“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” Star Max Harwood Is Only Starstruck for Bianca Del Rio

"She was everything I wanted her to be," says the acting newcomer.

Everybody’s talking about Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

The critically acclaimed West End production-turned-movie musical was originally supposed to be released earlier this year, but its premiere was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The film is finally out this Friday (September 17) on Amazon Prime Video.

In the movie, Jamie is played by newcomer Max Harwood, who beat out more than 3,000 up-and-coming actors for the role. Harwood recently spoke with Logo about his love of all things drag, including his history with the West End Jamie show, his favorite RuPaul’s Drag Race queens, and how he bonded with his co-star, Richard E. Grant, over their love of Miss Vanjie Mateo.
 

You filmed the movie a while ago, and the release was pushed back a few times because of the pandemic. How does it feel to finally be doing press appearances and red carpets?

Honestly, it’s such a relief. I love this story so much. It was the reason that I wanted to do it. I finished filming it in 2019, so I was just excited to get the opportunity to see it, to share it. We’ve had such an interesting and difficult time. Everyone has their own story and version of how difficult it’s been for them this past year. I think this film is so timely and so full of joy that it’s such a perfect moment to be celebrating, really. I’m so glad it’s finally coming out.

What’s your history with the show, and what was the audition process for the movie like?

I was training in London, and I had heard of the show. I’d heard that it was this crazy, amazing, really new show with young people, with queerness. It was called Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. I didn’t really have any expectations other than, “Oh, it’s going to be a fun, new musical to go and see.” I didn’t really know much about the documentary back then, either. I watched the show in 2018 when it came to London. I was like, “Wow, this is amazing.” I loved the music. I loved that I was seeing a queer, effeminate character on stage as the hero, not the gay best friend who comes in for two scenes. He wasn’t the character who was victimized or brutalized in any way at the end of the second act. It was really refreshing, actually. After that, a year went by, and then my friend Lydia sent me this open call [to audition for the movie] and was like, “You should put yourself forward for it.” I was like, “No. This is too big. I’ve never done anything professional before. I just have one more year left [of] college, then I’ll be ready.” She basically forced me. She was like, “Max, you’re going to do this. I believe in you.” So I sent in a few rounds of tapes. The first one was just talking a bit about myself, my love of drag and Drag Race and my love of music, and how much I was touched by this story when I’d watched the show. Then it was complete madness from them, really. It was seven rounds of performing the entire film before being offered the role.

When you saw the original show, did you think, “Oh, I would like to play Jamie one day,” or did that not even cross your mind as a possibility?

No, totally. I definitely was like, “Oh, this is maybe something in a few years’ time when I’ve graduated school, I can maybe get an audition for this and give it a shot.” It was definitely a role that I was like, “Oh, this is something, a character that I feel like …” I loved all the songs and it felt like a meaty part for me to get my teeth into. So, yeah, for sure. I definitely felt like it might be a possibility, but not to the gravity of what I’ve put myself in for with this.

Amazon Prime Video

Had you done drag before, or did you have to do a drag bootcamp for production? What was that process like?

I hadn’t done drag before. My only experience was just dressing up in my sister’s dressing up box and my mum’s dressing up box growing up. I didn’t have the skills in makeup or artistry, really, to do drag myself, much as I loved it. My Halloween makeup looks as ghosts or zombies were appalling. Drag is a whole level of that. I did do a drag bootcamp. I met with a heels coach, Shaun Niles. I met our associate choreographer who took me through voguing, posing, all sorts of styles that typically originated in the balls and in drag culture. I’d trained in dance, but I hadn’t learned that style, so that was really fun to explore. Then creating [Jamie’s drag alter-ego] Mimi Me was wonderful because I actually got to be involved in conversations with Guy Spanzera, our costume designer, Nadia Stacey, our makeup and hair designer, about every detail and what they were referencing. It was really nice to be part of the creation of Mimi Me.

Did you go out and see drag shows for research?

I’d seen drag shows before, so it wasn’t really something that I was unaware of, so no and yes. I didn’t go for research, but I was out in Heaven and G-A-Y in London where all of the queens perform.

I read how you saw Detox at the first gay club you went to. Can you tell me about that night?

Yeah. It was my first year in London at school… We went to Heaven one night and Detox was on. We didn’t go specifically to see Detox, but Detox was on. I remember being quite overwhelmed in a club full of queer people. I come from Basingstoke, which is in Hampshire. There are no queer spaces. I didn’t know many gay people, so it was quite an overwhelming experience to be in a room with loads of people that I found really attractive. I remember Detox coming on and being like, “This is wild and crazy and just fabulous.” Detox came to our Chicago screening. That was the first time we actually met because of this film now. That’s a wild and crazy sort of 360 moment for Detox to see me in my first film after I’d seen her in my first experience of drag, really.

So, who’s in your drag coven? The three queens you love.

Wow. They change so much because now that I know some of the girls, I can’t leave them out of my favorites because then if they read it, they’ll be like, “Why wasn’t I on your list?” But I’m a huge Jan fan. I loved Aquaria on her season. I love Sasha Velour, Shea Couleé, Alexis Mateo… I mean, honestly, with Drag Race, the reason I love so many of the queens is because of what makes them different. Drag Race really opened my eyes to how many different styles and versions of drag there are and how vast it is as an art form. You have comedy queens and queens that do amazing lip-syncs… Yeah, my brain is taking over now as I’m thinking of more girls that I didn’t mention…

What was that like working with Bianca Del Rio?

Again, crazy because I heard Bianca before I saw her. I met Roy in the makeup truck as Bianca was getting ready. Roy’s got such a recognizable voice. I was on set every day. But one day I come into the truck and I hear this voice and I’m like, “Oh, my God. Bianca Del Rio is here.” I was probably the most starstruck out of anyone in the cast. You’ve got Oscar-nominated actors in the cast, but I can truly say I was not starstruck by them. But I was completely starstruck by Bianca, completely, much as I love and respect all of those other actors. She was everything I wanted her to be, really. She was wit and sass combined with just a really generous, wonderful heart, which she would hate me saying.

Which Jamie number was the hardest to film?

The “Work of Art” sequence, that’s because that wasn’t CGI, so we shot that twice: once on a white soundstage, once on a black soundstage with opposing costumes. We shot the first one and we had to be really precise with the choreography so that when we came back the next day to shoot the other version, we had to do something they call frame matching. We were still having to perform and dance full-out and sing but also stopping when they said cut. We had to stay there so they could adjust an arm or making sure that everything matched so that when they did it in the edit, that it was seamlessly flicking between the two. That was just a moment where I had to be a technician in my acting and really use my dance technique as well. That was really hard.

Amazon Prime Video

You mentioned working with Oscar-nominated actors. What was it like working with Richard E. Grant?

Oh, amazing. I learned so much just by watching him. He wasn’t patronizing in any way. He didn’t be like, “Come on, kid. Let me show you how it’s done,” sort of vibes. He was so generous and made me feel so comfortable. It was really humbling to see how much he threw himself into the role and threw himself into the world of drag. He sat and watched every single episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race and then would come in and text me memes of Vanessa Vanjie Mateo doing her “Miss Vanjie” backwards exit from her season. That was really nice to see that because it was something he hadn’t done before, and he threw himself into it. He was so generous with his time off-camera as well. It just taught me that that’s what I want to be like. I look at him and I go, “If I can have a touch of his success and his generosity at where he is in his career, I’ll hopefully be alright.”

How do you think Mimi Me would do on Drag Race?

Mimi Me definitely would place middle of the road and come back for All Stars, I think.

Should we look out for you as a guest judge on Drag Race U.K.?

Don’t know if you’re going to see me. I’m putting it out into the universe that our lady, Ru, is going to give me the call, but you never know. It would be a complete honor to sit on that panel. Again, for me, especially Drag Race U.K., I have so many friends and queens in the U.K. that haven’t been on the show yet that I would die to sit on a judging panel and try and judge their drag, which is just completely beautiful — some queens that I would love to see on the U.K. show, like Flesh, Ophelia Love, so many of the girls. If I got to judge on their season, I would love that.

Well, maybe Bianca will put in a good word for you.

Yeah. All of the girls need to call up Ru and be like, “Listen, Ru …” He actually shared the movie poster on his Instagram, so he knows the movie’s happening and I think he’s seen it. He was a huge fan of the [West End] show, so hopefully, I can somehow meet him one day, even if it isn’t on his show. I hope I get to say hello to him. That would be crazy.

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is out now on Amazon Prime Video.

I write about drag queens. Dolly Parton once ruffled my hair and said I was "just the cutest thing ever."
@chrisreindeer