re like yeah, that film.
What would be your dream project to take on? Some scenario where it comes across your desk and you’re like “I really want to do this.”
I don’t know. This film, one of the things that kind of has a Western sort of vibe. I’d like to go for a Western at some point.
That sounds fun. Cowboys, riding, shooting guns…