Kicking off his heels

When you're named one of Variety's "10 Actors to Watch," as Joel Edgerton was in 2002, success isn't guaranteed. It's expected.

"It did feel like a little bit of pressure," says Edgerton. "At the time I was like, 'Well, I better deliver now.' It's like you've got 12 months to prove them right or get lost in the dust."

And deliver he has. After gathering attention for his roles in "Star Wars: Episode III--Revenge of the Sith," "King Arthur" and "The Hard Word," the 31-year-old actor now stars in the feel-good British comedy based on a true story, "Kinky Boots."

Edgerton plays Charlie Price, a mild-mannered fellow in Northampton, England, desperate to save his family's shoe factory after his father passes away. Help comes in the form of drag queen Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who convinces Charlie there's a market out there for high-heeled boots strong enough to withstand a man's weight.

Fortunately for Edgerton, past stage experience taught him about the challenge of walking in heels.

"I found it really hard to learn to walk in them back then, but by the time the play was over I was a bit of a pro at it," he says. "Ten years later, putting the boots on for the film, it was physical memory. I did not think the expression 'It's just like riding a bike' applied to walking in heels, but I think it does. I put them on, and it felt like it was yesterday."

But it's Ejiofor who spends much of the movie in heels; he plays Lola as a believable character that audiences can sympathize with, not just a transvestite caricature. Lola's friendship with Charlie is what Edgerton says may help put people at ease about the depiction of drag queens.

"I think there's a lot of people out there who would be scared of drag queens," he says. "It's just fear of the unknown. I think that's where a lot of prejudice comes in. When people don't understand a certain practice or way of life it's easier to just shut it out.

"I think they'll come out feeling a little more comfortable," he says, laughing, "but I don't necessarily think they'll come home and raid their wife's cupboard and try to find a pair of extra large heels."

For viewers who are inclined to embrace such a lifestyle, Edgerton says societal issues arise everywhere, not just in old-fashioned, blue-collar communities like Northampton.

"I think it definitely would be harder to grow up being gay or a cross-dresser if you lived in a small, rural town, but I don't necessarily think that just by going to the city you're going to be embraced by everybody," he says. "I reckon it just takes the strength of one person to create change. You get the strength of character of one individual that can just affect a group of people to the point where a whole community can stick together like glue and create change."

Next up for Edgerton is "Smokin' Aces," which features an all-star ensemble cast that includes Chicago rapper Common in his first film role.

"Common is a fantastic guy," he says. "I know he hasn't had a huge amount of acting experience, but I reckon he can do a lot of good stuff. In the same way that Mos Def is building himself quite a career, I think Common's got a real presence onscreen. Such a great voice."

Right now, it's Edgerton's presence being felt onscreen, and though it's Lola who gets to deliver the high-heeled, show-stopping numbers in "Kinky Boots," Edgerton has an idea of what song he'd choose to perform: Wayne Newton's version of "Danke Schoen," as featured in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

"I loved that movie so much. When I was a kid watching that movie, I so wanted to be Ferris Bueller," he says.

Of course, for this up-and-coming actor, that dream is a thing of the past.

"I'm happy being Joel Edgerton for the moment."

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