entertainment

Exclusive | 'Kinky Boots' star Matt Henry on using own experiences to bring drag queen Lola to life

'Kinky Boots' will be screened across UK cinemas next week

2020-01-30

Words: Steve Brown

Kinky Boots sadly closed its doors on the West End back in January last year and it has been missed from London's theatre scene.

Starring Matt Henry and Killian Donnelly as Lola and Charlie Price respectively, the production won every Best Musical award during it's run on the West End.

And although it is deeply missed in London, Kinky Boots The Musical will now be screened in more than 650 cinemas across the UK and Ireland on February 4 and 9, 2020. 

Cinema tickets are on sale now. For more information and to book tickets visit KinkyBootsCinema.com.

Ahead of special cinema screenings, Attitude spoke exclusively to Matt Henry who tells us what it was like getting into those heels every night and whether the theatre industry is still lacking in diversity.

You’re getting back into the heels of Lola for the special screenings. How was it getting back into the role?

We did it last year so going back into a show that I hadn’t been in for a year and a bit was very challenging.

But I kind of like the fact that myself and Killian, he was back with me again, so it meant taking on the role of Lola again a little bit easier because I had him for moral support.

He got me through the pain of getting into the boots again.

I saw Kinky Boots when yourself and Killian were on stage. It’s such an inclusive musical. What was it like playing that part?

You know what, that part, there’s so many facets to the character of Lola and it allowed me to get into my own personal life and take things from that and bring it to the character.

I didn’t really have a very good relationship with my father, Lola doesn’t have a great relationship with her father and neither does Charlie and that’s how their friendship is started.

So there were elements that I could pull upon to inject into the character and I kind of felt Lola allowed me to find peace in my own life as well.

I was able crossover and to portray this openness and willingness kind of allowed people to find themselves an encourage people to go, ‘Look you can change the world when you change how you think about people’ and I think that’s what is so fantastic about the character of Lola.

Was that the first you used your own personal life when playing a character?

It was the first role that mirrored my life in some way. It ran very closely to stuff in my own personal life.

Lola was the first time that I kind of went, ‘Oh wow! I have lived some of this story’.

I’m not a drag queen or a boxer but I think we all have some elements of the Lola and Charlie story.

You know, living up to the expectations of our parents is a big thing for some people.

A lot of people I have spoken to who have come to the show have said, ‘Oh my God. I am totally understand this story. I totally relate to this story’.

It looks like it was great fun on stage every night!

I loved performing in the show. It was the first time that I was getting to use all my skillsets – singing, acting, dancing – and enjoying all the music and fantastic direction and just having this great friendship that I had offstage with Killian and then onstage with him as Charlie Price and me as Lola.

I had the most fantastic time doing the show. But I had never seen the show until I went to the screening of Kinky Boots and I got to see what everybody else sees.

And not just my performance but also the story, and the energy and the vibe.

What was it like getting into those heels every night though?!

[Laughs] It took seven weeks of rehearsals to really go from being like Bambi and then finishing up like Black Beauty.

And it allowed me to through the pain threshold at the beginning. I was told to wear them in, break them in, and now, putting heels on is nothing.

It’s like wearing flipflops. You build up a strength as well in your carves and legs.

Some women and drag queens have asked me, ‘What’s it like walking in heels?’ I say to wear them when you are cooking, cleaning, make them become a part of you.

That’s how I was able to make my performance more authentic.

If I was walking around a bit like John Wayne it wouldn’t have gone down well with the presentation of the character.

Have you ever performed in drag before?

As a gay man you have nights out with your mates. I remember going to Soho in drag for my mates 30th birthday. We all went into town in drag.

It was fantastic, very hard, but fantastic. But in Kinky Boots I really learnt how you do it properly.

I learnt all the tricks of the trade. Double-sided sticky tape was my best friend.

Some of the cast were drag queens as well. Did they help with your training?

No actually, they were amazing. Some of them had work as drag queens in other shows but most of what I was doing, I had a makeup artist who had so much experience working with drag queens.

I used to watch her paint my face every night, I had about six layers of makeup on, it was crazy.

By watching her, I got to learn blend is your friend. You just learn by watching.

 

RuPaul’s Drag Race is mainstream TV now. Are you a fan?

Oh of course! When I landed the role of Lola, I watched every episode of Drag Race on Netflix [laughs].

I wanted to learn everything I needed to know! Yeah, Drag Race was a source of inspiration for me.

Did you expect the musical to be as successful over here as it was on Broadway?

Well, you never know! What was wonderful was that it was a British story and a story set in Northampton so I wasn’t surprised when it won the awards over here.

I think it has such a big heart and such a beautiful and British story that a lot of people were excited to see it and enjoy that experience.

I was devastated when it left West End! It should still be there now.

Yeah it should! It went on tour around the country, so people who couldn’t come down to London were able to go see it which I think was fantastic.

And now it is going to be in cinemas, people who didn’t see it on tour, will be able to see it in the cinema.

So again, people can go to the local cinema and enjoy that experience. And these theatre screenings help to keep theatre alive and present in people’s minds.

Kinky Boots has some of the best songs in musical history. What is your favourite?

Oh my God! I have two – I’m very greedy! It has to be ‘Not My Father’s Son’. That is definitely my number one song, it speaks volumes.

When you’re singing it you can’t hear a pin drop, all you can hear is people sobbing or crying, it’s such an emotional, beautiful song and the lyrics are stunning. But also ‘Raise You Up’, the finale.

Before we got to the end of the song, the audience were up on their feet. We were having standing ovations before the show has even ended.

That’s what is wonderful about Cyndi Lauper’s writing. She is a popstar, she writes pop music and I feel like you can take these individual songs and they can become hits by themselves.

Just like the old style musical theatre that used to happen when Andrew Lloyd Webber would write songs for Sarah Brightman. These songs became number one hits in the charts.

That’s what’s so great about Cyndi Lauper. She’s allowed that to happen. They stand alone as well as being part of the musical.

I still sort of class Kinky Boots as still a sort of underdog musical. Do you think it’s true?

I think because it’s called Kinky Boots and people think it’s about drag queens, people don’t necessarily know what’s it about and are a bit reluctant to go and see it but I think Kinky Boots did so well on the West End because it became a sort of word-of-mouth musical.

People were able to relate to it on many different levels. It was so wonderful and I think the magic was that people were able to go off and bring other people and I think that’s why it did so well because it was so infectious.

But the title may have confused people and they don’t know what it’s about. People have seen the film.

It’s not just about drag queens, it’s a story about a staple British industry that is failing. The same thing happens in Billy Elliot.

It’s such a great British story.

Is lack of diversity still an issue in the theatre industry?

Kinky Boots for me was one of the best roles I have ever done and probably that I will ever get to play should someone write something more amazing.

It was a while for me to get the role that best suited me and at the time there was also Dreamgirls, Motown, The Lion King.

There are shows out there but there needs to be more new writing and new shows that kind of tell British stories and allow also to reflect Britain now.

A very diverse Britain. I’m very much about encouraging that new writing.

How would you like the theatre industry to change?

I guess I would love there to be more opportunities.

Theatre is always changing and I think we are moving into a very exciting time where we are telling our stories.

I think theatre is changing and we are moving in the right direction and I am so excited to see where it is going next.

What is next for you?

After Kinky Boots, I took some time off because we had a baby so I have been the stay-at-home parent and juggling that and put my career on hold.

Now I am gradually coming back and doing smaller projects as well as looking after my son. I am going off next week to do a new play in Liverpool. It’s a new play by Jonathan Harvey ‘Our Lady of Blundellsands’.

Harvey is best known for Gimme Gimme with Kathy Burke and he also did the most amazing film, Beautiful Thing.

He’s written this fantastic dark comedy set in Liverpool. It’s based around these two older one.

One is dying of cancer and the other has dementia. It’s about how the family comes together to support these two women.

Has your son got the musical theatre bug like you?

[Laughs] Well, he is only two. But he does sing a lot and dance around the house and always tells me to shut up when I’m singing.

There’s going to be some competition in the future to see who will have the limelight in the house.

He is wonderful. We have a piano here and he is always tinkering around.

If Kinky Boots the Musical was to ever get the movie adaptation, would you take on the role again?

Do you even need to ask?! [Laughs]. I would be there definitely.

There was always talks of making Kinky Boots 2 but it would be wonderful. It’s hard work when you’re doing it.

But you look back and it was the best time of your life. I’m really excited to find another role to bring as much joy to other people.