Femme Cast and Directors Peel Discuss Their Neo-Noir Thriller

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Summary

  • Femme is a queer thriller that explores the complexities of revenge, masculinity, and anxiety in LGBTQ+ spaces.
  • The film, a directorial debut from Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping, delves into the blurred lines between victim and predator.
  • Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and George MacKay deliver powerful performances in this twisted neo-noir thriller Femme.



We’re only a quarterway through 2024, but there already seems to be a wave of LGBTQ+ thrillers hitting theaters (and, more importantly, winning the hearts of audiences of all kinds). Notably, there was Drive Away Dolls, Ethan Coen’s queer comedy that saw two women on the road being chased by criminals, and then Love Lies Bleeding, the Kristen Stewart-led thriller set within the world of competitive bodybuilding. Now, hailing from the UK, is Femme, the feature directorial debut of filmmaking duo, Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping, starring Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and George MacKay.

Femme was released in UK cinemas back in December 2023, and prior to hitting theaters, it was the recipient of the Iris Prize Best Feature Award (sort of the UK Oscars for LGBTQ+ cinema). In our interview, Freeman recalled a conversation with one of the awards officials about a panel they had hosted “about what people wanted to see more of in queer cinema, and the thing people came up with most was that they wanted to see queer genre, queer thrillers in particular.”


In Femme, Stewart-Jarrett plays Jules, a drag queen in East London, who, after a performance one night, becomes the victim of a brutal, homophobic assault committed by MacKay’s Preston. A few months later, Jules is still reeling from the hate crime, shutting himself off from his friends, his drag career, and the rest of the world. In an effort to get back on his feet, he visits a gay sauna one night, and, unexpectedly, runs into Preston there. Preston doesn’t recognize Jules out of drag and invites him to his home. Seeing this as an opportunity to exact revenge on his clearly closeted attacker, Jules accepts the invitation. What ensues is a twisted neo-noir thriller, where the lines between predator and prey, lover and enemy, and victim and perpetrator blur.


Femme Began as a Meditation on Queer Anxiety

Femme

Femme

4.5/5

Release Date
March 22, 2024

Director
Sam H. Freeman , Ng Choon Ping

Cast
George MacKay , Nathan Stewart-Jarrett , Aaron Heffernan , John McCrea , Antonia Clarke

Runtime
99 Minutes

Writers
Sam H. Freeman , Ng Choon Ping


“The initial conceit was really us watching a lot of neo-noir, late-night thrillers,” Freeman said of where their intention for Femme was born. “We were heavily inspired by [the] Safdie brothers and classic [Martin] Scorsese movies and Nicolas Winding Refn, and feeling like it was this kind of boys’ club that we weren’t allowed access to. [We wanted] to kick the door down.”

To do that, the directing duo (both of whom are queer) looked within for their story, essentially settling on queer anxiety. “The feelings that queer people have in aggressively straight spaces, of feeling like they don’t belong like there was a code of behavior that you had to stick to or else you’ll stick out,” said Ng. “This revenge, late-night, unable-to-breathe, anxiety-stricken story is what we came up with.”


Before directing their feature, however, the filmmakers, who hadn’t made any movies before, had to prove their worth to potential producers by making a short film. The short, which was made for about £30,000 and was also called Femme, was released in 2021 and starred Harris Dickinson and Paapa Essiedu in the lead roles. “It did pretty well, and helped catapult us into being able to make the feature,” Ng said.

Finding Jules and His Many Different Sides


According to Freeman, casting for Femme was an intense process, specifically the role of Jules, whom he describes as “such a chameleon.” During auditions for the part, Stewart-Jarrett was initially busy shooting the Disney+ heist series, Culprits, so it wasn’t until later on that he was finally free to read for the role. Of course, coming out of Culprits, Freeman recalled the actor having “had put on a lot of muscle” and was “twice the size of [MacKay],” which made them question whether audiences could believe he could be the victim of physical assault. Freeman added, “But the chemistry [between the actors] was so good that we had go with them and trust that, in terms of body and physicality, they will work, and they’ll get [to where they need to in the weeks before shooting begins].”

For Stewart-Jarrett, Jules was an exciting puzzle to decipher, precisely because he’s a shape-shifter, morphing into someone new depending on where he is and who he’s with. “I did approach different facets of him differently: [there’s] Jules prior to the attack and post-attack, Jules as Aphrodite [his drag queen persona], and others,” the actor said. “I was very specific in how Jules felt about his body in those moments because I felt that would inform me the most about where he was emotionally.”


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Femme follows drag queen Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) as he seeks revenge on the man who physically assaulted him (George MacKay) outside the club.

The version of Jules in Femme that Stewart-Jarrett revealed he enjoyed playing the most was the straight-acting, bro-like persona he puts on when Preston’s friends unexpectedly show up at the flat. Loud, obnoxious, and flippant — he even speaks in a lower vocal register — there’s no suspecting this Jules of being gay while he beats Preston’s buddies in a round of video games. “That’s when Jules was most powerful,” Stewart-Jarrett said of filming this scene. “I felt so, so free.”

Wrestling with Preston’s Inner Contradictions


Similarly to Jules, Preston is also a multi-layered character in Femme. Volatile, angry, and tough on the outside, but not wholly incapable of sentiment or care — all while constantly wrestling with shame and fear of being found out as gay — he’s a walking contradiction. For MacKay, the role was a chance to play something big but honest. “The performances I loved growing up are those very nuanced but quite larger-than-life performances,” he said, listing actors like John Leguizamo, Daniel Day-Lewis, and, specifically, Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in The Master as examples of “where you watch it and you go, ‘Wow, that’s a big choice,’ but it’s truthful.”

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MacKay credited Femme‘s script (written by the directors) as a “beautiful path” that laid a solid framework for Preston’s journey throughout the story. The more time Preston spends with Jules, the more plausible the idea of actual romance between the two becomes. “I loved playing those blossoming moments because, yeah, there was fun to be had in [his initial] aggression, but there was a real relaxation in just being able to be calm with himself.”

“What we have heard from people was they were really surprised by this brutal, dark, toxic masculine character that George plays,” Ng said, pointing to the “really sweet and warm” impression the actor gives off. “But watching his catalog of work, the one consistent thing among all the different characters he plays is that he throws himself into the character 100%. And that was something that we really required of Preston because he is performing a slightly larger-than-life version of a performance of masculinity, so George was a really exciting choice for us.”


From Utopia, Femme is now playing in select theaters.

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