The Menu's Nicholas Hoult On His 'Obnoxious' Character And Not Being Jaded [Exclusive Interview]

Nicholas Hoult will make audiences squirm in "The Menu." In director Mark Mylod's dark comedy, the actor plays a mysterious foodie named Tyler. He's the kind of person who'll tell his date or friends not to touch an appetizer until he first takes a picture of it. Tyler is, in short, a walking and talking eye-roll generating machine. The less said about what lurks behind his passion for food, though, the better. 

Hoult's performance calls to mind his work in "The Favourite." He brings a creepy mixture of goofy and sinister to Tyler, who is a true believer in Chef Julian Slowik's (Ralph Fiennes) work, no questions asked. Tyler's role in the story reminded Hoult of an aspect of "Mad Max: Fury Road," which he recently talked to us about in a conversation about a movie we called a "delightfully wicked feast."

'Huh, what is going on here?'

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

I'll just start by saying it's nice to see a movie that consistently surprised me.

Oh, yeah. Good. That was the thing written in the script, that it was always surprising and like, "Huh, what is going on here? I'm enjoying myself but I'm also confused in catching up." I think that's a nice thing because we watch so many films nowadays that you kind of have a shorthand and can guess very quickly what's going to happen in specific beats and have an idea of the story, and then your brain switches off. Whereas with this one, Seth and Will, the writers, really keep you, as an audience member, on your toes in terms of figuring out what the next play will be and who and why these characters are there.

It's strangely a feel-good movie for that reason. You just walk out oddly happy.

[Laughs] Oh, nice. You're the first person to describe it as "feel-good." I like that, a feel-good romp.

[Laughs] I talked to Seth and Will about the movie. It's so much about the creative process, so it's not surprising how much empathy they have for the Chef character. When you read the script, though, how did you interpret it as an exploration of creativity?

Yeah, I think you're right. The fine dining world is a great one to set this in terms of what it's saying about Chef and his dedication to his craft, but also how he's kind of lost himself and has this deep resentment for these guests who are unappreciative of his work. But you could ultimately put their story in the fashion world or music or film world, and there's those similar sort of characters.

We're so pure in many ways when we're children. And then gradually, we start to garner all these masks and falsehoods that we carry around with us and ideas that we want to project to the world around us. All these characters gradually have that stripped away through this story and are kind of, in some ways, punished, but also brought back to a pure form, I suppose, where they see the error of their ways.

'There are definite similarities between this and when we were prepping for Mad Max'

I imagine you and Chef have very different processes, but did you find any parts of how he approaches his craft relatable?

Yeah. I've always viewed film work as being such a collaborative environment. It's interesting because I feel like when you're having fun and when everyone's happy is probably when you are producing the best work in some ways, because there's a freedom about it. Whereas obviously, the world that he has created is somewhat cult-like and brainwashing.

I think there are definite similarities between this and when we were prepping for "Mad Max." All those War Boys who were following in Immortan Joe, they were all brainwashed in a similar way in terms of their dedication to go out and die in battle in a noble heroic death and go to Valhalla for this person, this Lord that they praised. I saw a lot of similarities, I suppose, between that worship of that character and Tyler's worship of Chef Slowik in this.

Without spoiling anything, your character is deeply unsettling. What was your first impression of him on the page and how to best play him?

I found it very funny. He was obnoxious on the page and ridiculous and entitled and a lot of un-charming things, I suppose. I guess the fun of it was playing this character who was drinking the sauce so much and such a goody two-shoes and with this chaos going on around him, the joy and calm and peace that he can still find in the experience that he's having and believing that he's superior, I guess, to everyone. So that was just fun to be happy with those beats and playing the opposing of the reality of the situation.

Do you find playing unflattering qualities maybe more enjoyable to play than more noble qualities?

I don't know. I think there's ultimately a way, a thing whereby you can't judge the characters too strongly and you've got to have an understanding of why they're going about the thing. Obviously, all their decisions that they've made are, by their standards in those moments, acceptable. So you have to go in with a kind of empathy for the character, I guess. So it's partly that. But I think it is fun to play them, because then you can try and figure out what it is that's caused them to be that way.

'There's something very pure about when you're acting as a kid'

Being in a huge ensemble like this, how is it playing off of all these different actors, and I imagine, their own unique processes as well?

I mean, it's really fun because you get Ralph playing the chef and giving his whole approach to the evening as the chef as this quite performative introduction to each course and explaining the story that he's crafting and the narrative that he's set up for the evening. So you get on some levels to watch Ralph give a hugely magnetic, painful, beautiful performance, where you just get to sit and watch, which is obviously amazing to be in the room to do that. But then also you get Aimee Carrero and John Leguizamo on another table, improvising the most hilarious relationship between a waning movie star and his assistant. So, the kind of opposing versions of guests and performances are really fun to be in that environment and just kind of get to watch.

The movie alludes to a time when Chef was happy making food in his younger years. Of course, you're a young guy, but you've been acting for a while. Not to compare you and Chef, but are there days you look back on early in your career that still bring you a lot of joy?

Ooh, I don't know. I don't feel like I'm that jaded by it yet. I still really enjoy it and love doing it, and each experience feels new and fresh. And still, I'm just learning so much from everyone that I work with. I think there's something very pure about when you're acting as a kid, and it's very simple in many ways. I do occasionally try to tap back into that if I start to over-complicate things and take everything you've learned along the way and things you've picked up. But then also, if in doubt, just step back to that pure form of acting that, as a kid, is very easy to do.

"The Menu" is now playing in theaters.