Amid the new British invasion of rising stars (see Benedict Cumberbatch, David Oyelowo, and the entire cast of Downton Abbey), the strongest candidate for male heartthrob seems to be Nicholas Hoult, an English actor and model who just turned 23, 10 years after co-starring with Hugh Grant in About a Boy.
Born with actorly blood, Hoult is the great-nephew of Anna Neagle, British star and muse to director Herbert Wilcox, whom she wed in the 1940s. Part of Hoult's appeal is that he carries some of the classic mystique of Neagle's heyday, his stark features begging to be captured in black and white, and his lean frame designed for chic formal wear. It's no wonder perfectionist Tom Ford nabbed Hoult for his '60s-era feature debut, A Single Man, casting the then-20-year-old as Kenny, the studious slice of eye-candy who connects with Colin Firth's professor. Through Ford's stylized lens, viewers saw the extent to which Hoult could be an onscreen asset, providing a look both pure and dangerous, nostalgic and new. Few, though, might have expected just how big a star he was on his way to becoming, with multiple blockbusters and, potentially, three franchises on the horizon.
Though he appeared in Wah-Wah, Clash of the Titans, and as the lead in the UK's original version of Skins, Hoult's true mainstream breakout came in X-Men: First Class, which cast him as a young version of Hank McCoy, the erudite mutant who'd evolve to sprout blue fur and go by the name of Beast. Indeed, Hoult made for a much more alluring animal than Kelsey Grammer (who played the same character in Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand), and, despite the movie's flaws, he brought a very necessary vulnerability to the famously introspective character. The film also, apparently, took Hoult off the market, as it was announced in 2011 that he was dating co-star Jennifer Lawrence, who also donned blue prosthetics as Mystique. Details of the couple's recent split are sketchy, but both are signed on for X-Men: Days of Future Past, the 2014 continuation of the series, which sees the return of multiple past players (Hugh Jackman, Ellen Page, and Ian McKellen among them), and original X-Men director Bryan Singer.
First, though, Hoult stands to possibly rule the box-office this weekend with Warm Bodies, a surprisingly well-received zombie love story, in which Hoult takes the lead as a malcontent member of the undead. Co-starring blonde Aussie Teresa Palmer (herself on a path to worldwide recognition), the movie could prove Hoult's mettle as a bankable headliner, which would be good news for March's Jack the Giant Slayer, another Bryan Singer joint that puts Hoult in the spotlight. (The latest entry in the new live-action fantasy canon, the Warner Bros. flick co-stars Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, and Ewan McGregor). Evidently tireless, Hoult also has a role in George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth installment of the dusty, Down Under franchise, which hasn't hit screens in 29 years, and slips Tom Hardy into the Mel Gibson role. Hoult will play Nux, alongside co-stars Charlize Theron, Zoë Kravitz, and Riley Keough.
Not all actors can be groomed to be the next big brand-name star. For evidence, look no further than Taylor Kitsch, who, last year, saw both of his star vehicles, John Carter and Battleship, hopelessly tank. But Hoult seems to be taking a quieter route to the top, having gradually made his way from bit player to scene-stealer to young leading man, and now finally rushed into the public consciousness, rat-a-tat style, by filmmakers who seem to have been privy to his gifts for some time. Working since the age of seven, and already named a rising star to watch by BAFTA (in 2010) and MTV (in 2011), Hoult looks forward to 2013 as, presumably, the breakout year of his professional life.