The internet is still dissecting the wonder that is the Cats trailer, but in a sea of otherworldly visuals and familiar stars, one particular cat and the woman behind her have stuck out as the only element audiences may not recognize. So, who is Francesca Hayward? The ballerina plays Victoria in the adaptation of the popular stage musical, but be prepared for her to woo viewers with her dancing skills when Cats premieres.
Starring James Corden, Taylor Swift, Judi Dench, Jennifer Hudson, and Ian McKellen, Cats has also utilized the talents of Jason Derulo, Rebel Wilson, and Idris Elba for its on-screen portrayal of the Jellicle Cats. Based on the hit 1982 Broadway musical, the movie follows the cats’ preparation to select one of their own to begin a new life. Royal Ballet dancer Francesca Hayward, 27, is the newcomer of the cast, playing Victoria the White Cat. Traditionally a dance-centric role with no solo singing, Victoria is a shy, quiet kitten who performs ballet in one of the show’s standout dances.
Original Cats composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has reportedly written a new song for Victoria in the film, but for now, the trailer’s quick glimpses of Hayward’s dancing have sparked audiences’ curiosity about her. While she has worked as a principal dancer at London’s Royal Ballet since 2016, Hayward was born near Nairobi to a Kenyan mother and British father before the family moved to England when she was a toddler. At 10 years old, Hayward began training at the Royal Ballet School in London, so Victoria’s ballet sequences are definitely in good hands.
Having performed in the roles of Romeo and Juliet‘s Juliet, Sleeping Beauty‘s Aurora, and The Nutcracker‘s Clara, Hayward’s professional experience is limited to the stage. Her Instagram page is full of pictures documenting her life as a busy ballerina, and since the Cats trailer launched, feline-themed footage has begun to pop up on her account.
"I’ve always just done ballet," Hayward said in the behind-the-scenes footage she posted to Instagram. "I feel like I’m sort of living the dream."
The clip also seemingly confirms that the character of Victoria will have her own song in the holiday season standout, showing Hayward singing in a rehearsal room with Hudson, who plays the shunned Grizabella. "It’s just very surreal for someone who doesn’t sing in public to suddenly be singing with Jennifer Hudson," Hayward says in the video.
Hayward has yet to share any of her own behind-the-scenes photos, but she posted the highly meme-able Cats trailer with the caption, "A very feline Christmas awaits." As Victoria, she appears as the fresh-faced outsider throughout the trailer, being swept up in the cats’ fantastical world as the decision of who ascends to the Heaviside layer nears. Hudson’s rendition of "Memory" plays throughout the trailer, so one of the footage’s only lines of dialogue belongs to Hayward, who optimistically asks another cat, "Are you going to try for a different life?"
Part of why watching the Cats footage feels so eerie might be because the other stars are so familiar, but here’s to Hayward bringing something new to the story. Cats is in theaters on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019.
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