With starring roles in Warm Bodies and Jack the Giant Slayer – not to mention his A-list romance – Nicholas Hoult's transition from child actor to leading man is complete
Nicholas Hoult has undergone a metamorphosis. He arrives at a west London café with his older sister, Rosie, a gorgeous slip of a girl who he later tells me is also an actor, and to whom he's close. His hair has been buzz-cut, he's got the beginnings of a beard (a beard!) and he seems to have lost a lot of weight, so his eyes are now even bigger than the usual pools of blue that take up most of his face. His cheekbones are ever more pronounced. He looks like a grown-up. A handsome, 6ft 3in action hero of a grown-up.
The physical change makes sense when you consider what he's been up to recently: Hoult has just arrived back in the UK from six months on location in Namibia and Cape Town. He had been busy filming Mad Max: Fury Road, the long-awaited fourth film in the franchise, with Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron. Hoult was cast by director George Miller – "one of the most intelligent, caring guys in the world" – as one of his post-apocalyptic warriors back in 2009, but filming didn't start until last year. "I've been out in the desert with my head, literally, in the sand for months," he says. "So I think it's going to take a bit of time to adjust [to being back]. I feel a little bit lost when a film wraps."
But there's no time for Hoult to wallow: 2013 will be a big year for him, the one in which the 23-year-old graduates as a leading man. First up is Warm Bodies, a zombie/romantic comedy genre mash-up co-starring the mighty John Malkovich and young Australian actor of the moment Teresa Palmer. Hoult plays R, a morally conflicted zombie who wanders across the US eating human brains and "getting high on his victim's memories", as Hoult explains it. Until, that is, he meets and falls in love with Julie (Palmer), an event that could just reverse the apocalypse. It's a performance with great comic timing, and Hoult is enthusiastic about the film, but seems aware that viewers will either love it or hate it: "It was an interesting part to take," he says. "I thought it wasn't playing into stereotypical roles that young actors can get trapped doing. Some people that have enjoyed what I've done previously may not like it, but that's OK."