SALT LAKE CITY — From Shakespeare to Mel Brooks, men-in-drag roles have always been attention-grabbers. The talented British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who stars in the Miramax comedy “Kinky Boots,” last Friday night’s Salt Lake City Gala film, takes the role a step further with his sensitive and well-crafted portrayal of Lola, a cross-dressing cabaret star who becomes the new inspiration for a floundering shoe factory.
“I didn’t want it to be too clichéd or caricature-like,” says the 6-foot-tall, soft-spoken actor from his perch on a banquette in an empty restaurant here. “Not the sort of drag queen you never meet in real life, but only come across on television. Those roles have been done.”
Certainly Ejiofor, 31, is not one to repeat himself, either. Cinephiles will recall him from his breakout role in Stephen Frear’s “Dirty Pretty Things,” and since his acting debut in Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad,” he’s also worked with directors Spike Lee, Woody Allen, John Singleton and Joss Whedon. Given his stellar résumé, “Kinky Boots” marks the first time Ejiofor has acted with a full-body wax, a wig, fake nails and 100 pairs of stilettos at his disposal. Not to mention buckets of cosmetics, for what makeup artist Trefor Proud defines as five looks: “man drag, normal drag, a stage look, a beautiful look and a killer drag look.” Singing onscreen is also a first for the actor, who collaborated with filmmakers to choose Lola’s diverse performance numbers.
“I knew right away we had to have ‘Whatever Lola Wants’ and I’m extremely fond of ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie,'” he says. But switching gears is something the actor does well, having wrapped his latest film, “The Children of Men,” directed by Alfonso Cuarón and co-starring Clive Owen and Julianne Moore, just 10 days ago. Next, he plans to take some time off in New York, where, he says, “I’ll be well-prepared for the cold.”