Interview: Nicholas Hoult discusses his role as Beast in X-Men: Days of Future Past

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Nicholas Hoult, Hank “Beast” McCoy, X-Men: Days of Future Past

With Days of Future Past, director Bryan Singer transports us to an apocalyptic future world shattered by years of war, where mutants are teetering on the brink of extinction thanks to the deadly robotic Sentinels. With many of their colleagues dead or in hiding, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Erik “Magneto” Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) craft a daring plan to send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time to stop the threat before it can start.

But working with the younger Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and the other mutants first seen in 2011’s First Class will not be easy. Xavier and the others have been through their own challenges in the 10 years since we last saw them, and in 1973, Wolverine will have a real struggle to convince them that the future needs their help. And so begins the biggest adventure yet for the X-Men.

Nicholas Hoult returns with his First Class colleagues, playing Henry “Beast” McCoy, the genius scientist struggling to deal with his own mutation. He’s been trying to care for Xavier, while making sure his own life doesn’t slip. Hoult talks about embracing the beast, working once again with Singer and how James McAvoy helped “motivate” him in certain scenes…

As an actor, was it a little more daunting to come back for this movie, knowing you made a really good film last time with First Class? Did the cast feel the pressure to raise the bar on this one?

First Class had a great sense of humor, and the era and the history to it, and every character had a great arc throughout, so it was a really well made film and Matthew Vaughn did a great job of bringing it all together. People weren’t really sure what to expect with First Class, but now obviously there is more expectation behind it. You really can’t worry about that too much. It was at Comic-Con last year where I suddenly realized the enormity of it all. But you can’t be on set panicking about that and thinking about that, otherwise it would just completely mess with your head. 

The film is based off a very famous comic run. When you found out that it was going to be this story, did you get the issues?

Yeah, I read the comics, but it’s also a situation where you get the script, and they’ve obviously taken from the comics but then changed them slightly. So you can learn things by reading the comics, but it helps to read other issues as well, just to give back story for the character and the language he uses and little things like that. It just gives you a sense of him and it’s a great thing to have so much reference material to get a hold of. 

With X-Men: First Class and this film, how much changed along the way from when you first got the script to what you were making on set?

On First Class the script was really strong right from the beginning and the action sequences changed a fair bit, but overall it stayed pretty true to what was there on the page. Bryan has a much more malleable way of working, whereby if we turn up and scene’s not quite clicking or working and not progressing the story then he’ll work on it then. He believes in making a movie three times: you get the script and that’s one film; there’s the film that you end up shooting on the day; and the film that comes out in the edit. Sometimes these vary a bit, but they keep the main structure and only improve along the way. 

How easy was it for you to get back into Hank McCoy’s skin and fur?

It was fairly easy, with Bryan Singer directing this one and having produced First Class. I also worked with him on Jack the Giant Slayer, so it was simple to get into a rhythm with him. And given that the cast had all worked together before, it was like a school reunion.

Was it good to get the gang back together? You’ve got to work, but you can hang out as well?

Everyone is brilliant in their roles, but because there are so many people in the cast, there’s not a lot of pressure on one person specifically… the cast is more relaxed. And everyone understands their characters, since they’ve played them before. It’s much more laid back and Bryan had everything under control with the script in a good place, so it was fun. There was lots of messing around and trying not to laugh too much. Most of my stuff was with James McAvoy, who is very funny and took to hurting me quite a lot on this film. He hit me in the testicles, he shot me in the face with a BB gun and one day I went in with bite marks… (Laughs)

James has claimed that all of the abuse was to help you focus.

Abuse doesn’t help me! I don’t know what kind of films he’s been working on and which actors need that stuff, but being hit in the testes is not something that helps me focus. (Laughs)

Has the design of Beast changed at all from the last movie to this one?

Yeah, it has changed a little bit.  It’s become slightly smaller makeup, and you can see more of my face underneath it. 

Do you tune out while you’re in the makeup chair?

Normally it’s very early in the morning, so it’s too early for my brain to really have kicked into action. The guys who do the makeup are great and made it as comfortable as possible, but it’s really just finding that happy place. It’s a bit of a challenge during the day – you have to focus and drink plenty of water because you sweat a lot. It makes shooting certain things quite tricky really, and it’s tough to talk through the teeth. It’s hot and you sweat through places you didn’t know it was possible to sweat, and occasionally it’ll drip out of an eyehole or an earhole or a nostril, so it’s not the best thing. But sometimes you forget you’re wearing it and you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror doing something human and normal and then it’s very entertaining. Whether I was eating lunch or roaming around in the trailer or making little dance videos, I made sure to have a lot of fun with it.

Are the dance videos going to be on the Blu-ray?

Bryan might have one or two, but I’m not sure! I’m certainly not allowed to release them.

Let’s face it – Bryan did enough shooting on set with his iPhone camera to please anyone…

Bryan was such a fan, but it’s so great to have someone who is so excited about what they’re making. He wanted to invite people in, to show off the Sentinels and share the exciting elements.

Talking of the Sentinels, there was a physical one on set. But did your work on First Class and Jack the Giant Slayer prepare you for working with the CG effects? Are you used to it now?

Yeah, it’s one of those odd things. You have to be careful to make sure everyone knows what’s going on and that you’re looking in the right place and reacting at the right time, or else everyone looks a bit foolish! But it’s also interesting because sometimes it’s different in your imagination, and it’s impressive when you see it on screen and with the sound effects and everything… so much grander in scale than my head imagines a lot of the time.

So the final film has a bigger budget than your imagination?

 I’ve got to think bigger!

Is there a particular scene that you were most excited about shooting?

When we did First Class, it was pretty much a completely new cast and story and a whole new set up. I remember seeing the first X-Men movie when I was 11; I grew up with those guys, so the chance to be in one with the old cast and have some scenes with Hugh playing Wolverine was something I looked forward to. I remember the first day of shooting with him, walking along and looking across at him and thinking to myself, ‘That’s Wolverine,’ who we nicknamed “Wolfie”, by the way. So that was a big thing for me just because it suddenly felt very real like a proper X-Men movie in a way.

When we last saw Hank, he’d built the early X-Jet and worked on a lot of other fun gadgets. Do you get to do more of that?

There is a form of early TIVO where he’s created a machine to pick up on the news so he can figure out what’s going on around the world with mutants, and to keep himself, Charles and Logan up to date. There are a couple of other gadgets, like signal blockers and spy stuff and things like that.

So it’s you getting to act out some James Bond fantasies?

Yeah! In some ways it is, but I also think of him like Alfred from Batman, how I’m looking after Charles in the X-Mansion, while also taking care of some gadgety stuff.

And 10 years have passed since the time of First Class. What state do we find Hank in?

He’s damaged a little, much like Charles. There was the blossoming romance between him and Mystique that all got squandered in the last film; plus he’s had to deal with his mutation and not feeling comfortable in his own skin. Charles has become a recluse and Hank is keeping it together enough to try and take care of him and keep things on track. He’s also withdrawn into himself a little, not experiencing life.

You used the Batman metaphor, but you could also go with Grey Gardens, with the two of you rattling around an old mansion.

(Laughs) Yes, exactly! X-Men: Days of Future Past is basically Grey Gardens.

Was there something you wanted to achieve with Hank this time?

There’s always that thing with Hank, the battle for him to become comfortable with his Beast side. In a couple of scenes, he does start to understand it and not be as scared of it as he was in the first film. Before, he was very worried about what he was capable of, whereas in this one, there are occasions where he uses it for good to help out. But that is the progression for Hank, accepting and owning the skin he’s in.

Does he ever confide in Wolverine about this stuff? Logan has had his issues, too…

There is a nice little relationship between the two of them because they get into it a little bit with each other and then towards the end, they begin to see eye-to-eye more. But obviously it’s strange for Hank when Wolverine comes knocking, claiming he’s from the future. It would be very strange! And it’s quite funny in the film.

Bryan’s X-Men movies always have a lot to say. What is the message of this film in particular?

There’s always the underlying current of the fear of the unknown, and being an outcast and accepting yourself. But it’s also about hope and people finding their way in the world. With the future stuff as well, there’s also people having to work together.

Jennifer has talked about her first meeting with Peter Dinklage, while wearing her full Mystique makeup. Was meeting Peter an experience for you?

 Meeting Peter is obviously an experience, but you know what? Going on set for the first time – he’s obviously a very cool guy, and funny – but the first time he walked out in character and in the best shampooed and blow-dried hair I’ve ever seen and a quality moustache as well, that really made it for me. No seriously – it was the best hair ever. The moustache was unbelievable. It’s a character in the film in and of itself! I’m supposed to be playing Beast and I can’t grow facial hair at all. It’s not good for me.

Catch X-Men: Days of Future Past in local cinemas on the 23 May 2014

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Comments (1)

  • Nyani Dzedze says:May 6, 2014 03:50 pm

    I really liked him as beast. He’s brilliant.

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