Grady Smith
August 02, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The ”boy” from About a Boy is all grown up — and now Nicholas Hoult is making a name for himself as a leading man. Following a sly turn on the U.K. series Skins, the British actor, 23, has built an impressive résumé. He starred in 2011’s X-Men: First Class as the young Dr. Hank McCoy (a.k.a. Beast), a role he’ll reprise in 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. This year he gave a disarmingly human performance as a lovestruck zombie in Warm Bodies, and made the most of an underwritten role in the flop Jack the Giant Slayer. (Note to young actors: Just because you’re offered a $195 million studio film, you don’t have to take it.)

In conversation, Hoult is charmingly open — even about the roles he hasn’t landed. ”One of my all-time worst auditions was Prince Caspian,” he says. ”They asked if I could do a Hispanic accent. I was like, ‘What would I base that on?’ They were like, ‘Have you seen Shrek? Puss in Boots.’ So I was trying to do my best Antonio Banderas impression,” he says. ”It sounded more like Borat.” No matter. Hoult has kept himself busy. Besides X-Men, he’s got the dystopian drama Young Ones in the pipeline and two films with Charlize Theron: the Mad Max sequel Fury Road and Dark Places. What keeps Hoult sane as his star rises? Some handy advice Colin Firth gave him while shooting 2009’s A Single Man: ”He told me to keep your friends and family close. The people who love you for who you are will still be around even when the work’s not going so well.”

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