Nathan Stewart-Jarrett has a fondness for erotic thrillers. He particularly enjoys films such as “The Bedroom Window” starring Elizabeth McGovern, “Body Heat” with Kathleen Turner, and “The Last Seduction.” In short, he is a fan of this genre.
The reason for discussing erotic thrillers is due to my recent depiction of the film Femme. This intense drama features Stewart-Jarrett as Jules, a drag queen who is brutally attacked by a group of homophobic individuals. After the attack, Jules isolates himself until a chance encounter at a gay sauna reveals important information: the leader of the gang, Preston, is actually gay and does not recognize Jules out of drag. This realization gives Jules the chance to seek revenge on his attacker. The resulting cat and mouse game creates a tense and thrilling experience for the audience.
This reminds me of a traditional erotic thriller, but Stewart-Jarrett, even though he likes this type of movie, doesn’t think it fits neatly into that category. He’s still trying to figure out what it truly is. He admits that he doesn’t always view things the same way as others or as he should.
Throughout our discussion, the idea of the elusive and unexpected angle arises frequently. Stewart-Jarrett has a penchant for intellectual playfulness and enjoys challenging absolutes. This approach is reflected in his diverse acting roles, ranging from his breakthrough in the cult supernatural series Misfits to his controversial role in the thriller Utopia, and even taking on the iconic Broadway production Angels in America.
When working on Femme, Stewart-Jarrett’s initial challenge was to persuade others that he could portray fear effectively. Due to his muscular build at the time, there were doubts about his ability to convincingly convey terror. Fortunately, his scene partner for the role of his attacker was fellow actor George MacKay, who also breaks away from traditional roles. During their chemistry read, MacKay successfully scared Stewart-Jarrett.
“I was terrified!” Stewart-Jarrett recalls. “I had met George once before, a few years ago, but I had never seen him in that state and he truly frightened me. It was crucial for the film to show us reaching that level and being able to portray it. It’s one thing to be able to flirt; actors always need to be charming, so you can try to turn that on. But tapping into such intense fear and aggression on his part, it’s difficult.”
After securing the cast, Stewart-Jarrett had a three-week period to attempt losing muscle mass and mastering walking in high heels. He achieved this by traveling to Italy, avoiding pasta, and using a treadmill while wearing extremely tall shoes. However, his efforts were unsuccessful and he admits, “I was not very skilled.”
Before filming, something must have clicked for Stewart-Jarrett because they were able to convincingly portray a drag persona, although their character Jules is mostly shown without drag. While there was discussion about referencing Drag Race, Stewart-Jarrett did not want to simply imitate a drag queen. This unexpected approach is evident once again, as the focus is not on mimicking RuPaul’s Drag Race, but rather giving a nod to Ryan Gosling’s vengeful character in Nicolas Winding Refn’s cult classic Drive. Femme delves into the complexities of both masculinity and femininity.
“Yeah, and we’re obsessed with masculinity as a culture,” says Stewart-Jarrett. “When an actor who was thin suddenly has huge rippling superhero muscles, it’s like: ‘Oh my God, now we’re gonna pay attention to that person.’ We’re obsessed with that transformation, with that journey to masculinity, and it’s awful. On dating apps like Grindr, people are like: ‘No fems’. In Femme, Preston is encased within toxic masculinity, and Jules is using and getting in touch with his masculinity to enact revenge.”
Stewart-Jarrett notes that the glorification of masculinity in culture can have harmful effects on those who embrace it. In the movie Femme, the main character’s worst fear is others discovering his true sexuality. It can be tempting to believe that society has made significant progress, but this is not necessarily the case. Stewart-Jarrett compares this to the moment Obama was elected, when some believed racism had been eradicated. However, this is not the reality and the film addresses these tensions. The tragedy in Femme is that Jules is accepted and loved by his friends, but he believes he can also receive that same acceptance from society. However, Preston is there to shatter that illusion. This type of betrayal happens frequently and it is important for independent films, novels, essays, and art to bring attention to these issues.
The movie was honored for achieving this feat at the UK’s top LGBTQ+ film awards, winning the Iris prize for best feature. It also screened at the Berlin film festival. However, it may not have seemed like a guaranteed success on paper – the two directors, Sam H Freeman and Ng Choon Ping, only had one short film under their belts. What attracted Stewart-Jarrett to the role they had to offer?
“I am constantly seeking out challenges,” he states. “The role must truly inspire me. I must have a passion for the work or it must keep me up at night. I always remember when Halle Berry accepted her Razzie (Golden Raspberry award for worst actress) for Catwoman and was still enthusiastic. You have to be able to laugh at yourself without being bitter.”
Femme, which has been nominated for 11 British independent film awards, including a joint best lead performance for MacKay and Stewart-Jarrett, will not be a cause for concern when it comes to Razzies. This film is a remarkable display of the actor’s adaptability, as Jules navigates through various emotional states with precise control. What’s on the horizon? He remains secretive about the details, but it will likely be something unpredictable.
“I have a tendency to experience things only once, and that’s okay. Whether it’s performing on the West End or Broadway, or working on a studio film, it always feels like a singular experience. So I’ve learned to embrace that and make the most of it. It’s diverse. There’s a sense of being an outsider because I don’t belong to any particular group, but I can adapt and move between them. It’s actually quite nice, because it allows me to view things from different perspectives.”
In our previous discussion, Stewart-Jarrett mentioned a similar idea of not perceiving things in the expected manner. However, where does this expectation come from? Is there a single correct perspective? He chuckles. “I guess it’s more about me being contrary about something that I shouldn’t be. Like, what is the alternative perspective? What is the other viewpoint here? I believe in the concept of putting oneself in someone else’s shoes…but it can make me a bothersome friend.”
He chuckles once more. You may need to inquire with his friends about this, but it would be unfortunate if he lost that inquisitive nature. It seems to be the crux of his talent as a performer: impossible to pigeonhole, yet capable of portraying any role he desires.