Sneaking a look at Kinky Boots

THE town of Northampton is at the heart of the film Kinky Boots, which is being heralded as the next Brit-flick to take box offices by storm all over the world.

Northamptonshire's tradition of shoe-making is the inspiration for the Hollywood-backed movie, which goes on release in cinemas nationwide on October 7.

Kinky Boots tells the story of Charlie Price who takes over his family's struggling shoe factory when his father dies suddenly. Inspired by a drag queen called Lola, Charlie realises that diversification is the key to Price & Co's future and begins the manufacture of Northamptonshire's own exotic footwear.

Kinky Boots is the second film from Harbour Pictures, which made 2003 global smash Calendar Girls and hopes its new project will even more successful.

The Northampton-based movie has even been touted as the next The Full Monty, which made Sheffield famous for its male strippers.

Like The Full Monty, Kinky Boots does not boast a stellar cast, but a range of respected talents from film and television in Britain and America.

Joel Edgerton – known for his part in two Star Wars films and TV drama The Secret Life Of Us – is Charlie while Chiwetel Ejiofor – Love Actually and Dirty Pretty Things – is drag queen Lola.

Other familiar faces include Nick Frost, who found fame in Channel 4 comedy Spaced and hit film Shaun Of The Dead, as factory worker Don.

Seamstress Mel is played by actress Linda Bassett, who has had prominent roles in East Is East, Calendar Girls and The Hours.

It was this cast and a crew of around 100 people who spent four weeks in Northampton towards the end of last year to film the movie.

LEADING Men

Chiwetel Ejiofor

CHIWETEL Ejiofor is not yet a household name, but his global credibility is growing and he is known as one of Britain's finest young actors.

The Londoner, born in the capital to Nigerian parents, made an impact in Dirty Pretty Things in 2002, before appearing in Richard Curtis's Love Actually.

His leading part in Kinky Boots comes ahead of an appearance in Inside Man, Spike Lee's next film, starring Denzel Washington.

It is a far cry from Kinky Boots, where Ejiofor dons a silky wig, false breasts and sequinned dresses to encapsulate the complicated, vulnerable character of Lola (aka Simon).

But before the 29-year-old actor could begin to understand Lola's issues, he had to master the famous kinky boots. No mean feat.

"I had never worn a pair of heels before and I'm not going to be wearing them to the premiere, even though Julian (Jarrold, the director) has been trying to convince us to!

"This was the first time and last time I wore heels; they were murder, very painful."

Lola is a transvestite drag queen, who is a singer in a Soho cabaret club and endures the discomfort and unsuitability of high-heeled shoes designed for women.

She literally bumps into Charlie Price when she breaks her stiletto heel in fracas.

Lola is persuaded to help Charlie make kinky boots and leaves her safety zone to go to the un-chartered territory of Northampton, where transvestites are few and far between.

Ejiofor is in a good position to choose his roles, having worked under directors like Woody Allen, Spike Lee and Stephen Spielberg. Why did he choose Kinky Boots?

"I connected very strongly with Simon's character, he said. "He was fiercely protecting his right to be an individual and going up against the world and its regulations. He keeps a really distinct sense of humour. He's fun, proud and very heroic."

Used to hedonistic Soho, Lola's life is far removed from Northampton's factories and he didn't need the intensive training in the boot trade the other actors had.

"I went more or less blind into the shoe factory, like Lola. But I went to the Soho clubs and talked to people. I was keen to get as involved as possible, as I didn't want it to be ostentatious but very honest and naturalistic.

"The film is very accurate in terms of the male reaction to transvestism, especially but not only in a provincial town. I don't know why society has these rules and any other way is a problem. It is a form of expression. It was a great role to play, but a challenge. There was voice training, the heels, the dress. I had to get all those right.

Thankfully, Ejiofor was able to change into his regular clothing when he was out and about in Northampton between filming.

He said: "I liked the fact it was pretty spread out over a wide area. The area near the hotel we stayed in got loud on the weekends; people enjoy a party down there."

Ejiofor has a pair of red, thigh-high boots as his souvenir of his Northampton experience.

"They are in my living room, still in the box. I am not tempted to put them back on," he said firmly.

Joel Edgerton

AUSTRALIAN actor Joel Edgerton was in Los Angeles when the offer came to film the story of an ailing shoe factory in an English town.

The 30-year-old – who has the honour of starring in the final scene of the epic Star Wars films as Owen Lars in Revenge Of The Sith – was, perhaps not surprisingly, unconvinced.

A couple of years later, Edgerton is a veritable expert on Northampton and its long history of shoe making, as well as tricks of the trade.

Edgerton plays Charlie, a 28-year-old who inherits Price & Co and faces the challenge of stopping the factory collapsing.

The Sydney-based actor said: "When I first read the film, I couldn't quite put it in context. I had to give it to a friend, who said it was charming.

"Charlie is a guy who is at the receiving end of the last thing he wants, but he falls straight into it. He can't let it fall apart and, in a selfish way, doesn't want to be the first failure."

Australia's most famous city and unassuming Northampton seem poles apart. This irony was not lost on the producers, who auditioned Edgerton.

Nick Barton, of Harbour Pictures, said: "It doesn't sound like it, but a 28-year-old shoe factory owner is very hard to cast.

"Joel was working in Los Angeles, so we went there. I thought, 'We can't cast an Australian as a Northampton shoemaker.' But we went just on the best performance. In his audition, he was Charlie."

Having taken the role, the first hurdle was the technicalities of shoe-making and all the equipment and skill involved in carrying out the trade to the standard of a firm like Tricker's.

"Before we started filming, I had to learn about the process of shoe-making and go through changing men's shoes. I also learnt all about the town. We went to Northampton before we started filming and we went to see Tricker's.

"I totally got into it. It made me look at everything and how it's made. We take so much for granted, but there are these people involved in the process of making shoes."

As part of his research, Edgerton spoke to Northamptonians about their lives and opinions.

The cast and crew spent four weeks at Tricker's, in Northampton, and in streets, pubs and shops.

Joel said: "We had a great time. I found it freezing but I'm from Sydney."