With Upcoming Queer Musical, Everybody Will Be Talking About Max Harwood

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday September 17, 2021
Originally published on September 8, 2021

Max Harwood in "Everybody's Talking About Jamie"
Max Harwood in "Everybody's Talking About Jamie"  (Source:IMDb)

There are so many moments in Jonathan Butterell's debut feature, "Everybody's Talking About Jamie," where the titular character must navigate disappointment and rejection — for who he is and for what he loves. The nuances can easily be upstaged by broader emotions. But newcomer Max Harwood never allows for anything other than authenticity, even in the fabulously splashy musical numbers that often recreate what is happening in Jamie's noggin. This is Harwood's first film which staggers the mind since he's such a natural onscreen.

Max Harwood
Max Harwood  (Source: IMDb)

In 2011 a TV doc aired titled, "Jamie: Drag Queen at Sixteen," about Jamie Campbell, a boy in a small English ex-mining town who wanted to be a drag queen. Butterell, Tom MacRae (script and lyrics) and Dan Gillespie Sells (music) would go on to create a stage musical, about an empowering gay teen, that would be a smash hit on the West End. And that same creative team, along with Anne Dudley, would adapted it keenly for the screen.

But who would play Jamie?

The creatives received a random tape from a young actor from Basingstoke, U.K., who was a second-year student at Urdang Academy in London.

They saw something in Max Harwood. And boy were they perspicacious. This is the kind of auspicious screen debut that comes along once every few years.

EDGE chatted with Max as he was wrapping up a press tour in the States.

Max Harwood and Lauren Patel in "Everybody's Talking About Jamie"
Max Harwood and Lauren Patel in "Everybody's Talking About Jamie"  

EDGE: Jamie is a very empowering character at a time when we need diverse queer stories on screen. Did that factor into your wanting to play him?

Max Harwood: Yeah. It was a musical that really resonated with me when I saw it in London in, like, 2018. So as soon as I saw it, I was like, oh, maybe I could do this on stage one day, never thinking that they would make a film out of it.

EDGE: I saw it on the West End, too. And I remember thinking I don't know if this would ever play in the States. And now it's been made into a film, which is fantastic.

Max Harwood: Yeah, and it's also coming to the Ahmanson Theatre in LA in February as well with the British company. So that will be cool. The U.S. is really going to get the full Jamie experience in the next year.

EDGE: That's amazing. Max, did you feel pressure that you were telling a queer-positive story that could have the potential to really speak to young people.

Max Harwood: I felt honored, truly, more than pressure, honestly ... there aren't enough of these stories, and I can't speak for an entire community of people much like my straight counterparts can't be responsible for an entire community ... I don't feel like I should feel pressure and so, hopefully, just more stories from underrepresented communities can be told so that we don't have to feel like we're gatekeeping or holding the baton. You know, it's about community at the end of the day. So, I feel honored, really, that it will mean so much to some people.

Max Harwood and Richard E. Grant in "Everybody's Talking about Jamie"
Max Harwood and Richard E. Grant in "Everybody's Talking about Jamie"  

EDGE: I also think that we owe it to ourselves to not just portray queer positive, but we need to portray every aspect of our community as well.

Max Harwood: Yeah, very, very true. And we have a brilliant platform and a brilliant team within Amazon, giving us the platform and sharing this as a family film on their platform to over 250 territories, which is just exactly what these huge platforms should be doing for films like ours.

EDGE: When did you know you had the part?

Max Harwood: I got cast in the role at the end of March 2019. And then I shot it. I started shooting in that summer of 2019. So, it's been a long time coming.

EDGE: And you were still in school when you first auditioned?

Max Harwood: Yeah, I was in my second year of drama school in London. So, I was 20.

EDGE: So, this is all fairly new to you?

Max Harwood: Oh, yeah. I'm completely green. I'm completely a newbie. Fully. I'm loving it. It's so much fun.

Max Harwood and Sarah Lancashire in "Everybody's Talking about Jamie"
Max Harwood and Sarah Lancashire in "Everybody's Talking about Jamie"  

EDGE: You better get used to it because I think you're in it for the long haul.

Max Harwood: I mean, let's hope so. I've just been extremely privileged to have met and worked with some really amazing people who I've learned tons and tons from actors, to crew to PR to everyone. I feel really held in this whole process, and I'm extremely grateful to everyone and all that energy.

EDGE: Keep absorbing if you don't mind me giving you a little bit of advice, because that's what it's all about.

Max Harwood: Yeah, you know, my first jazz teacher, when I went to GSA, Rachel Kerridge, gave me a piece of advice — to be a sponge. She used to say, "sponge, bubble, pathway," were her three methods. Be a sponge, soak it up. Stay in your bubble and worry about what you're doing creatively. And stick on your path. I truly follow those three steps.

EDGE: Perfect advice. Tell me about the singing. Firstly, was it all pre-recorded?

Max Harwood: We sang live on set. So, we recorded demos and guide tracks before we shot so the director had exact timings of how long things are going to take. And obviously it just gives us an opportunity to sing the songs before we go and do them on set. But then we sang everything live on set. Then what the sound people do is they comp together your live vocal with the studio recordings to blend in and out of real-world situations or not. You don't even know it.

EDGE: Do you have a favorite number in the film?

Max Harwood: I do really love the music so much ... It's hard to pick a favorite number. But if I had to pick, the one that I enjoyed shooting most would be, "Don't Even Know It," because I just got to have so much fun. Just because I was told I could just be a pop star for the days that we shot those little bits and bobs of it. And the costumes and the hair, everything was just really, quite fabulous. And I don't look anything like that in my real life, nor do I act anything like that in my real life. So, it's really exciting to do something so far away from me.

Max Harwood in a scene from "Everybody's Talking About Jamie"
Max Harwood in a scene from "Everybody's Talking About Jamie"  (Source: IMDb)

EDGE: Were you at all in the drag before Jamie? And did you get to go to any drag shows to get the feel of all of it?

Max Harwood: Yeah, I mean, I've been a huge fan of drag and draggery. So, I've frequented many a bar in London seeing many drag queens before I was in on the scene, but I hadn't done any drag myself before so that was an exciting part of this role for me.

EDGE: And working with Jonathan the director?

Max Harwood: He's the most sensitive and caring person I've met and worked with. We were both doing this for the first time in film. But his experience and wealth of knowledge in terms of performance. He's been a Broadway choreographer, a West End director. He's been in this a long time, and I really leaned on him for lots of advice. And he was so brilliant and enabled me to feel comfortable to pull myself into the role in a really unique and special way. And was very honest about how he didn't want me to recreate anything that anyone else had done.

EDGE: Did you get to spend any time with the real Jamie?

Max Harwood: Yeah, I spent a bit of time with him about two weeks before we started principal photography. I just got to speak to him about his life beyond the documentary going deeper than that, on a more personal level. And he was so open to conversations. That was, although terrifying in many aspects, meeting someone you're going to play, it was actually, in retrospect, it was a blessing ... it was essential, because I was rooting everything that I brought to the character in that real person.

EDGE: At what point did you know you wanted to be an artist, an actor?

Max Harwood: Oh, thanks for calling me an artist, I appreciate that. That's a big, big word. But you know, I've always created. I've always sung and danced and done all sorts of things growing up. And I think when I, in my more formative years of education, when I was wanting to go to drama school and stuff like that, those were the years that I really worked hard pursuing acting and music. And with this film, I've had the privilege of exploring every aspect of the creative side of me that I want to continue to develop, like singing and dancing and acting. I feel really grateful for that.

Max Harwood in a scene from "Everybody's Talking About Jamie"
Max Harwood in a scene from "Everybody's Talking About Jamie"  (Source: IMDb)

EDGE: I'm curious. as somebody who's quite young coming into the profession, did anybody ever tried to sway you to not really be open about your orientation?

Max Harwood: Well, no. And yes. I think often when I was maybe at drama school, there was things like, don't sing the gay songs because you don't want to get typecast and stuff like that. But to be honest with you, this is my first professional role. And I think I'm so open in my in my own life, with my family who are completely accepting, and my friends that ... I wasn't going to step into this role and then pretend that I wasn't a gay person, you what I mean? That would have just been the wrong move for me personally.

But I'm not worried. I think I'm an artist and I'm an actor. And my sexuality is a small part of who I am as a human and doesn't define my personality and won't, hopefully, define my career. I think that the more we are open about it and have conversations about it, the more we are like Jamie — one of the first three-dimensional queer characters that doesn't die, isn't a gay best friend — keep telling stories like that so we can continue to not be like, "Oh, well, he can only do those parts." Because I'm an actor at the end of the day, it's my job to act and create and jump into different forms. That's what I've trained really hard to do so I'm not worried, in that sense.

EDGE: Bravo! So, tell me about OutFest. I heard that Neil Patrick Harris and David Burka hosted a party for the film. Is that true?

Max Harwood: We had OutFest in LA, which was the Los Angeles premiere, which was just amazing. It was that Hollywood Forever Cemetery, and the film was projected onto the mausoleum there. It was a crowd of about 2000 people. My friend, Lydia, who was the person who encouraged me to put myself forward for the role — she was my date for the evening ... And then towards the end of our tour ... Neil and David hosted a really nice screening in their in house in the Hamptons. That was just a really lovely celebration. It's so wonderful to get to share this film, out in the community and out of the world — to see how universal this quite niche story about a gay kid from Sheffield is and how it resonates with, not just the queer people that are watching. It has been truly special. And it's been quite overwhelming as you can imagine.

Richard E. Grant in "Everybody's Talking About Jaimie"
Richard E. Grant in "Everybody's Talking About Jaimie"  (Source: IMDb)

EDGE: Your social media must be blowing up. How are you navigating all the craziness?

Max Harwood: With the mute button? (Laughs) No, I'm joking. I've had so much support from lots of different people. I try and reply to as much as I can. But over this last year, I've really realized that my life exists in person. And I've spent lots more time with my family and doing random things like sewing or baking and finding stuff to keep me off my phone and reading and stuff like that. So, I try and do the social media thing when I can, and I like to put my phone down and not look at it and do other things as well.

EDGE: What's next for you? I saw "Magpie" on your IMDb credits.

Max Harwood: "Magpie," we haven't shot yet. But it's a film which, as soon as I'm off of this press tour, I'm going straight on to shoot. It's set in England, about an isolated religious community. And I play a nice, meaty supporting role, supporting Buket Komur and Tuppence Middleton. That's going to be really fun. And it's a dramatic thriller so it's very different (from) "Jamie." I'm just excited to continue to do different things.

EDGE: Do you have a dream actor, male or female, you'd love to work with?

Max Harwood: Tilda Swinton, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tatiana Maslany, Viola Davis, Imelda Staunton, Olivia Colman. Tons.

"Everybody's Talking About Jamie" opens in a limited theatrical release on Sept. 10. It launches worldwide on Sept. 17, 2021 exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.

Watch the trailer to "Everybody's Talking About Jamie":

Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep. Frank is a recipient of a 2019 International Writers Retreat Residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle (Assisi, Italy), a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, a 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and a 2015 NJ State Arts Council Fellowship Award. He is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW, FIG JAM, VATICAN FALLS) and a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute