Everybody's Talking About Jamie's Max Harwood Opens Up About The Film - Exclusive Interview

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Max Harwood is one of Hollywood's new shining stars, and it's not very hard to see why. In his very first professional on-screen acting role as the lead in "Everybody's Talking About Jamie," streaming on Amazon Prime Video starting on September 17, he's made quite the name for himself. In the film — which is based on the story of Jamie Campbell, the high school student who bravely wore a dress to prom although he faced bullying from his peers and pushback from administration (via BBC) — he plays the titular character with major talent and just as much heart. 

We sat down with the fledging actor, who has gone from growing up in a small town in England to walking Hollywood red carpets, and he opened up about his inaugural movie-making experience. To prepare for the part, he immersed himself in an "extensive" training process, which included consulting with acting and vocal coaches (the biopic is also a musical), working out, and also studying the accent of Sheffield, the English city where the story is set. And of course, he met with the real-life muse for the film. "My main really bit of prep was meeting Jamie Campbell and observing him, and getting to know him because I really wanted to root my performance in the reality of the inspiration for the piece," he told us. 

All that hard work definitely paid off, and Harwood's heartwarming performance is gaining the attention it deserves. The future is bright for the young actor, who already has new projects underway (via IMDb), and he is grateful and humbled by his newfound stardom.

Everybody's Talking About Jamie is Max Harwood's first professional acting job

Where are you from in England?

I'm from a small town in Hampshire called Basingstoke.

So when did you know you wanted to pursue acting professionally?

Not really until I was in my sixth form college when I was like, probably 17, 18, that I wanted to do it professionally. I've always performed and done acting, but I don't have any family in the business. There was a little bit of theater in my hometown, but there wasn't much of a TV or film industry here ... It didn't feel like a tangible option to have growing up or like, I didn't really know how to get there. So when I was 16, 17, 18, I was deciding that I wanted to maybe go off and study at drama school. So I went to a sixth form college and did theater. And that's where I really was like, "Oh, I need to like, explore drama schools more and take this seriously." And I was lucky. I met some really amazing teachers at my sixth form that made me feel like that can be an option for me.

I read that this is your first legitimate professional job. And when you went to the audition, you didn't have an agent. Is that true?

Yeah, yeah. Very true. I've had ... when you say professional jobs, I was a professional. I was a professional shoe fitter at Shu, which is a retail trainer store in the UK. I'm totally kidding. Obviously I did do that. Like that was a job I did. I did work in retail.

I worked in retail too, so I understand.

I also worked in a restaurant and I worked in the cinema, but now this is my first-ever professional.

What was going through your mind when you heard that you landed the role?

A lot really. It was a lot to process. I was excited; I was nervous. I think I screamed a bit. And then I was like, "Can I call my mum?" Because I obviously got offered this job in the room. The director offered it to me to my face. It wasn't like offered through someone and then, "Consider if you want to do it." It was like, "How would you feel if I offered you the role?" And then me being like, "Well, of course I'll do it. Yes, please. I've just spent about three months of my life auditioning for you seven times. Yes, absolutely. Please. I would love to do the role." Then you go through a process of being terrified that you actually have to do it. And then the imposter syndrome kicks in, like, are you the right person? All of that sort of stuff.

Max Harwood's preparation for the role included meeting with the real-life Jamie

How did you prepare for the role? I know that's a general question, but you can answer it any way you want.

No, it's a very ... I enjoy the questions that are about process for me. I love acting. My preparation for this was so extensive. I had two months. I was on the film, full-time prepping with Jonathan [Butterell], the director, and the film required me to do a lot of skill-based work in terms of recording vocals, dancing, being fit. So I got really fit. I met the vocal coach, worked on the songs from the album, as well as my own vocal technique and like learning pop style as well more. I worked with an accent coach so I can nail the Sheffield accent because I'm not from Sheffield.

And I worked with an acting coach who helped teach me about like what to expect on set and what a day was going to be like. And then I also, my main really bit of prep was meeting Jamie Campbell and observing him, and getting to know him because I really wanted to root my performance in the reality of the inspiration for the piece. It was just very extensive. Like the preparation, it was very deep and we did a lot of prep.

How much of Jamie's life is in the movie? Is it loosely based on it or is it pretty accurate?

It's inspired by it. I think from speaking to the creatives, they didn't want Jamie Campbell to feel encumbered by the specifics of this story so that it ... We're talking about really touching subject matters and they didn't want him to feel like, they wanted him to feel like he could walk away and say, "Well, it's not my story. It's inspired by me, but it's not me." And actually that was really great that they did that, but he's done the opposite. Like he watched the show for the first time, the musical, with his mom and his mom, Margaret, turned around to our director, Jonathan. I mean I'm telling you a story that I've been told. I wasn't there, obviously. I wasn't in the process at the time, but Margaret turned around to Jonathan, our director, and said, "How did you know?"

They wrote the whole show without Jamie, without even speaking to Jamie. So there was lots in it that was inspired by the documentary that he made when he was 16. But lots of conversations that weren't, that were created and written by this writing team, Jonathan, Dan [Gillespie Sells] and Tom [MacRae], who all poured their own experience into it ... I think the biggest creation for the purpose of making this piece was Jamie's best friend, Pritti Pasha, who is a hijabi-wearing Muslim teenage girl who is the opposite to Jamie, who is bookish and is, though she knows she wants to be a doctor, I would say she's, although she maybe seemingly has her life together, I think she's unsure of who she is. Whereas I'd say Jamie's not bookish; he's outrageous. Jamie knows who he is. So the creation of the piece was that relationship and how Pritti basically acts as the voice of the audience asking all of the questions that your audience has, like, "Okay. I do think it's weird. Yeah. But tell me," and she's the person that shifts and helps the audience to understand Jamie and get on board and empathize with him and his character.

This was Max Harwood's first time dressing in drag

I read an interview with you where you said that you know what it's like to be a little bit name-called at school. What was your high school experience like?

I had amazing friends to be honest, and I was very lucky, but my favorite times in high school were in the music block and in the drama block, and anything else, I don't know that I'd want to go through again, not because it was like negative, just because I found happiness outside of school. Like in my theater things, I was so happy doing that. And I remember doing my youth shows over the summer or we would do a winter show and then I'd be like, "Oh, now I have to go back to school," and that's why I loved going to college after school, where I got to hone in. And it was just a joy to be going to college every day to study acting and I did art and photography and I did music technology and I did history as well. And those are all subjects I really loved.

So, but that being said, I wasn't bullied at school. I gave it back as good as I got. But as a young person, I didn't come out till I was 18. So I was a person in school who was scared to try and work out who I was. And I didn't really get to do that or start to do that until I was at college. So a lot of my school life was a lot of pretending. Which hopefully I'm good at now.

I read another piece with you where you said that this was your first time dressing in drag. What was that like? And were you able to keep any of the costumes?

I got to keep the raincoat from the opening scene that he wears. It was a hood-up ... I got to steal one of those. I think if I'd stolen anything else, I probably would've got a rep of myself on my first job with not getting booked again, because I steal all the props and stuff. So I tried to behave as much as I could and was very grateful. I was like, "Oh yes, I'll have that if you'll let me have it," rather than being like, "I want this, I want that, I want that." Recently, I went to Neil Patrick Harris' house for a screening of our film, which he did in the Hamptons. And I realized that I should take more because his house is like ... He has so many things from his projects, like decorating his house and his house looks so cool. So I need to do that more on jobs.

You got inspired.

Yeah, inspired, always inspired by Neil. Neil is such an amazing human being, super inspired by him.

Max Harwood became very close friends with his 'magnificent' costar

He [Neil Patrick Harris] opened up his house in the Hamptons for a screening, right?

Yeah. I mean what an absolute legend.

What was that like?

It was wild for me .... I've watched lots of stuff that Neil has done. And I'm like, "I don't know what's going on." Literally the amount of times I've walked through your performance of "Being Alive" on the Tonys on YouTube. Like I'm probably responsible for 20,000 views on that video. Do you know what I mean?

That's cute.

So I'm a huge fan of his, and he watched the film and then seemingly became a big fan of mine. And it's lovely and wonderful and I'm just so grateful. And it was a really amazing night. I got to meet Cynthia Nixon as well, and got to meet Jessica Vosk and Donna Karan and just some amazing icons that were there that night. I was like, "I'm unsure how I've gone from a shed ... where we shot this film." It's like a little old glass factory was our studio ... in the north of England when we shot this. And now I'm in the Hamptons at Neil Patrick Harris' farmhouse.

That's pretty unreal.

It's like unreal. It's craziness.

So what was the hardest scene to film? And then what was the most fun?

The hardest scene to film was "Work of Art," which is a sequence that is the black and white. And it's like flicking between the black and white really fast. And we're doing choreography. Like we had to really become technicians that day and frame match and still navigate being Jamie and being in the moment and knowing where the story is. But also trying to execute the shot. That was hard.

And my favorite scenes were pretty much anything with Lauren, Lauren Patel who plays Pritti. It's her first film as well. And she's just magnificent, and she is an absolute star. And we actually lived in the same apartment block. We both moved to Sheffield when we shot this.

Oh, how nice.

I would not have been able to do this project without her by my side. And there is not one part of me that would ... I'm so grateful that it was her and we met because we get on so well. And she's just an absolute star and the soundtrack came out today and I've been listening to her songs nonstop because I think she's just amazing.

That's so sweet. Actually, you can see that in the film though. You guys have a nice rapport.

Oh, thank you so much. Yeah, we do love each other, but ... when we do interviews together, she tells the journalists that she hates me, even though she doesn't. Because she thinks she's a standup comedian when we get on these interviews together.

This is what inspired Max Harwood most about Jamie's story

That was leading to my question, but you kind of answered some of it. What was the atmosphere like on the set?

Oh, it was like family, truly, and I know that sounds really cringe, but Jonathan comes from a theater background and I think more than anything, when you work on a theater show with someone, you really curate that atmosphere of coming to work every day and spending time with each other. And Jonathan brought energy to the set in terms of ... The crew on this film was integral to making this film happen. Because Jonathan brought so much passion to the set every day, the crew was so excited to be working on the film and we're all a hundred percent in. I obviously was with that crew every day, with Ilana Garrard, our second camera operator, who I bonded with so well and Charlotte Thompson, who is one of the ADs [assistant director] and we just had so much fun and it was a joy to go and work on every day. It's a story that we all really cared about.

What inspired you most about Jamie's story and what do you hope viewers will take away from this piece?

I think what inspired me most about Jamie's story is that actually, he did that at a time, he did that like seven years ago now, and we're in a different time now, seven years on from seven years ago. I feel like now, in the last couple of years especially, people have been able to be more open about their gender expression and stuff like that. But seven years ago, we really weren't there. And this young 16-year-old wrote to documentary makers and said, "Look, I want to go to prom in a dress and in drag, please, will you come and follow me? I would feel more confident with you there because I won't get beaten up." And that's inspiring, just that bravery and that courage to be who you are. And I've just been inspired to be unapologetically me and I still don't really know what that means like physically, but like, I'm so happy to just voice my opinions, and to stand strong in who I am and my beliefs, and to stand with the people who I believe in and all of that stuff.

So Jamie feels like the thing he did was really simple. And in many ways it was. And it was very specific. But what I love about the story is that it's universal. We all were 16 once and we all wanted to be something. And I think you look to the characters, even like Richard's [E. Grant] character and you go, "Wow, he's not 16." And that 16-year-old brings that character back to life and Richard's character is able to get back in drag. And I think it's a story that can be really generational in the sense that it can speak to anyone, no matter where you are in life, no matter who you are, you can still find that authentic place that you'll be happy. And I think that's really special. And I think in its simplicity, it hopefully will do that for different people.

In the future, Max Harwood would like to work on more biopics

What are your future plans? It could be a role you would like to get or however you want to answer that.

My plans for the future are to continue to work in the film space and the TV space. I'm really intrigued by existing materials that are turned into things like books and books that are turned into TV, or like biopics, like real-life stories that turn into films. Because as an actor, I really geek over research and getting to have loads of things to draw from. And those are the things that make me tick. I would love to do something that's out of my comfort zone because things that challenge me scare me and give me that buzz. So I'd love to do like a biopic of a sports person.

Oh, cool.

Maybe a diver who knows.

Oh wow, ok. So you put it out there, so it will probably come true.

Who knows, you know?

Oh, okay. Okay. I got it.

No, no, no, that's not a leader to me being cheeky, like who knows? Someone call me to ask me to be Tom Daley please.

"Everybody's Talking About Jamie" will be available globally on Amazon Prime Video on September 17.