Nicholas Hoult is known Beast in the X-Men prequels, Tony on Skins, and Nux in Mad Max: Fury Road, and now he's stepping into the linguistic shoes of J.R.R. Tolkien. Aptly titled Tolkien, the biopic about The Lord of the Rings' creator charts his early life from growing up an orphan in Birmingham, England to his time at Oxford where his passions for language and stories really came out. Hoult plays the matured Tolkien (Harry Gilby is J.R.R. in his school years), and recently sat down with Screen Rant in London to talk the process of bringing the man behind Middle-earth to life.
You're forever gonna be linked to Tolkien now, having played him. I want to ask, going right back to the start, when did you first come across him. Was it the books? Was it seeing the movies?
It was the book. It was the Hobbit. On the set of About A Boy, actually, the directors of that, the Weitz brothers, gave me a copy of it to read. And I've still got that copy, it's sat on my bookshelf.
I understand that you learned to do illustrations like Tolkien in preparation for the role.
Could you talk a little bit about that?
It was just something whereby I was... we were shooting X-Men: Dark Phoenix in the build-up to this and I was on set there and I was obviously working on the script and some of the languages and all those other things. I didn't know, to be honest with you, that Tolkien did his own illustrations and drew his own maps and all these sorts of things, so I found that out and I was like, "that's incredible", and then I'd go backand look at them. And then, some of the makeup artists who do the Beast's makeup are fantastic painters and things, so I would use their kit whilst I was on set and kind of recreated his watercolors.
Do you have a particular favorite one that you did?
Yeah, I think my favorite one I gave the Dome. He's got it as a wrap present.
Wonderful. This is a guy who is lauded so much for what he wrote as much as what was written about him. What did you look at when researching this role. Did you read the stuff that he wrote or did you look into his history or both?
We did both. We went back and read his work alongside biographies and any other information I could find about him. And that was interesting, it was like kind of being an amateur sleuth in a way. where I was "OK, this lines up with this, and this is where maybe he got the inspiration for that." And, then, the script does that brilliantly as well, I think, where it kind of shows the relationships and the moment in his life where perhaps these ideas stemmed from.
Dome told me that you guys, the older actors, and then the kid actors had mannerism tests...
You know, to try and work them out. I talked with some of the other guys earlier about all their different ones. I wondered if there's anything that you guys worked out for Tolkien and his character?
Harry and I were working on the way he walked, there was how he had held his pen, there are things like that we spent time together working on. And then obviously the way he spoke, the dialect and everything as well. So those were all kind of the main focus for us.
Changes to Tolkien's story are necessary, as it is whenever you adapt a story based on real life. What would be the major change to you?
I feel like there's things that we haven't put in the movie that were interesting things, like Edith actually had another fiancee and they met up with Tolkien - all three of them went for tea before they rekindled their romance and love. So there's little things like that that weren't in the movie. But overall I think we've covered most of the aspects of his life: his Mum inspiring him with language and then losing her and that essence of becoming an orphan and then finding a place and the relationships and love that inspired him.
The Tolkien estate has obviously said they're not involved in the film and tried to distance themselves from it. I wonder how that feels to you as the star of the film?
It's one of those things that... you know, foremost I'm a fan of his, so it was an honor to get to play him and I think we did a really respectful version of his younger life and what inspired him. We've invited them to see the film. His great-grandson was in the World War I scenes in the trenches and he's going to come to the premiere. So hopefully when they see it, they like it.
And just one quick question - what's your favorite Lord of the Rings?
- Tolkien (2019) release date: May 10, 2019