Paul McLauchlan meets Nicholas Hoult

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The kid from About A Boy is now the face of Armani

Paul McLauchlan meets Nicholas Hoult

The kid from About A Boy is now the face of Armani

Whoever thought the kid from About a Boy would become the face of Armani? Paul McLauchlan meets Nicholas Hoult

Every fragrance comes with a leading man. For the relaunch of Emporio Armani’s Stronger with You aftershave, it’s British actor Nicholas Hoult.

On a quintessentially British day, Hoult is in a suite on the tenth floor of the recently opened Standard Hotel in King’s Cross. The room, overlooking the grey, rainy city, has an aura of calm.

Hoult is tall, muscular, with a sporty flair, and piercing, blue eyes. He’s dressed in an Emporio Armani black polo neck and cropped trousers. He welcomes me with a warm, lighthearted smile and a cordial handshake.

Hoult seems sincere and inviting, jokingly gesturing towards my recording device to ensure its switched-on.

Hoult’s been doing press junkets since he was 11 and had his breakthrough role in About a Boy, as a young boy befriended by Hugh Grant.

Since then, his resumé has touched on film, television, and the stage. The younger generation might know Hoult from the VV show Skins, which ran from 2007 to 2013. He played Tony, a popular, intelligent, but manipulative teenager with a devil-may-care attitude, to critical acclaim, and he became a heartthrob to the show’s teenage fans.

Hoult’s work reveals a sense of personal exploration and professionalexperimentation.

No two roles are the same for Hoult. In the latest iteration of the X-Men franchise, he played Hank McCoy, or ‘Beast’, a blue mutant with superstrength. In A Single Man, he played Kenny, a gay college student who becomes involved with Colin Firth’s character, and in The Favourite, a black comedy, he played Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford.

Hoult is now a father, welcoming his first child, with partner, Bryana Holly, in 2018.

“Fatherhood is the main thing,” Hoult told the Evening Standard in 2019. With Hoult’s impressive film reel and low profile in the media, Emporio Armani came calling for their new fragrance. Emporio Armani is the second brand of the Armani family. It is less expensive than the Armani brand and is for a younger market.

How does it figure to be the face of the fragrance?

“That was something way beyond my grasp,” said Hoult.

“I was fortunate to work with a brand that I had been a fan of for so long. Mr Armani’s work has been phenomenal for so long, from what he has contributed to fashion and film, and to keep it timeless, chic, and elegant is remarkable. It’s an honour to work with him,” Hoult said.

“My first interaction with the Armani brand] was through watching films.

“It was something that I was unaware of until I started working with the brand, but some of my favourite films, like Inglourious Basterds, Goodfellas — films that are in my top 50 ever — are things he was a part of and he cared so passionately about creating great costumes for.

“It’s a classic; it’s elegant. For me, it’s something that gives you confidence; it’s stylish, easy, and timeless,” said Hoult.

While these are terms that anyone could reel off when describing a luxury brand, you believe it from Hoult, and you know it when you consider Mr Armani’s contribution to fashion: his Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 Fashion Awards, dubbed the Oscars of fashion, for example.

The brand is a global fashion institution, from shows at Milan Fashion Week to the Paris haute couture season, to film costume design stints (ranging from Richard Gere in American Gigolo to Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street) and diffusion lines and beauty and fragrance offshoots, as well as a Milanese hotel in the Armani name.

Yet there remains a sense of something familiar, approachable, and aspirational about it all, as opposed to a lofty, corporate exterior, said Hoult.

I think of someone who is centred, calm, and confident in themselves; not trying too hard; has found something that works and is consistent with that.

As for fragrance, what does Hoult look for? While he lists off multiple ingredients in Stronger With You Freeze, he said, “everything always smells different to different people”. The Stronger With You Freeze cologne updates the original for a man “who lives in the present, with distinct and elegant freshness”. The glass bottle evokes the spirit of the fragrance, with its frosted veil and curvature resembling ‘masculine shoulders’.

The fragrance develops a varied olfactory landscape of fruity (lime, ginger, mandarin, and apple), floral (lavender flower, sage, and geranium bourbon), spicy (cardamom), and woody (glazed chestnut, ambery woods, gaiac), with permeations of Madagascan vanilla.

The result is at once fresh and heady.

Sustainability matters: the Madagascan vanilla is sourced in the protected area of Loky Manambato, in Madagascar, in collaboration with a local non-governmental organisation, with the intent of ethically sourcing key ingredients and contributing to economically support farming.

Social responsibility is as important to the launch as its messaging: ‘Stronger Together’ reads its slogan.

Are love and togetherness messages that need to be promoted now more than ever?

“It’s always a hugely important message to be spreading. There does seem to be a huge divide amongst people around the world: It’s difficult,” said Hoult.

“In this commercial, we’re telling a love story between a boy and a girl and how they feel stronger together, that relationship, and capturing that moment that lives on forever: it’s inspiring, crazy, hectic, and also intoxicating and freeing.

Spreading love is something that can be with family, friends, even with strangers; you can have those moments where a little act of kindness can suddenly transform your day and makes you feel good again.

On the night of the launch, at a reception at the Standard, Véronique Gautier, global president of Armani Beauty, noted that the short film was timely, about capturing a moment of “unbreakable love” at such a fractured moment for society.

In the commercial, directed by Fabien Constant (“he really understands this format and how to capture those little moments and the honesty within them”), soundtracked to ‘Powerful’, by Major Lazer, featuring Ellie Goulding and Tarrus Riley, Hoult is cast alongside emerging Italian starlet Alice Pagani: “She reminds me of a character from a Quentin Tarantino film.”

In the short film, shot in Germany, Hoult and Pagani, madly in love, traverse the city in a romantic, playful way: from an unexpected kiss in their vintage cars on the street to an intimate bath together, or a ride in a classic carousel by night, they continuously chase each other, concluding with Pagani boarding a train. Not even the train can keep the lovers apart, as Hoult darts along the platform, so the couple can share one last embrace.

“It’s a process a lot different than I’m used to working on,” said Hoult.

“It’s quicker and you’re discovering things as you go,” said Hoult, “whereas, normally, with a film, you have a script, you figure out the beats, you rehearse, you develop relationships through that, but with this, based on storyboards, you have a rough idea of what it’s about and, within that, you have a fair amount of freedom to create what’s going on: it’s quite a freeing experience.”

One difficulty to overcome: a language barrier between him and his leading lady.

“My Italian is not very good and Alice doesn’t speak a lot of English,” Hoult said.

However, Hoult notes that while not being able to talk had its challenges, it also, ironically, enhanced the storytelling.

It was actually beneficial to us, in many ways, because we were forced to not communicate through language.

“It makes you think more about the physical aspects of it — eye contact, touch — but then tell that story without words,” Hoult said.

There might not be any more commercials for Hoult for some time, as he was recently announced for the upcoming Mission Impossible sequels.

Of course, that topic was off-limits in our interview, but the actor is rumoured to be playing a villain.

Hoult has a spate of other projects in the pipeline for 2020, including Those Who Wish Me Dead, co-starring Angelina Jolie and Tyler Perry.

It’s about a teenage murder witness, pursued by twin assassins in the Montana wilderness, but the boy has a survival expert tasked with protecting him, though a forest fire threatens to consume them all.

Hoult has another formidable year in film ahead of him.

This is an actor in his prime.

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