LOS ANGELES — In “Equals” (opening Friday), Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart play two individuals living in a future society where all emotions have been systematically deleted from people’s lives. There is no war or anger or crime, but the good emotions have been eliminated as well.
Director Drake Doremus (“Like Crazy,” “Breathe In”) and his production team created a very stark and antiseptic environment, which they brought to life in Japan.
This placid — if extremely boring — existence ultimately is challenged as both Hoult’s Silas character and Stewart’s Nia come to realize they have been afflicted by a disease that re-energizes their dormant and totally illegal underlying emotions. “Equals,” of course, then turns into a sci-fi thriller romance, with the two of them striving to hide their true feelings from a world that does not value them.
Since actors’ principal role in life is to exude a range of emotions, Hoult understood the irony of playing a character — especially in the early scenes — where all of that had to suppressed.
“Actually, whenever I read a script,” said the actor. “I like to find characters who do change and evolve as the story unfolds. Of course, in this case that evolution was perhaps more pronounced than any role I’d played previously.”
Doremus is known for his ability to improvise freely with his actors, a fact Hoult loved. “In fact, I believe this is the first film of Drake’s that even had a script,” said Hoult. “But the most important time we spent improvising was really before beginning principal photography. Kristen and I spent a lot of time doing that in rehearsal, but it wasn’t like we were reading lines. It was all about getting to know each other — and feel comfortable in each other’s presence. … In the end, that was very useful when the cameras were rolling, because we could anticipate each other’s moves and thoughts.”
The actor did admit that after spending several months in the all-white environment of “Equals” he almost wanted “to run out and buy a whole lot of wild shirts and crazy jeans and things like that, but I didn’t.” On the set, the clothes were all stark white, the shoes were white, all the walls of every building and enclosure were also painted white.
“But that look of the set and the costumes was perfect,” said Hoult. “It truly put us in the mood for what this film was all about. We needed that minimalism to help express the lack of emotion that was existing in that crazy future. As actors, it was a big help.”
Making “Equals” was the first time Hoult had worked in Japan. “I went once when I was 12 years old, but hadn’t been back since. I think for a number of us, a big part of making the film meant we all were in this together. We were all away from home, experiencing this new, unexplored land for most of us. We spent a lot of time together when we weren’t working, and then we all would be back together at work, doing the movie. It brought us very close together as people.”
Again turning to the basic theme of “Equals,” Hoult said he has long been intrigued by the concept some have put forth — attempting to negate the negative emotions in the world. “Sure, it would be nice if there was a world with no wars, or people killing each other or stealing from one another.
“But that’s such a strange philosophy. When you turn off the bad emotions, you very likely will lose the good emotions, too. No, life is simply fraught with its ups and its downs. You have to take the bad in order to relish the good things that come your way. All those feelings and emotions somehow stem from the same place.”