Renowned actor Ben Hardy, known for his roles in EastEnders and X-Men: Apocalypse, has opened up about the “instant” chemistry he shared with his co-star, Jason Patel, in the groundbreaking LGBTQ+ film “Unicorns.” The movie made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2023, and has since garnered attention for its compelling narrative and exploration of intersectional LGBTQ+ themes.
In “Unicorns,” Ben Hardy portrays Luke, a single father and car mechanic from Essex, striving to raise his young son. Luke's life takes an unexpected turn when he stumbles upon a nightclub hosting a queer South Asian night. It's here that he encounters Aysha, a captivating drag performer played by acting newcomer Jason Patel. As Luke becomes enthralled by Aysha's performance, he slowly comes to realize that Aysha is the drag persona of Ashiq and not a biological woman, leading him to confront his own sexuality.
What makes “Unicorns” unique is its approach to storytelling. To maintain the tension and authenticity of the narrative, the film's directors, Sally El Hosaini and James Krishna Floyd, deliberately kept Patel and Hardy separate during their preparatory work. This unusual approach paid off, as the on-screen chemistry between the two actors was described as “very natural” and “instant.”
Hardy, reflecting on his experience, remarked, “It's either there or it's not. I've done things before, I won't name them, where I've tried to manufacture chemistry and spent a lot of time with people. But I think it's like when you fall in love, sometimes you meet someone, you hit it off and things go from there. If you don't have that on screen, it shows.”
Patel echoed these sentiments, stating that he and Hardy developed “such a great friendship” during and after filming.
For Hardy, taking on the role in “Unicorns” was a deliberate choice to challenge himself as an actor. He explained, “[Unicorns] would be something I've never done before, so it was something that would be a good test for me. Ultimately, I thought it was an incredibly beautiful story that I wanted to be a part of.”
“Unicorns” promises to deliver more than just physical chemistry between its leads. According to reports, the film also delves into emotional depth, exploring the intersectionality between queer and Muslim cultures. Patel's character, Aysha, performs primarily for “closeted bi or gay Muslim men.” Aysha herself hasn't disclosed her queer identity or her life as a drag queen to her estranged family. The film's portrayal of these complex dynamics has received praise for shedding light on these often-overlooked facets of LGBTQ+ representation.
Asifa Lahore, the UK's first openly gay Muslim drag queen, serves as one of the film's executive producers, emphasizing the importance of authentic representation in “Unicorns.”
In a review by Gregory Ellwood of The Playlist, Ben Hardy's performance in the film was described as “absolutely incredible.” The film promises not only to captivate audiences with its exploration of personal relationships but also to raise awareness about the complexities of LGBTQ+ experiences, particularly within the context of different cultural backgrounds.
“Unicorns” will continue to make its mark on the film festival circuit with its screening at the London Film Festival in October. As it does, it is poised to continue challenging stereotypes and expanding the representation of LGBTQ+ stories on screen.