For actress Jane Horrocks, it started with entertaining a friend with her impersonations of famous singers, something she'd done most of her life. But this particular friend was playwright Jim Cartwright.
Horrocks had starred in his first play, Road, and laughed off his suggestion that he'd write something to showcase her ability. Two years later, the script for The Rise and Fall of Little Voice showed up at her door, and she began to wonder exactly how she fit in. Her character, LV, was nearly mute.
"I didn't realize when I read it," says Horrocks in New York, "the power of the singing."
That makes her the only one. The eerie way that she captured not just the voice but the essence of the women she embodied, and how Cartwright meshed her skills with the story of a young woman trying to find herself through the mimicry of others, turned the play into a London success.
"Music is what touches certain buttons," explains screenwriter-director Mark Herman (Brassed Off), who was also drawn to the "strange, fairy tale aspect" of Little Voice.
Herman chose the difficult technical task of capturing Jane Horrocks singing live in order "to give the movie audiences a quarter of what I felt in the theater."
Horrocks, best known to American audiences as the sullen bulimic in Mike Leigh's Life is Sweet and the air-brained Bubble on "Absolutely Fabulous," shares one important quality with LV: Mimicry came to her naturally.
"But I didn't think, 'Oh, goodness, I've got this rare gift,'" she explains with a laugh. "It was just something that I thought, 'Oh, that's quite fun.'"
Fun was also the motivation for Michael Caine, whose Ray Say "is not a very sensitive man," he says with a canny smile, describing someone who can charm an agoraphobic into performing a cabaret act while stringing along her dependent and love-starved mother.
"I look for characters who are funny, and what I prefer are evil, wicked or nasty characters who are funny," explains Caine. "It's my revenge on all the sleazebags I've met in my life."Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com