There’s a deleted scene from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory — a childhood favorite for many — that has been lost to time and I wish would be unearthed.
During the montage of people all across the world searching for Wonka’s prized Golden Tickets, a hiker comes upon a guru who’s living in a cave in the mountains. He’s covered in snow, emotionally and physically depleted, and down to one last item of food — a Wonka bar.
He asks the guru, “What is the meaning of life?” The guru, ignoring his question, asks for the Wonka bar, and the hiker obliges. As the guru eagerly opens it, the hiker asks again, “What is the meaning of life?” When it’s revealed to be a regular Wonka bar — sans Golden Ticket — the guru throws the bar across the cave and sighs, “Life is a disappointment.”
Nicholas Hoult knows that disappointment, for he has suffered it time and time again, though I suspect his career will ultimately be stronger for it in the long run. For now, the British actor will have to grin and bear being a bridesmaid and never the bride when it comes to big, juicy franchises.
Time and again, Hoult has been one of just a few actors to screen-test for Hollywood’s biggest parts — yes, bigger than Nux in Mad Max: Fury Road and Beast in the X-Men franchise. He was a finalist for the title role in Matt Reeves‘ The Batman only to lose the cape and cowl to Robert Pattinson. He was also a finalist for the role of “Rooster” Bradshaw in Top Gun: Maverick, though Miles Teller was ultimately handed a pair of aviator shades. Despite that setback, Hoult’s test apparently impressed Tom Cruise enough for Cruise to offer Hoult the lead antagonist role in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1. Unfortunately, Hoult was forced to abandon Mission due to his contractual obligations to The Great, the acclaimed Hulu series in which he stars opposite Elle Fanning. Cruise wound up casting Esai Morales, who is nearly 30 years older than Hoult.
When Hoult was first linked to the title role in James Gunn‘s Superman: Legacy, many thought he might be the frontrunner to play the Man of Steel, while others believed he was actually being considered for the role of Lex Luthor. One can never be sure what Gunn had in mind, but regardless, Hoult and/or his representatives made the strategic decision to chase the role of Superman, according to reports.
It was a bold move given that, with all due respect, Hoult is fundamentally wrong for the role. But as the old saying goes, “Fortune favors the bold,” and that chutzpah did get him to the final round of testing as both the bumbling Clark Kent — glasses and all — and in full costume as the Last Son of Krypton. Once again, however, Hoult’s Wonka Bar came up short, as he wound up losing yet another “Golden Ticket” to the relatively unknown David Corenswet. We’ve heard that even if Lex was still in the cards, Hoult is no longer interested, but that could just be posturing, of course.
Film Twitter has been quick to turn Hoult’s “failures” into memes for its own pleasure. Cruel, yes, but kind of funny, too, if only because I know two things — that this isn’t the end of the world for Hoult, who will surely get plenty of other bites at the apple, just as I know that when it comes to casting, the right actor typically winds up with the role.
Hoult is currently filming the lead role in Juror #2, WB’s legal thriller that will serve as Clint Eastwood‘s directorial swan song. Regardless of how that turns out, that’s one hell of a notch to have on your belt. And Hoult still could, as noted above, do an about-face and decide to pursue the role of Lex, if Gunn hasn’t already cast the role. We suspected there might be an announcement prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike, but none came to pass, and we could certainly see Hoult shaving his head and staring down Corenswet’s Kryptonian do-gooder.
But even if Gunn opts for someone else as Lex — rumors have persistently pointed to a “name” actor being pursued akin to Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey — we at Above the Line believe Hoult should take these multiple rejections in stride and see them as a sign.
Forget being a leading man — and headlining blockbuster tentpoles — and instead embrace being the character actor you so clearly are!
Take one look at Hoult’s filmography and its wide range of roles, from About a Boy to Mad Max: Fury Road and The Favourite, to name a few. This is the CV of a character actor, not a traditional leading man.
The cold, hard truth is that not all actors in the same age range as Hoult who share his muscular-but-not-too-muscular build automatically scream “Franchise!” nor do they have the ability to carry a $200 million-plus “event” movie with the weight of a studio’s quarterly earnings and executives’ high-paying jobs on the line.
Hoult may not have it in him to wear tights and a cape and punch bad guys in CG-heavy blockbusters, but, on the other hand, neither Pattinson, Corenswet, Teller, or Morales — again with all due respect — could have played the black comedy in The Menu to such a perfect degree as Hoult did last year.
When my lovely wife Anastasiya and I went to see that — as part of a double bill with Steven Spielberg‘s The Fabelmans — we were both floored by Hoult’’ performance. When we first meet him, he starts out as — in effect — the audience surrogate alongside Anya Taylor-Joy, and he has this goofy, awkward charm about him. You even kind of like him, at first. But as the story — and the horror — unfolds around him, he becomes less a figure of sympathy and one we asked ourselves multiple times “What the hell is wrong with this guy?!” By the time Hoult’s character meets his fate — which instantly became a meme — it was the kind of about-face turn that only he could’ve pulled off.
Should Hoult embrace the career of a character actor, he’d likely ensure that his viability will persist long after his fellow leading men hang up their capes only to potentially face years of typecasting struggles. As Quentin Tarantino once remarked, “You go to movies and you keep seeing, you know, the same actors. Especially character actors. Character actors can do six movies a year.”
If Hoult and his reps insist on chasing stardom, at the very least, take a cue from another character actor who became a butts-in-seats movie star — Johnny Depp.
Since he broke out with the TV series 21 Jump Street, the mouths of power-hungry executives watered at the thought of Depp as a matinee idol. He had the talent, the charm, and the looks — and in spades, too. Only, Depp himself had no desire to conform to what Hollywood wanted from him. He marched to the beat of his own drum, making acting and career choices that only he could make, such as Benny & Joon, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Ed Wood. It wasn’t until Gore Verbinski thought outside the box and cast Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl that he began leading nine-figure blockbusters.
Despite cost overruns and executives — including Disney CEO Michael Eisner — freaking out over the dailies, Verbinski and Depp, stayed the course with political protection from top executive Dick Cook and never bowed to corporate pressure, delivering a commercial smash highlighted by a wildly, original performance that went on to earn an Oscar nomination. Suddenly, Depp, who was once box office poison, could now command $20 million — plus 20 percent of the gross — per movie, and command he did. Hollywood quickly agreed to his demands, as it often does when it comes to the unpredictable whims of major stars, however eccentric they may be.
As in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) didn’t conform to what the world expected of him. He never stopped being the kind-hearted, sincere kid he always was. Only by staying true to himself did he ultimately find his Golden Ticket, and Nicholas Hoult needs to do the exact same thing if he wants to get his. Patience is a virtue.