Director Tom Hooper may have implemented new CGI tactics to bring Cats to movie theatres, but it was up to the cast to embrace the T.S. Eliot spirit and bring their feline characters to life; no amount of Digital Fur Technology would do that for them. In the video above, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Jason Derulo, and more discuss what goes into becoming a Jellicle.
Oscar winner Hudson, who plays Grizabella, says that Hooper gave her a glimpse of what the ultimate aesthetic would be, but when it came time to film, those visuals were a long way off. “You get there, then we have dots, we have green suits, and a hint of a Grizabella coat, and it’s like, ‘But wait a minute. Where’s my cat?!’ That’s where your imagination will step in and you find a way to embody it.”
Despite the absurd nature of the motion capture dots and suits—let alone the subject material—telling the story in this cinematic way became “surprisingly normal” over time. “You get over the laughs early on,” says Ian McKellen, who aptly plays thespian cat Gus. “You look ridiculous, then you forget it. To be with this particular group of people, nobody was above that.”
Still, there are some physical feline principals to keep in mind. That’s where Cat School comes in, led by movement director Sarah Dowling, who served as the film’s cat behavioral specialist. So what are some of the tenets of Cat School? “My cat language was in my shoulders—the rolling,” shares Francesca Hayward, who swapped ballet slippers for paws to play Victoria.
“I would always go back to senses,” fellow dancer and co-star Robbie Fairchild shares. “The first thing that’s going to make you look human is if you look with your eyes. You have to turn your eyes off. Your ears go first, then your nose, then your eyes. Their eyes are the least powerful sense that they have.”
Their work pays off on the big screen, but will they ever use their newfound feline intuition elsewhere? “It reminds me of algebra,” admits Jason Derulo, the film’s Rum Tum Tugger. “We’ll only use it for this and never use it in real life.”