Ballerina Francesca Hayward leaps from stage to screen in 'Cats'

LONDON (Reuters) - British ballerina Francesca Hayward is getting ready to take a leap from stage to the silver screen, with a star turn in the film version of the musical “Cats”.

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This holiday season, the Royal Ballet principal dancer will be appearing in a production of “Coppelia” at London’s Royal Opera House.

At the same time, in cinemas across the world, she will be appearing as the cat Victoria in the movie based on British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit stage show.

The 27-year-old stars alongside Taylor Swift, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Hudson, Idris Elba and James Corden.

“When I was younger I used to dance to lots of ballet videos ... but amongst my favorite videos would be ‘Cats’,” Hayward told Reuters in an interview.

“I would invite my friends round to play with me and I would put ‘Cats’ on and I would always be Victoria.”

Victoria has an expanded role in the film, in which the actors’ faces are visible and their bodies are covered in computer-generated fur. Hayward will also be singing a new tune, “Beautiful Ghosts”. The song, written by Swift and Lloyd Webber, was nominated for a Golden Globe on Monday.

“I’ve always had roles in my head ... that I thought I would get to play, maybe, possibly, but I have to say, I never really thought that I’d ever be Victoria since that’s not in our ballet repertoire,” Hayward said.

“I found the singing really scary ... I had a very surreal day on set where they asked me to go to the music room and Taylor was there, and she basically sang me the solo that I would sing in the film ... And at the end of it, she said ‘Is that OK?’ I said: ‘Yeah, that’s OK. I’ll do my best with it’.”

Nairobi-born Hayward, who began dancing aged three, trained at the Royal Ballet School, graduating into the Company nearly 10 years ago. She has performed in “The Nutcracker”, “Frankenstein”, “Swan Lake” and “Don Quixote” among others, and is also currently rehearsing for “Onegin”.

Hayward, who featured on the British Vogue “Forces for change” cover when Meghan, wife of Britain’s Prince Harry, guest edited the magazine’s September issue, has also starred in a film version of “Romeo and Juliet”.

“On stage I have to amplify some of my emotions with my back or make something a little bit more obvious because my audience might be very far away from me, or very high up and find it harder to read what I’m trying to express,” Hayward said.

“On camera everything has to be sort of toned down a lot more but read very well.”

The film hits cinemas globally from Dec. 19.

Reporting by Sarah Mills; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Andrew Heavens