For Nicholas Hoult, acting role of Jack required a good imagination
Nicholas Hoult, who stars as Jack in "Jack the Giant Slayer," thinks it is important for parents to read fairy tales to their children.
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Jack and the ... celery and green goo.
That's what just a chunk of the beanstalk was made of, so actor Nicholas Hoult could physically hack away at it with an ax, he said in a recent call from England. After all, he plays "Jack the Giant Slayer," a variation of the dreamer who trades away his family's milking cow for a handful of magic beans.
Here, the cow has been changed to a horse, the boy a teenage orphan whose father died in the plague and the beanstalk a magnificent, five-mile-high path to adventure, adulthood and a bit of romance. The change meant Mr. Hoult had to learn how to ride for some of Jack's horseback scenes.
"I had a very well-trained horse, luckily, which made me look better than I actually was. It was hard in the sense that horses are big animals and I don't want to kick them too hard and annoy them.
"I tried to have a mutual-respect relationship with the horse so we'd have an understanding of each other and it would do what I wanted by me asking nicely, which isn't apparently the best approach for horses."
As for the beanstalk, some of it was fashioned from plywood, foam, plaster and rubber with vines, leaves and tendrils added or enhanced with computer-generated imagery.
"That was great to have some practical things to work with, as well, the beanstalk and some of the giant sets. Obviously, there are a lot of visual effects in this movie," along with reminders that from small beginnings, big things can sprout.
Director Bryan Singer had envisioned "Jack the Giant Slayer" as a "big epic fantasy adventure movie, but he wanted to keep it family-oriented and have humor and romance," his 23-year-old leading man said. "When you're making a film about giants, the scale has to be pretty big."
In most versions of the fairy tale, Jack climbs the beanstalk several times and discovers a giant with a ravenous appetite along with a hen that lays golden eggs, sacks of golden coins and a harp with soothing sounds that can send the giant into a slumber but alerts him when Jack tries to snatch it away.
Here, there are powermongers and many giants, including a two-headed ogre. While filming, the cast was peering at a tennis ball or cardboard cutout of a giant, which would later be replaced through computer trickery.
"It took a fair bit of imagination on our parts. I must say, as great as everyone was explaining what the giants would look like and showing us artist drawings and stuff, you still can't quite get the scale and the life of what ended up on the screen and how they interact and perform and how the actors have managed to capture that and transfer that onto the giants."
At a point in time when parents may have to wrestle the TV remote or iPad from their children at bedtime, are many still paging through books with stories about a frog prince or Rapunzel or Tom Thumb or Rumpelstiltskin or Jack and the Beanstalk?
"I would hope so," he said, calling such rituals a simple pleasure families should hold onto in life.
As for fairy tales, "I think they're really important stories and give kids' imaginations free rein to run wild, basically. I think that time between parents and kids of reading stories is really important," and it will be an honor to be part of a young moviegoer's childhood memories.
"It's also just nice to see the film worked out well. You can work hard on something and know that it's good people involved and you're never quite sure what's going to happen with the end product, so it's very lucky" that this one turned out so well.
This movie, however, left him with the most bruises and cuts of any project. "I feel you earn them, they're your badges, in a way, of doing a film like this. You go home and say, yeah, I got beat up a little bit today, but it looked good and it's worthwhile," in the service of adventure, action and fun.
After all, no one was harmed during the making of "About a Boy" in which a young Nicholas played a child who, through sheer persistence and pestering, became a surrogate son and friend to Hugh Grant's confirmed bachelor.
In "A Single Man," Mr. Hoult was a college student alongside Colin Firth as a professor whose longtime partner had died in an accident.
"He's given me great advice. He's very family-oriented and knows how important that is and to enjoy the work and not take it seriously but also to see the ridiculousness in it," he said. "He's very wise."
First Published March 1, 2013 12:00 am