Interview: Director Will Sharpe on The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

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At first glance, The Electrical Life of Louis Wain might seem like an enjoyable but paint-by-numbers British biopic. Naturally, you’ve got the pedigreed casting (Benedict CumberbatchClaire Foy), a life story filled with both comedy and tragedy, and of course, frames fairly bursting with picture-perfect period costumes and set designs. Nothing to sneeze at, certainly, but also nothing that particularly stands out. And that’s what might’ve been had this particular film not found the perfect marriage of director and subject. The subject is turn-of-the-last-century illustrator Louis Wain—a charming but odd man who found fame through his fantastical and adorable paintings of anthropomorphized cats, but whose personal life was touched by tragedy and struggles with mental health. The director is Will Sharpe—an actor-turned-creator whose creative mind gels completely with this story of beauty, talent and pain.

Based on a witty and heartfelt script co-written by Sharpe and Simon Stephenson, and with an unique and melancholic score from Arthur Sharpe, Louis Wain tells the story of a man desperately trying to tap into electricity for the answers that would help him understand his life, his mind, and his place in the universe. The director and his cinematographer, Erik Alexander Wilson, use light, colour, and other stunning visuals to communicate Wain’s view of the world and the inner workings of his over-full mind, while the film’s 4:3 ratio effectively sets the action within the bounds of an artist’s canvas. Aside from his lead actors, and an abundance of feline talent, what period biopic would be complete without a raft of familiar British faces too, including Toby Jones, Asim Chaudry, Sharon Rooney, and Andrea Riseborough. From top to bottom, Will Sharpe has infused this well-trod genre piece with a much-needed creative touch, one that should appeal to all audiences and not just cat fanciers.

I had a chance to sit down with the director for an in-depth chat before his film’s Canadian premiere this past September. Sharpe talked about his fascination with the lesser-known Wain, the challenges of bringing the artist’s story to the big screen, and how one goes about directing Cumberbatch and cats. Lots and lots of cats.

Read Emma Badame's full interview with Will Sharpe.