There were a lot of memorable movie moments in 2019, but perhaps none quite as big as when the Cats trailer came out. For one day, nearly the entire internet stopped to take in the first look at the whimsical musical film adaptation. The trailer was met with awe, wonder, and a whole lot of confusion over the appearances of the humanoid cat characters played by some of the world's biggest celebrities. Now that the film has hit theaters, chatter about the fantastical feline looks has ramped up again, but Cats star Francesca Hayward is perfectly chill about the CGI backlash.
From the moment the original musical premiered on Broadway in 1980, it always confounded audiences. It's an odd concept for viewers to wrap their minds around: The poems of T.S. Eliot inspired a review-style musical about felines who compete for the chance to ascend into a new life. To top it off, the cats are played by a troupe of human dancers. So, lifelike CGI aside, the movie really isn't that out-there when you compare it with its source material.
"I think a lot of the comments [about the trailer] came from people who had never seen the stage musical," Hayward tells Elite Daily. Although she understands why some people might be shocked by how she and her costars look as cats, she thinks shock wears off as the movie goes on. "It’s something very different, unique, unusual; it’s going to take people a little while to adjust themselves to it. But what I found from watching the film was that it became quite normal to see everyone as cats. You stopped thinking about it."
Hayward speaks from experience. When she saw herself in feline form for the first time, it took her a little while to "adjust," which was tough, since she was introduced to her cat-self at the same time the rest of the world was.
"The first time I saw myself as a cat was in the first trailer," she says. "And I saw it at exactly the same time as the whole world — in fact a bit after, because I was in Mexico and I had no Wi-Fi."
She may have caught the Cats trailer a bit late, but that didn't stop Hayward from enjoying its viral moment — naysaying included — alongside the rest of the Cats cast.
"I think the whole cast — no one took it personally," she explains. "It’s very much just a fun film. We’ve all taken everything with a great sense of humor."
In fact, she and the the cast have especially enjoyed seeing their images shared all over the internet. "We have a WhatsApp group and we share all the funniest stuff," Haywards says. "I think we just enjoy it when we’re being used as a viral meme. I loved, actually, as soon as the first trailer came out, I instantly became a GIF on WhatsApp. I couldn’t believe it. That was, like, the biggest shock to me."
This level of attention is new for Hayward, since she doesn't come from a Hollywood background. But she's not new to the spotlight; she's a principal dancer in London's Royal Ballet. She credits her background as a ballerina with helping her on her first-ever movie set.
"I think ballet training literally prepares you for anything — not just the body itself, but the discipline that comes with it," Hayward says.
She says she also looked to the rest of the film's star-studded cast — which comprises Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, and more — to learn the ropes.
"I loved seeing how they were as people," Hayward says. "To be with all these legends in one room... but [they were all] wonderful humans as well. I think that’s really important, learning how you can be at the top of your game but also being very respectful and just also still enjoying what you do, really. That was really insightful."
You can catch Hayward and her fellow feline-ified costars in theaters everywhere now.
Reporting by Lexi Williams