EastEnders star Ben Hardy had ‘instant’ chemistry with Jason Patel in new LGBTQ+ film Unicorns

Ben Hardy and Jason Patel at the red carpet of Toronto International Film Festival, where their queer film Unicorns premiered

EastEnders and X-Men: Apocalypse star Ben Hardy has revealed that the chemistry with his co-star Jason Patel was “instant” in new LGBTQ+ film Unicorns.

The movie, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last week (8 September), follows Hardy as single father Luke, an Essex car mechanic trying to raise his young son.

One night, he stumbles upon a nightclub which is hosting a queer South Asian night. When drag star Aysha (played by acting newcomer Patel) takes to the stage to perform, Luke is left in awe.

Thus begins a journey during which Luke – realising that Aysha is the drag alter ego of Ashiq and not a biological woman – must reckon with his sexuality.

To ensure the “danger” of the story was kept alive while filming, the directors, Sally El Hosaini and James Krishna Floyd, kept Patel and Hardy separate during their prep work.

Evidently, the approach worked.

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Speaking to People, Hardy – who played Peter Beale in the long-running BBC soap EastEnders between 2013 and 2015 – explained that when they finally did meet, the connection was immediate.

Ben Hardy and Jason Patel in a still from Unicorns.
Ben Hardy and Jason Patel in new queer film Unicorns. (TIFF)

“In my experience, I don’t think you can cheat that,” Hardy said of his “very natural” chemistry with Patel.

“It’s either there or it’s not. I’ve done things before, I won’t name them, where I’ve tried to manufacture chemistry and spent a lot of time with people. But I think it’s like when you fall in love, sometimes you meet someone, you hit it off and things go from there. If you don’t have that on screen, it shows.”

Patel revealed that they now have “such a great friendship” following filming.

Hardy – also known for playing Queen drummer Roger Taylor in the 2019 hit Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody – explained his reason for wanting to take on the role.

“[Unicorns] would be something I’ve never done before, so it was something that would be a good test for me,” he said. “Ultimately, I thought it was an incredibly beautiful story that I wanted to be a part of.”

Ben Hardy at the red carpet of Toronto International Film Festival.
Unicorns star Ben Hardy wanted to take on a role he’d never tried before. (Getty)

According to Deadline, the film will feature several “intimate moments” between the two stars. But, beyond the potential physical chemistry, the film is said to have a lot of emotional depth, too.

While The Playlist reviewer Gregory Ellwood praised Hardy’s “absolutely incredible” performance, he also said that it goes deep in terms of exploring the intersectionality between queer and Muslim culture.

Patel’s character performs almost exclusively for “closeted bi or gay Muslim men”, while Aysha herself hasn’t told her estranged family the she is queer, or a drag queen. Asifa Lahore, the UK’s first out Muslim drag queen, is one of the film’s executive producers.

For Patel, Unicorns is key in terms of shining a light on another facet of LGBTQ+ representation.

“This is the part of representation that I want to bring forward,” he told People. “I didn’t have that when I was younger. I gave it my all.”

Unicorns will next be screened at the London Film Festival in October.