Fresh Faces: Nathan Stewart-Jarrett on Berlinale Drag Queen Revenge Thriller ‘Femme’
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is ready for his close-up. After making a mark with TV’s “Misfits” and “Utopia” and in the film “Candyman,” the British actor is set to explode upon the world stage with “Femme,” world premiering at the Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama strand.
Stewart-Jarrett plays Jules, whose alter-ego is Aphrodite, a celebrated drag queen in a gay club in London whose life is destroyed by a homophobic attack. After he spots one of the perpetrators (George MacKay) in a gay sauna, Jules plots revenge.
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“Femme” is based on the BAFTA-nominated short of the same name by directors Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping. Stewart-Jarrett had played a former drag queen in the Tony- and Olivier Award-winning theater production of “Angels in America” and built on that during the “Femme” preparation.
“One of the first things I said was, ‘I need a pair of heels’ — I was just so concerned about walking and the performance in heels,” Stewart-Jarrett told Variety. “I didn’t want to fall on set and delay things. I just didn’t want to break my neck.”
The actor took a pair of heels on holiday to Italy to perfect the character’s walk and posture. “Drag, like clowning, like any costume, and in particular, with this film, it’s so important how one looks and moves in the clothes,” Stewart-Jarrett said.
The actor said that normally the character’s interior space informs the costume but in the case of “Femme” it was the other way round. “When you put something on, how does it make you feel? How does it make you move?” Stewart-Jarrett said.
For Aphrodite’s inspiration, Stewart-Jarrett drew on Grace Jones and Naomi Campbell and “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” among other sources. “I used some of those people to influence who Aphrodite was. They have a power and a strength,” the actor said.
“Femme” also points out the homophobia that exists even today in modern society. “It’s really important that it’s highlighted — even though there is a gay club that is open, and its not being attacked or burned down, even though people live freely, they’re actually stepping outside of that, as Jules does, and crossing the street, which essentially is crossing a chasm, a river or an ocean into a world of danger,” Stewart-Jarrett.
The crux of “Femme” for the actor is identity. “With who Jules is and believes and feels the power that he inhabits as Aphrodite, as someone else… It’s about identity and how he feels like he let her down, if he stepped into a different part of identity and weirdly had more agency as he went on,” the actor said.
The directors did a chemistry read for George MacKay, who plays the attacker, and Stewart-Jarrett. “He just carried me through this chemistry read, he was just amazing,” Stewart-Jarrett said. “There was an element of surprise in every scene, I didn’t quite know what was going to happen. It’s a testament to the degree of trust that George and I have and had.”
Stewart-Jarrett describes premiering “Femme” in Berlin as being “an absolute dream.”
Next up for the actor is Disney+/Star series “Culprits,” which follows the aftermath of a heist when the crew have disbanded but are being targeted by a killer. Stewart-Jarrett stars alongside Gemma Arterton and Eddie Izzard.
“Femme” premieres at the Berlin Film Festival on Feb. 19. The film is produced by Agile Films and Anton is handling world sales.
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