Nicholas Hoult has had to do a lot of different kinds of preparation for roles he’s had over the years.
But the one thing he never did before “action” on the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road, X-Men: First Class or The Favourite, is to just eat and watch TV.
Hoult is in The Menu, a deliciously psychotic and sharply satirical thriller comedy set in the world of extreme fine dining. Hoult’s character, Tyler, is an obsessive foodie fan boy who can rattle off gastronomic techniques with as much smug ease as a toddler getting his hands on a bottle of glue.
So his prep work went something like this: fire up the tastebuds in between gorging episodes of Chef’s Table on Netflix. Hard work if you can get it.
“We went to The Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant in Oxford, which was an amazing experience,” he told news.com.au. “The food was incredible but it was also quite a production where there is nitrogen by the table and they’re making these puff things that disappear in your mouth.
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“And then there’s a dish they serve you, where they bring out a shell that has an iPod hidden inside with little headphones and you listen to the sea while you eat food from the seas. It brings back memories of childhood.
“There was also this weird thing – it was incredible – but they had a font expert write these words on the menu and you took bites of things, depending on the different font that you were reading, it made the food taste different.
“I know it sounds insane but I guarantee you it works. It was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever experienced in many ways.”
Hoult’s journey in that world for the sake of a role doesn’t quite mirror the experiences of the characters on screen, whose high-end feast at The Menu’s fictional Hawthorne isn’t quite as “lovely” and “nice” as the actor’s was at The Fat Duck.
Starring alongside a murderer’s row ensemble cast including Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Judith Light, Hong Chau, John Leguizamo and Janet McTeer, Hoult basically spent a month onset as Taylor-Joy’s dining companion.
His character Tyler and her character Margot are on a date at Hawthorne, a ritzy fine diner on a private island, run by disciplinarian chef Julian (Fiennes). Tyler is beside himself with hero worship, the kind of idolisation that leads Hoult to conclude that his character is someone who could’ve easily be seduced by a cult.
Maybe he can relate a little. He admitted to being starstruck when the production’s food consultant, Atelier Crenn’s Dominique Crenn, was on set, especially after watching her episode on Chef’s Table.
“She’s a complete rockstar,” he gushed.
“In this film, we are showing the very heightened, extreme version of that world. But I think watching those chefs, their incredible creativity, and how focused and committed they are, it’s quite inspiring to witness.
“It definitely gave me a new appreciation for what they do.”
Perhaps that’s not the intended takeaway from The Menu, a film that skewers the privilege and indulgence of that world. The film is directed by Mark Mylod, who is best known for his work on the eviscerating dramedy Succession, another project that tears extreme wealth to bits.
But for an actor who has spent months in a Namibian desert (for Fury Road), Hoult isn’t going to complain about playing with a theatre troupe-esque ensemble in a room, and prepping by being served delectable morsels.
And there’s the fun of his character being “obviously insane for many reasons”. Hoult said he’s been around people similar to Tyler but he didn’t draw from any of them specifically – or if he did, he’s not fessing up.
Hoult has a knack for picking intense roles where the characters are bordering on caricature but still manage to feel distressingly real.
There was the increasingly absurd politician Robert Harley in The Favourite, the spoiled Emperor Peter III in The Great (for which he was nominated for an Emmy), the violently chaotic Constable Fitzpatrick in True History of the Kelly Gang and the unhinged Nux in Fury Road.
“I find them interesting because of their extreme nature and at times their unlikeability. There are just things about them on the page that’s really fun.
“The older I get, the more and more I enjoy playing that. It’s a bit like, ‘How far can I push things and get away with it’ in a character. In the worlds [of these characters], you can push them to extremes and they still fit in.
“I get to experience and live many different lives and realities within my own, which is so much fun.”
The Menu is in cinemas now