Richard E. Grant will be putting his best stilettoed heel forward when he steps into the spotlight as a drag queen.
The actor will play dress shop owner Hugo and his glamorous alter ego Loco Chanelle in the film adaptation of hit West End musical Everybody's Talking About Jamie, which tells the story of a 16-year-old Sheffield schoolboy who dreams of wearing a frock to his school prom.
Both Grant and Max Harwood, 21, a drama student from London 's Urdang Academy who has won the eponymous lead role after a 12-month search involving 3,500 applicants, have been receiving extensive 'heels coaching', as Harwood put it.
Richard E Grant, pictured right, is playing beside Max Harwood, left, in the film adaptation of hit West End musical Everybody's Talking About Jamie, which tells the story of a 16-year-old Sheffield schoolboy who dreams of wearing a frock to his school prom
Director Jonathan Butterell hailed Harwood as 'a very special find'.
Butterell came up with the idea for the musical after watching Jamie: Drag Queen At 16, a documentary about Jamie Campbell.
He took the idea to the Crucible in Sheffield and created the show with composer Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae, who wrote the book and lyrics. Later they were joined by choreographer Kate Price.
The four are fulfilling the same duties on the film, produced by Hollywood-based New Regency, Warp Films and Film4.
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The story has been opened out extensively in preparation for cameras rolling on June 24.
For instance at the Apollo, where theatre owner Nica Burns transferred it from the Crucible, there are 12 actors playing students. In the film, there will be 1,000 for big production numbers.
On Wednesday 62-year-old Grant — whose stock soared when Oscar and BAFTA voters nominated his performance as a homeless gadfly in Can You Ever Forgive Me? — was at a film studio in South Yorkshire with Butterell and costume designer Guy Speranza. The actor was screen-testing the elaborate costumes he'll wear as Loco Chanelle, along with full hair and make-up created by Nadia Stacey, who made the stars of The Favourite stand out.
For the film of Jamie, Grant will lead a company that also includes award-winning Sarah Lancashire as Margaret, Jamie's mother; and Sharon Horgan as Miss Hedge, the careers teacher at fictional Mayfield Comprehensive who clashes with Jamie over his personal choices
'It is extraordinary, that vision of Richard,' said director Butterell. 'By the time he's got heels and a wig on he's about 8ft tall. I had to go to the art department and ask if the ceiling in his dressing room scenes is high enough.' He added: 'Richard's loving it. It's something he's never done before. He has now watched, I think, a thousand million episodes of RuPaul's Drag Race to learn how the kids are doing it, and also studying the story of the drag queens of the late Eighties and Nineties.'
Tom MacRae and I met at Monday night's performance of Jamie at the Apollo. He, too, had observed Grant's preparation for playing Hugo and Loco Chanelle. 'It's transformative,' he declared. 'He was very involved in finding the dress, and the right wig.'
Grant didn't pick up the Oscar for Can You Ever Forgive Me? But he did win the hearts of many voters, brightening up a relatively joyless awards season with his sheer delight at simply being nominated.
He will also be seen playing the villainous Allegiant General Pryde in the next Star Wars film The Rise Of Skywalker, due to be released December 9.
For the film of Jamie, Grant will lead a company that also includes award-winning Sarah Lancashire as Margaret, Jamie's mother; and Sharon Horgan as Miss Hedge, the careers teacher at fictional Mayfield Comprehensive who clashes with Jamie over his personal choices.
Shobna Gulati will reprise her role from the theatre production as Ray, Jamie's mum's best friend. Lauren Patel and Sam Bottomley will play key student roles.
The requirements for the 'right' Jamie were very specific, Butterell told me. 'Somebody who could play 16. Somebody who's unafraid of their own effeminacy. Somebody who can sing and dance amazingly. And just to be able to have an inner life that is beautiful and complex. Max is not from Sheffield, but he had all those ingredients.'
Although John McCrea was sensational as Jamie in Sheffield and at the Apollo, and was nominated for an Olivier, he'd have been too old for the film. Likewise Layton Williams, who took over from McCrae and has since put his own stamp on the role.
Butterell told me he has cast McCrae in a 'significant cameo', playing the younger version of Loco Chanelle in flashbacks.
Meanwhile, the creative team have expanded Grant's part in the film. 'He plays a man who has slightly lost his way,' Butterell said, 'and we've changed the story to describe what his world was. That man's at a lonely place when we first see him and it's Jamie who wakes him up.'
David Hoyle (who was drag performer The Divine David back in the day) has been putting Grant through his paces for several weeks.
And Max has been under instruction, too. Choreographer Kate Price contracted dancer and fellow choreographer Shaun Niles to work with him.
'He's basically been showing me the ropes,' Harwood said. 'Walking, dancing and moving in all sorts of heels. Platforms, straps, no straps. All shoe sorts, to get me comfortable.
'With the heel, it's about getting your hips to look as womanly as possible when you're moving in them,' Harwood, who grew up in Basingstoke, told me.
I asked whether his mother had offered any tips.
He laughed, then said: 'They let me do my thing and are super excited. But as far as walking in heels goes, I don't think my mother's ever experienced a drag shoe like the ones Jamie wears.'
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