How Francesca Hayward and the Cast of Cats Learned How to Purr

Having performed for the likes of Rihanna, Beyoncé and the royal family, the dancers of Cats take a broadway blockbuster to the big screen.

We all recall that first-day-of-school stress—the white-knuckled social interaction, prayers of escaping embarrassment. The self-consciousness you felt then may seem out of proportion now, the circumstances banal in hindsight. Now imagine that, instead of napping and playing name-games, you’d been obliged to get on all fours and meow like a cat. This is what the cast of the forthcoming film revival of Cats, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s whimsical Broadway classic, encountered. On set, “cat school” was a daily, compulsory ritual. “On the first day, I did have a ‘What is happening in my life?’ moment,” says the film’s ballet-star lead, Francesca Hayward, here making her feature-film debut as Victoria.

As prima ballerina at the Royal Ballet, Hayward is a titan in her field, as are the other pro-dancer Cats—including Robbie Fairchild, Mette Towley and the Les Twins; Fairchild was New York City Ballet’s male lead and Towley and the twins are respectively Rihanna and Beyoncé protégés. But there’s no preparing for seeing Dame Dench snack on ribs in full Deuteronomy regalia, as Fairchild did one day between takes. “We were in what she called the ‘naughty step’—basically British for ‘time out zone,’ because we weren’t needed in the shot…The crew came by with ribs, and Judi just lit up—she loves a rib,” he says. “Judi was in her motion capture suit and big fur coat, eating ribs…I was like, what the fuck, where am I? You couldn’t dream this up.”

Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, collectively known as the Les Twins, had their own secret weapon backstage: their adopted Sphynx kitten turned adjunct “cat school” faculty member. “He was with us every day and became our little mascot on set. We actually studied his movements and behavior through the entire [shoot],” the Les Twins tell us.

Shot on location between London and Universal’s L.A. backlot (seen here), Cats, opening this Christmas, promises to push the limits of the star-studded blockbuster. But, as Towley reminds, there’s more to the story than the technical innovation glimpsed in the film’s trailer, a cause célèbre this summer; beneath the big-budget uncanniness and internet frenzies are a few hundred dedicated humans.“I want people to look to the different faces of the cats; each one represents someone’s seven months of work,” says Towley. “Because they’re not cats…Each ‘cat’ is an individual.”

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT Larry wears Shirt Versace Pants Maison Margiela Jewelry his own Mette wears Shirt SSS World Corp Pants Stella McCartney/Men’s FW19  Earrings her own Francesca wears All clothing Louis Vuitton Robbie wears Coat and pants Prada Shirt Givenchy Tie Alexander McQueen Laurent wears Shirt and pants Louis Vuitton Hat and jewelry his own
Francesca wears
Jacket Gucci
Dress Alberta Ferretti
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