Right from his screen arrival in Withnail And I, Richard E Grant has been a treasured screen icon – and after a stellar, Oscar-nominated performance in Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, he’s still creating some of his best work. Now, after a brief detour to a galaxy far, far away in The Rise Of Skywalker, Grant is back as you’ve truly never seen him before. His latest transformation is as drag queen Loco Chanelle, aka dishevelled fancy-dress shop owner and drag couturist Hugo Battersby, in the screen adaptation of hit musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. Here’s a brand new look at Grant in full drag – acting opposite Max Harwood, the actor who bagged the lead role of Jamie New before he’d even finished drama school – as seen in the new issue of Empire.
On set, Grant tells Empire that he’s “feeling like Kate Moss, and looking like an old boiler” in his wig, towering heels, and full face of make-up. And in preparing to take on the role of a seasoned drag performer, he took a major crash-course courtesy of reality TV. “I binge-watched every episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race,” he says, naming Bianca Del Rio and Aquaria among the drag queens that most captured him. “There’s so much courage and confidence required to pull it off. I’ve been very humbled and inspired by that. So I owe it to RuPaul.” One thing’s for sure – viewers will see a whole new side of a screen legend. “I was absolutely gobsmacked by Richard,” Harwood laughs when recalling their drag transformations. “As soon as he was in the gear, he was just in it. He was fierce, he was everything.”
And it’s with Grant’s character where audiences familiar with the original Everybody’s Talking About Jamie stage musical can look forward to something brand new too. Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae have written a whole number for the film, titled ‘This Was Me’ – one that soundtracks a sequence delving into Hugo’s past as a young gay man in London, living through the AIDS crisis and the protests against Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28 ruling, which made it illegal to ‘promote’ same-sex relationships in schools. It’s sung by Holly Johnson, of Frankie Goes To Hollywood. “It’s essentially a big dance track, like a needle-drop,” director Jonathan Butterell tells Empire. “What Hugo has to teach Jamie is history. He has to teach a young queer kid what shoulders he’s standing on. Even the queer community can forget what rights they have now comes on the back of the fight of other people.”
Read Empire’s full Everybody’s Talking About Jamie feature – going on set, and exploring the evolving story of its real-life inspiration Jamie Campbell and its journey to the big screen, via the original documentary and subsequent stage show – in the Greatest Cinema Moments Ever issue, on sale Thursday 21 January and available to pre-order online here. Jamie is expected to arrive on UK screens later this year.