VOICES OF SPRING: Max Harwood
An exclusive interview with the Everybody’s Talking About Jamie breakout star.
A West End modern classic is strutting onto the silver screen this spring—in four-inch heels and a flawless beat. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie follows a high school misfit from a Sheffield council estate to realizing his drag queen dreams, with a transcendent performance from industry newcomer Max Harwood. Drawing from his own struggles with identity, the 23-year-old theater buff brings an undeniable authenticity to the queer coming-of-age story. Every young queen needs a fairy drag mother, and Jamie is mentored by the vivacious Loco Chanelle (a bewigged Richard E. Grant), in an up-to-the-minute storybook tale to bring a little more magic to this spring.
V: How did you land the role?
Max Harwood: I went to the Guildford School of Acting for one year; [shortly after] I left for London to really pursue acting. I didn’t have an agent or
representation at the time, so I just responded to an open call. I sent in a tape just telling them who I was and basically begged them to see me and give me a shot. That begging helped, and then they let me audition. It just so happened that the director Jonathan Butterell saw my ability and felt that I was the right person to take on the role. I can’t thank him enough, because he changed my life in that really sort of beautiful way.
V: The film was adapted from a musical; were you familiar with it? What attracted you to the role of Jamie?
MH: I was aware of the musical before I even knew that they were making a movie out of it. So, seeing the musical long before the audition and taking on the role gave me the confidence to get lost in the character of Jamie, but also make it my own. I think what attracted me to the role and story of Jamie is having a queer character on stage winning isn’t something that happens an awful lot. The messaging is so beautiful; it’s something that I always wanted to give a voice to, and it’s a story that I’ve always wanted to tell.
V: What aspects of Jamie did you identify with? Were there any parallels between your story and his?
MH: I related to picking the princess outfit in the dress-up box at play school. I related to throwing on party wigs and dresses in my early adolescence. I
know what it’s like to be at school being named-called for being different. With Jamie, I saw a kid that had a dream and found the courage to be who he was unapologetically. Prior to landing the role, I’d just come to London to pursue acting, and I’d started mixing for the first time with queer people. I felt like I was really coming into my own queerness at that time. I was finding myself and I was finding this place where I belonged, which is the same journey that Jamie is on.
V: In the film, Jamie’s relationships with his loved ones is what ultimately serves as a driving force for him to pursue his dream of becoming a drag performer. In what ways did you relate to that?
MH: I really was drawn to Jamie’s relationship with the women in his life, specifically, his best friend Pritti and his mom. My best friends and my mom all lift me up and support me through anything—and the same can be said for Jamie. I think, as a queer person, having those people in your life to tell you that “you can” is so important.
V: While you and the character have a lot in common, what were some ways you differed? What steps did you take to make those aspects of Jamie’s story you haven’t experienced read as real as the ones you have?
MH: Jamie’s relationship with his dad is not as strong and that was not something I related to. Both of my parents have always been so supportive of me. The musical is inspired by a real person, Jamie Campbell, a boy who wanted to wear a dress to his prom, which ultimately strained his relationship with his dad. So I met with Jamie Campbell to get to know him and pick his brain about what that experience was like for him. This was an important part of my research and development for the role because it’s something that played a part in making Jamie who he is.
V: What about the process of transforming into Jamie’s drag persona Mimi? What was that like?
MH: I hadn’t done any drag before the role. I did extensive research through watching films like Paris Is Burning and the show Pose. I also binge-watched all seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I felt somewhat responsible to deliver my lipsync in the best way possible. On the days of shooting Jamie’s performance scenes I felt so much pressure, and I just wanted to get it right. It’s a big moment in Jamie’s journey in this film.