“When ‘Avatar’ first came out, everyone was like, ‘Ooh, oh god!’ But I think ‘Avatar’ did pretty well,” Robbie Fairchild, who plays prominent feline character Munkustrap, said ahead of the movie musical’s world premiere.
Cats director Tom Hooper told the packed audience at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall in New York on Monday night (Dc. 16) that he'd just completed the highly anticipated movie at 8 a.m. in London the day before, making the well-heeled crowd among the first audiences to see a finished cut of the VFX-heavy film version of the hit Broadway musical.
But while industry insiders are just now seeing the full film, online commentators quickly sharpened their claws and scratched away at the Universal movie when its first trailer debuted this summer. A number of observers seemed unnerved by the look of stars like Taylor Swift and Idris Elba as anthropomorphic cats with a blend of "digital fur technology" and the actors' faces and human anatomy and movements.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of Monday's world premiere, though, a number of the Cats actors said they were just pleased their production was getting so much attention and attributed any backlash to the shock of something new, particularly felt by those who weren't familiar with the Broadway musical, which features actors in lavish makeup and fur-covered costumes, moving like felines.
"How cool to be part of a musical that's become such a mainstream buzz topic," Robbie Fairchild, who plays prominent cat Munkustrap, told THR. "When you think about Avatar, when Avatar first came out, everyone was like, 'Ooh, oh god! But I think Avatar did pretty well. So I think we're OK."
Mungojerrie actor Danny Collins said, "To make someone look as realistic and human and cat-like as well is not really something that's been seen before. So we were always expecting some reaction to it. I thought the strong reaction was quite amusing really — my personal feeling is that was kind of better than there being no reaction, than people kind of being like 'meh.' I think a lot of people who have never seen the stage show before and don't know the concept of it at all were like, 'What is this?'"
Naoimh Morgan, the actress behind his onscreen partner in crime, Rumpleteazer, added that she "was not surprised at that reaction."
"If you don't know the musical, to you it's just humans covered in fur and that's like, 'What is this? What is this world?' But once you see the movie, if you give it a chance and see the movie, you will forget that side of things and you will just be involved in this story and in this new world and you'll just appreciate it for what it is," Morgan told THR.
Fairchild had similar advice for apprehensive moviegoers, saying, "The magic of theater is suspended disbelief. As soon as you start with us from the very beginning, we lead you into it, it's not scary, you become part of the world. It's a special, magical ride." And Mr. Mistoffles actor Laurie Davidson summed up the general mood of excitement and openness to a new type of film.
"I was just obsessed with the fact that I had ears and a tail," he said of his reaction to the trailer. "I think when anything new is breaking new ground — something like this has never been done before and you're always going to get — but they've done an amazing job and the film is just beautiful. I think audiences are just going to get themselves completely lost in this film, in this world and these characters. I can't wait for that to happen."
Introducing the film before its screening — which was watched with rapt attention as numerous songs, including Jennifer Hudson's rendition of "Memory," earned cheers and loud applause — Hooper indicated that the tale might be particularly timely in a polarized political climate.
"I think this film is about the perils of tribalism and the power of kindness," he said. "I think, in this moment, to make a film which shows that one kind act can redeem a lost soul is what I'd like to be making."
Hooper and Collins were among those who cited their childhood love of Cats on Monday night. And on the black carpet, in front of a backdrop designed to look like set pieces from the film, with various storefronts, including a milk bar, as well as trash cans and crates of fish, James Corden said his younger self was feeling a slightly different sense of awe, grateful for continued acting opportunities amid his CBS late-night gig.
"I hadn't hosted a talk show before the Late Late Show and acting was all I ever did and there was a part of me that was worried when I took that show that these opportunities would no longer come my way, and so to be here at the premiere of this musical and to fly back to L.A. to shoot another musical for Netflix and then to carry on with my late-night show is a life I never thought I would have," the Bustopher Jones actor told THR. "If I could tell my 12-year-old self that this would be my life today, his head would explode."
This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.