With the arrival of the first Cats trailer on Thursday, July 18, the question movie fans can't stop asking is who is Francesca Hayward? The 27-year-old ballerina is an immediate scene-stealer in the first look at the big screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical. In the film, she takes on the role of the white tabby, Victoria, and her prowess as a dancer is already on display.
In a Cats behind-the-scenes video that she shared on her Instagram, Hayward revealed how surreal it is to go from stage roles to singing alongside the likes of Jennifer Hudson and Taylor Swift in the movie. "I've always just done ballet, and I feel like I’m sort of living the dream," she said. "It's just very surreal for someone who doesn't sing in public to suddenly be singing with Jennifer Hudson."
Cats will mark Hayward's movie debut, but she's been making a name for herself in the dance community for years now. Per a 2014 The Guardian profile, the British ballerina was born in Nairobi in 1992 to her Kenyan mother and British father. At the age of 2, she was sent to live with her grandparents in Sussex, and it was there that she discovered her passion for dance.
When her grandparents first showed her The Nutcracker, the dancer was hooked. "I loved it, I just wanted to be part of it," Hayward told The Guardian. "In my head I was on stage and I could hear the applause. I dragged out an armchair into the middle of the room to be my partner." In a video for British Vogue, she revealed that she still has the VHS copy of The Nutcracker that made her want to become a ballerina all those years ago.
By the time she was 11, Hayward was admitted to the Royal Ballet School, and at 18 she was asked to join the company. Since then she's played some of the most famous roles in ballet (including Manon, Juliet, and Clara in The Nutcracker) and won numerous awards, including the 2010 Young British Dancer of the Year Award.
In Nov. 2018, Hayward announced that she had been cast in Cats on her Instagram. Alongside a black and white photo, she wrote,
"I am excited to announce that I am joining the cast of Universal Pictures & Working Title’s new film adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, directed by Tom Hooper. I am hugely thankful to the Royal Ballet, especially Kevin O’Hare for supporting me on this new adventure. I really am v e r y sorry to anyone who has bought tickets to see me in upcoming performances but I will be back on the Royal Opera House stage by the Spring season! Please keep checking the website for cast announcements in the next few months."
While this may be Hayward's first film role, there's no doubt this talented dancer is up to the task. In an Oct. 2018 interview with Vogue UK, she explained how she approaches all of her performances — and her philosophy is one that should have Cats fans excited to see what she does with Victoria. "When I'm performing I just want to tell the audience something," she told the publication. "I want every person watching to walk away feeling something."
Cats hits theaters this Christmas, but the time to get to know Hayward is now. This ballerina is about to make a splash on the big screen, and you'll want to be able to say you knew her before she became synonymous with the dancing feline Victoria.