If Taylor Swift had had her way, “Cats” wouldn’t have been her first movie with director Tom Hooper. In a new interview with Zane Lowe for Beats 1, Swift recalled her screen-test for “Les Miserables,” but explained that she was ultimately happy she got passed over for a more experienced actress. When it came to “Cats,” though, she was determined to dig her claws in.
Swift also went into greater detail about co-writing a new song for the movie, “Beautiful Ghosts,” with Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer of the 1981 stage musical. And the topics steered away from “Cats” long for Swift to lavish praise on her friend Selena Gomez’s new single, “Lose You to Love Me,” which is widely assumed to be about her breakup with Justin Bieber.
“I had actually done screen tests for ‘Les Mis’ and had met (Hooper) through that process, like 2012,” Swift revealed. “I didn’t get it, but it was such an amazing experience just doing the screen test. And I was obviously like, ‘I’m not going to get this,’ because the other girl was amazing and was on the West End — Samantha Barks; she’s incredible and she fully killed the role and was amazing. … I just had a good time doing the screen tests.” But there were no tryouts involved by the time everyone got to 2018: “When I was approached this time, it was a straight-up offer.”
Swift said she learned a new song was needed for “Cats” when she started attending filming every day — even on the days she didn’t have to work — and “the person that I was watching the most was the lead in the film,” Francesca Hayward, a prima ballerina who plays “the little white kitten” that was primarily a ballet role in the stage version of “Cats.” “She doesn’t sing in the original,” but now that the role had been elevated to lead, “I had heard these rumblings and rumors like, ‘They want a song. Andrew’s going to write an original song for Victoria, the lead cat.’ And I was just like, ‘Aw man, I so badly want to get in on that.’ But I (also thought), ‘I I can’t crash this. … I really wish that I could write that with him, but whatever.'”
But after what she describes as weeks of observing Victoria’s storyline play out on set, Swift got called to Lloyd Webber’s house for a rehearsal of her “Macavity” song for the movie.
“We sing it through once and he’s like, ‘That’s very good. Well done.’ And then he just sits at the piano and he starts playing this melody that I’ve never heard before,” Swift told Lowe. “He’s playing this, and I’m running through all the score of ‘Cats,’ like, ‘This is not in the original musical.’ …. There’s no top line. So, a top line on a song is the words and the melody that somebody sings. So if you have a song stuck in your head, chances are you’re singing the top line. What he has got is this beautiful instrumental piece. As soon as he starts playing it, I start singing the top line.
“I knew where in the movie they were going to put her song,” Swift continued. “I had been kind of gathering data, but I had no idea what the song was like. I didn’t have sheet music … I knew that it would be right after Jennifer Hudson sings ‘Memory.’ I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting if you had this little young kitten reflect off of what she just heard and give sort of her counter point of view? Because ‘Memory’ is Grizabella singing about how she had all these beautiful, incredible moments in her past. She had these glittering occasions and she felt beautiful and she felt wanted and now she doesn’t feel that way anymore. And I was just thinking, okay, so what if you’ve got this little kitten that’s been deserted and kind of tossed out by her owners, and she’s had to wander around the streets of London wondering where she’s going to find a home. Wouldn’t she be thinking, ‘At least you had those amazing memories’? Basically, the first line that came to me was like, ‘And the memories were lost long ago, but at least you have beautiful ghosts.’ … I learned later that they had this beautiful piece of music, but they didn’t know what they wanted the cat to say. So I was like, ‘Got you.’ Like, ‘I know what that cat would say.'”
When the topic turned to Gomez’s new song, Swift played the proud mama cat. “I’ve watched so much happen in her life and had a front row seat to so much, and I’m so proud of her,” said the singer. “I am 100% convinced this is the best thing she’s done so far. Just from my perspective as her friend, I’ve just never been more proud. The things that she’s overcome; the situations that she’s risen above. It’s been a long time that we’ve been friends, and she’s the best. … I’m really excited because when somebody has had great life experience, has had really tough things they’ve had to go through, and they can process that and make art that’s going to help other people, that’s what kind of song this is. I’m stoked.”