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Unicorns: Ben Hardy and Jason Patel on ‘cross cultural romance’ film about a straight man falling for a drag queen

Exclusive: "He's terrified this could mean he's gay or bisexual" says Ben of his character in this truly astonishing film about identity crises and the power of love

By Jamie Tabberer

Ben Hardy and Jason Patel in Unicorns
Ben Hardy and Jason Patel in Unicorns (Images: Tiff)

Unicorns, a new movie starring Ben Hardy and Jason Patel, does exactly what it says on the tin: it introduces two utterly magical and original new characters to the queer cinematic canon.

Or does it? Because, in one character’s case, ‘queer’ is not necessarily a label he’d identify with.

Described by Jason in a new interview with Attitude as “a cross-cultural romance about a South-Asian closeted drag queen and a single dad from Essex,” the film is, for Attitude’s money, a truly envelope-pushing exploration of gender and sexuality.

In it, an ostensibly straight man, Luke (played by Ben), falls in love with a vibrant, identity-questioning drag queen named Aysha (played by Jason), who is increasingly female-presenting across all aspects of life.

“They have this by-chance meet,” adds Jason. “It sparks this crazy chemistry and this journey, this search for identity and confrontation of truth.”

“They’ve still got the same energy at heart” – Jason Patel on Unicorns

So, where does Luke land on the sexuality spectrum? Is he gay, bisexual, straight – or something else entirely? If ‘straight’, is that ‘heteroflexibility’ – or, as critics might call it, ‘having your cake and eating it’? Maybe in the past, but in 2024, and in the context of the movie, Luke’s fluidity feels natural and authentic – especially in response to Aysha’s own journey, which somehow feels similar to Luke’s.

“I suppose Luke would have no awareness of what he is,” offers Ben. “I think, for him, going through this experience, he’s terrified of the fact that this could mean he’s gay or bisexual. They’re probably the two terms he’s familiar with. So he is questioning. But for him, it’s a crisis of identity and label, and not wanting to be attached to a label that could, within his community, cause some real problems, sadly.”

Here, the actors reflect on straight male allyship, the ‘Q’ in LGBTQ, and the Drag Race queens that inspired Jason’s character…

How do you interpret the film’s name?

Jason: It shows that both these characters are special in their own right. They might be totally different, but they’ve still got the same energy at heart.

Jason Patel plays the character of Aysha (Image: Tiff)

Ben: You think of a unicorn as being this incredible, mythical being, one thing. But it’s about everyone being special, everyone having that beauty. This film is celebrating that.

How did you prepare for the roles, considering these characters are having such specific experiences – so specific, people who have had them might not feel comfortable discussing them or being public about them?

Jason: For me, because I knew that world, it was really about diving deep. Doing that research. We did our prep separately. Especially for me, it was about authenticity, truth, honesty. As you want to do in any project. But really, it felt like… not pressure that I didn’t get it wrong, but I just wanted to do it where I had so much respect for these people that it showed on camera. Everything, every detail, was to the T. A lot of talking. Rehearsals. Even things I did by myself every single day to embody and become the character. It was two characters, and my whole goal was to bring them together. So, I was toying a lot, in that rehearsal process.

Ben: I definitely felt a pressure in representing this story well. I spoke to some friends who haven’t had that experience, but some parallels. I did the best I could, I hope – I represented his experience as well as I could, and I hope they felt represented.

The film shines a light on an aspect of the community that is underrepresented, which is ‘Q’ for questioning. Would you agree?

Jason: I think they’re on very separate journeys together, of identity. I think I personally would agree that they’re questioning. I don’t think they resolve that. They’re just at the beginning of that. They’re going through it. But they’ve found someone. They’ve found each other in that process. And they’ve obviously been a catalyst for each other in that process, too.

Ben plays the character of Luke (Image: Tiff)

Ben: I suppose Luke would have no awareness of what he is. I think for him, going through this experience, he’s terrified of the fact that this could mean he’s gay or bisexual. They’re probably the two terms he’s familiar with. So he is questioning. But for him, it’s a crisis of identity and label, and not wanting to be attached to a label that could, within his community, cause some real problems, sadly.

What message do you both hope cis, straight men take away from the film on subjects such as tolerance, open-mindedness and allyship?

Ben: What I love about this film is that, while it deals with a lot of important issues, I think it has a commercial appeal. So it can actually reach people that wouldn’t necessarily watch this film otherwise. I think hopefully that we can see the struggles both these people go through. They can hopefully, if not empathise, sympathise. I hope these can see the love between these two characters and see how beautiful it is. And that that’s something that doesn’t need to be tolerated. That’s something that should be celebrated. And that maybe they would want to be an ally of that. 

Jason and Ben in Unicorns singing into a mic
Jason and Ben in Unicorns (Image: Tiff)

Jason: You said it so well. I hope that they take away that actually, love is not exclusive. Love is for everyone. Show kindness. I hope they take away from this film that actually the way they’re probably feeling is how everyone else in the world feels too. We’re all in this together. No one is after anyone. We’re all just trying to come together to support each other. So, show love, support and respect. Because you’ll get it back. 

Ben: If you take sexuality out of the equation – if you take the love story out of the equation – Luke and Ashik are very similar in a way. They’re both trapped. They both feel that they don’t belong. There are so many comparisons there to be made.

Jason, Ben and Be's on-screen son at a fair
Aysha forms a powerful bond with single dad Luke and his family in the film (Image: Tiff)

Jason, had you had any famous drag queens offer their verdict on your performance?

Jason: I’ve not had any who have seen the film yet. But I’ve had many that have seen the trailer and gave me 10s across the board.

Name names…

No, I can’t! Wait. [Thinks] Tia Kofi. She loved it! She’s actually seeing it next week, so I’m really excited. I love Tia. She actually let me open for her headline show last year, which was awesome. 

Was she or anyone else in your head when you created the drag aspect of the character?

I love Drag Race. It was an amalgamation of different queens. Bianca Del Rio for the sassiness, cattiness and ‘I can do it’ attitude. I think I remember seeing Priyanka, who’s just a trailblazer. Valentina. Plastique Tiara. All these different queens. I found a lot of their special quality and put it all into one person.

Unicorns is in UK cinemas now