KINKY BOOTS directed by Julian Jarrold, written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth, w/ Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Linda Bassett. 107 minutes. An Alliance Atlantis release. Opens Friday (April 21). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
North American audiences got their first real look at actor Chiwetel Ejiofor in Stephen Frears's Dirty Pretty Things, where he played an African emigré in London, once a doctor now the night clerk at a posh London hotel. His accent, his bearing, his complex reactions were so authentic that many assumed he was an African actor.
Then he showed up in Love, Actually: completely different accent, completely different character. Then in American roles in She Hate Me and Melinda And Melinda, and most recently as Denzel Washington's partner in Inside Man.
Ejiofor's not quite the physical chameleon Jeffrey Wright (Angels In America, Syriana) is he's physically distinctive, with strong features but he works hard at making his characters stand out. He looks like a movie star but thinks like a character actor.
Of course, it doesn't take a lot of work to make his character in Kinky Boots distinctive. Lola's flamboyant drag does that for him.
In a suite at the Park Hyatt, Ejiofor (pronounced Chew-i-tel Edge-o-for) is doing the publicity thing for the film it has breakout role written all over it and discussing working in drag, choosing a career path and typecasting.
And if anyone's wondering, his home accent is a posh Londonese, via Dulwich College and classical theatrical training.
Was the hardest thing about playing Lola walking around in those stiletto boots?
"Maybe. It was something I had help with. While we were preparing, I got to meet a lot of drag queens, and they were very helpful in getting the character right. I also got to work with our costume designer, Sammy Sheldon, on Lola's look. Well, that's overstating it. Sammy would show me lots of designs, and I'd say which ones I liked. She's brilliant. The costumes help create the character, no question."
What's striking about Ejiofor's film career is its constant change. I wonder if this is a strategy to avoid typecasting.
"Not really. I don't have a game plan. If I see a script that's very different from anything I've done, I don't automatically think I should do it.
"Typecasting is less of an issue in England. North America might have thought I was the character in Dirty Pretty Things, but I'd done so much stage work in London that it was never an issue at home."
The stage work he was a member of the National Youth Theatre and has won awards is the backbone of his increasingly busy film career. Since Kinky Boots, he's done Inside Man and two unreleased films, Children Of Men and Tonight At Noon.
"I really need to get back to the stage. For the last couple of years it's been nothing but movies, and I love the stage. It's a quite different job."
KINKY BOOTS (Julian Jarrold) Rating: NNN
Kinky Boots feels like English television, the home of its writers and director. Joel Edgerton stars as a young man drawn back into his family's faltering shoe business after his father's death, only to find inspiration to change the product after meeting Chiwetel Ejiofor's Lola, a tall black drag queen who keeps breaking heels.
Ejiofor's the star and the reason to see the film, since it's mostly cast with dull actors (Edgerton's a hole in the screen), the better to offset Lola's flamboyance. This is one of those small, heartwarming films that make you ask, If this is a contemporary film, why are the north England locals so socially retarded? Don't they have cable TV?
But Ejiofor, best known for Dirty Pretty Things and Serenity, is worth the price of admission.