Taylor Swift only has a few acting credits to her name. For the most part, the beloved singer-songwriter sticks to the music side of things. But for Cats, she made a rare exception to appear on the big screen. And on the surface, it seemed like a smart career move.
After all, the film is based on an insanely popular stage production and directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech). Even though the film failed to light the box office on fire, Swift’s big scene remains a standout. And it seems her father, Scott Kingsley Swift, had a major hand in how his daughter’s big musical number played out.
Taylor Swift collaborated with the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber
Undoubtedly, part of what attracted Swift to sign on to Cats is the opportunity to work alongside legendary composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. In addition to Cats, Webber has created some of the most popular musicals of all time, including The Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Evita.
In adapting Cats to the big screen, Hooper and Webber soon realized they needed a new song. After all, the film’s lead character Victoria (Francesca Hayward) is only a minor presence in the stage version. To make the movie truly Victoria’s story, she’d need a song of her own.
So Webber turned to Swift to help create the song. Hayward sings the resulting track, “Beautiful Ghosts,” in the film while Swift provides her own version during the end credits. But Swift’s on-screen role gives her the opportunity to tackle an iconic Cats song, “Macavity.”
Scott Kingsley Swift’s casual suggestion made it into ‘Cats’
In the film, Idris Elba plays the villainous Macavity, who invades the Jellicle Ball that is the centerpiece of Cats. But just prior to his arrival, Macavity sends out Bombalurina (Swift) to build suspense for his big entrance. Although Bombalurina always played this key role, the movie also sees her sprinkle catnip on the crowd, an idea brought to Hooper by Swift’s father.
The idea of the catnip actually came from Taylor Swift’s dad. I went to see Taylor in Nashville just before prep started just to show her the proposed design for her cat. Her dad sort of said, “Have you seen these videos of cats on catnip?” and showed me some videos. And he was like, “Maybe you should use that in the film.” So thanks to Taylor Swift’s dad, I had this idea of catnip being sprinkled on the cats to sort of put the cats under Bombalurina’s control and Macavity’s control.
The change brings a new villainous dimension to Swift’s and Elba’s characters. Plus, the catnip explains why Macavity can easily kidnap Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench). If Macavity indeed has magical powers and abilities, casting a spell of sorts with special catnip is only a natural extension of that concept.
‘Cats’ was a box office flop but might go on to become a cult classic
Catnip or not, Cats didn’t turn out as anyone expected it to, least of all Universal. The studio lost a ton of money on the $100 production. Moreover, Universal quickly dashed hopes for an Oscar campaign after Cats‘ abysmal reviews. But there’s already some indication the film could find a fan base.
Cats features just the kind of bizarre choices that make movies so divisive upon their initial release. The “digital fur,” of course, is chief among them. Yet, Hooper’s movie gains traction as a cult movie comprised of both Cats loyalists and those who consider it a so-bad-it’s-good release.