Lenora Crichlow and Lily James: The British girls sprinting for success

BAZ BAMIGBOYE: The British girls sprinting for success



08:33 GMT, 27 April 2012

Lenora Crichlow and Lily James are a runaway success as the leading ladies of the film Fast Girls, but both had to be transformed into sprinting stars.

Lenora, known for the BBC drama Being Human, ran relay races and played basketball at primary school.

She described herself as 'very outdoorsy' but, she told me, 'once secondary school hit, boobs and hips got in the way'. Sports became difficult, particularly at inner city schools in London.


Lily James

Lenora Crichlow

The race is on: Fast Girls stars Lenora Crichlow and (left) Lily James

In Fast Girls, Regan Hall's brilliantly inspirational movie about track rivals on a fictional British athletics team, she plays Shania Andrews – an exceptional runner who comes from a socially and financially disadvantaged background.

She also has an attitude problem, but Lenora plays her with such skill that you are desperate for her to stay out of trouble.

Once producer Damian Jones secured her the role (he had to fight because some investors couldn't imagine a mixed-race girl carrying a movie), Lenora started attending pre-dawn training sessions before heading off to film Being Human.

She had a spinning bike in her flat and did press-ups and sit-ups. 'I wanted to look right and it was important to have a toned body,' she said. Lenora loved play-acting as a child, even though she comes from a family of non-actors.

'As far as my family's concerned, it's drama without a camera, basically. They don't get paid for their drama,' she joked. She has two sisters and a brother and her mother works in education.

Lenora's late father Frank Crichlow was something of a legend when I was growing up. He ran the infamous El Rio Caf and later the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill in the Sixties and Seventies.

He was an activist who was always being harassed by the police. She's in the process of getting a flat in the Portobello Road area of West London, so she can feel close to her dad. One thing Leonora revealed to me was that there's a lot of pretend in the sprinting scenes on screen.

'It involves a lot of slowing down techniques, and then revving it up,' she said. Her co-star, Lily, went on to explain further. 'Speed wasn't as important as the posture. You had to look as if you could run fast. It was about having strong arms – and the discipline,' said Lily, who plays Lisa Temple: a beautiful blonde who seems to have everything but is being choked by constant pressure from her father.

Lily confessed she had no interest in sports while growing up in Esher, Surrey. 'I used to miss sports day – I was not a very good runner,' she said.

What's so cheering about this film is that the young women aren't defined by the male characters. 'This is a British film,' Lily observed, 'with young girls who have got goals and ambitions. They're clever and determined.'

The film, which is backed by, among others, StudioCanal and the BFI, opens on June 15 and will get us into a patriotic fervour well ahead of the Olympics and Paralympics.

But even before it opens, Lenora and Lily will be joined by two more members of the Fast Girls relay squad, Lorraine Burroughs and Dominique Tipper, and all four will race along the Croisette at the Cannes Film Festival next month.

Bodyguard star Heather was a Whitney wannabe

The musical based on the film The Bodyguard, which starred Whitney Houston, has been cleared for lift-off, with Heather Headley confirmed as its star and Lloyd Owen about to sign on in the role Kevin Costner played on screen.

Owen has appeared in many stage and television dramas but, as far as I can tell, hasn’t been in a musical. But he has a bass-baritone singing voice, and he can dance.

The show, directed by Thea Sharrock and produced by David Ian and Michael Harrison, will begin rehearsals in September. Previews start at the Adelphi Theatre on November 6, with an official opening night gala set for December 5.

Lloyd Owen

Heather Headley

Partnership: Lloyd Owen, left, and Heather Headley to play Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, respectively, in the upcoming musical

Ms Headley, who created the role of Nala in The Lion King on Broadway and who won a Tony award for the Elton John-Tim Rice musical Aida, had to be coaxed into playing the part of Rachel Marron on stage.

‘I said: “No way! I like my life with my husband and son in Chicago.” Then I mentioned it to my husband and he said: “Oh, no, you’re going. You can’t turn it down.” And then my mother-in-law said the same thing … and I kept wondering why all these people wanted me out of the country!’

Maybe because her husband Brian Musso, a former football player with the New York Jets who runs a company in Chicago, and his mother, realised it’s the role of a lifetime.

The show follows the movie but there are differences in the book, written by Alex Dinelaris, and several more of Houston’s songs have been added to the numbers used in the film.

Heather told me she grew up listening to Whitney. ‘The soundtrack of the film was the soundtrack to my prom. I remember seeing the movie and going: “I want to be her.” She helped give me my voice. I would sing along to those songs but I was scared about singing them in a show.

‘But it’s like Barbra Streisand portraying Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. When people play that part again they’re not playing Barbra — they’re playing Fanny Brice. But because Streisand created the role she’s forever associated with it.

‘Then I realised: I’m not playing Whitney Houston — I’m playing Rachel Marron. It’s not about Whitney’s life, but she was the connection.’
When Whitney died in February, the first thing Heather thought was: ‘How can I get out of this’

‘It becomes harder now that she’s gone. It was an iconic role before, and it’s even more so now. But what makes it easier for me is that I know I can’t live up to her. It’s very simple.’

She may say that but those who’ve heard her sing I Will Always Love You realise that Heather, who was born in Trinidad and moved with her family to the U.S. when she was young, has a voice that’s in a class of its own.

When she sings, she soars.

Watch out for …
Bright spark: Sally Ann Triplett with Gary Milner

Bright spark: Sally Ann Triplett with Gary Milner

Sally Ann Triplett who has a clause in her Mamma Mia! contract that, when it comes to kissing her leading man on stage ‘there will be no tongues’.

She’s joking, folks. From June 11, the bloke she ends up with in the phenomenal hit musical devised by Judy Craymer (it’s been running for more than 13 years) will be her real-life husband Gary Milner, whose shows have included Evita and A Streetcar Named Desire.

‘I’m going to slip her the tongue, whether she likes it or not,’ Gary declared when I met the couple at the Prince of Wales Theatre.

‘No way!’ Sally said laughing, before making the valid point that in the show, the characters haven’t seen each other for 20 years and would not be so intimate.

In any case, how and when they kiss is in the stage directions. What’s more, Sally and Gary will have separate dressing rooms.

Sally has been in a host of West End shows, including playing Ruby Keeler in the Jolson musical. She and Gary will tag along when Mamma Mia! moves out of the Prince of Wales theatre on September 1 and into the Novello Theatre from September 6.

The couple have been watching the progress of their 21-year-old son Max Milner, who has reached the final 20 contestants on BBC1’s The Voice. Their 11-year-old daughter, Grace, will be spending weekends with her parents at the Prince of Wales.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: who was Mr Eko in Lost and appeared in Oz, and in the movies Killer Elite and The Bourne Identity. He has told me about a special event he’s directing at the 02 today as part of the Sundance Film And Music Festival being held there.

Adewale developed a screenplay called Farming at the Sundance Lab in Utah. He filmed a ten-minute short based on Farming and this will be shown at the 02.

Then, several actors including Minnie Driver, Marc Warren and David Harewood will read from the script. Farming has nothing to do with agriculture. ‘It’s about how Africans, particularly Nigerians, would foster their children to white families in England,’ said Adewale, who himself was fostered from six weeks old.

The point of the event at the 02 is to show how work is developed at the Sundance Lab. The actor would like one day to make a feature- length film of Farming.

Scott Shepherd: who effortlessly anchors the brilliant eight-hour production (with breaks!) of Gatz, peformed by the Elevator Repair Service theatre company.

The text is from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Shepherd plays the narrator, Nick. Gatz is Gatsby’s real surname and he’s played by Jim Fletcher, with other actors taking other parts. But it was Shepherd who captured my attention (and admiration) because although he was pretending to read from the novel when I saw Gatz at the Public Theatre in New York he had clearly memorised the entire book.

A breathtaking feat — which you can see when Gatz has 23 performances here, as part of the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) at the Noel Coward Theatre from June 8 through July 15.

Visitgatzlondon.com for details