The new movie Everybody's Talking About Jamie tells the inspiring story of Jamie New, a young drag artist who overcomes hardship and homophobia in Sheffield, England.
Out actor Max Harwood stars as New, who gets by with a little help from his friend at school named Pritti Pasha, portrayed by Lauren Patel. New finds a drag mentor in Hugo Battersby played by Richard E. Grant. Many will remember him playing gay in the recent film Can You Ever Forgive Me? where he received Academy Award, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for the role.
Gay director Jonathan Butterell brings his skills as choreographer for many musical revivals; also, he developed Everybody's Talking About Jamie as a popular stage play before this film.
Butterell, Harwood and Patel sat down at Sidetrack during a promotional event to discuss the film that everybody is already talking about.
Windy City Times: What led you to the role, Max?
Max Harwood: It was a wild time in my life. I was at school. They were doing open calls and I sent in a tape. I didn't have an agent or anything. The audition process was mad. It was a musical, so I had to jump through lots of hoops. It takes a massive skill set to do the job with drag, singing, acting and dancing in heels, sometimes the camera is really close to your face, then really far away. I had to do tiny things with my face, then massive things with my body at different points in shooting this film.
WCT: And for you, Lauren?
Lauren Patel: Mine was quite a similar story. It was my first film and I was 17 at the time. I saw a random audition online and sent a tape in. A month later, I was on set with Max and Richard making a movie!
WCT: This project was a first for many of the people involved. How was it directing for the first time, Jonathan?
Jonathan Butterell: I had the most amazing support, from the producers to everyone on set. I felt like I had a thousand hands on my back saying, "We've got you and will help you through this!"
I worked in theater for 30 years, so I had skills on how to hold a room and have a vision, but there was so much to learn. I loved every minute of it.
WCT: You have a choreographer background. Talk about the choreography used with Jamie.
JB: Kate Prince was the choreographer on the stage and in the film. The heart of both productions was exactly the same. It came from the streets. Kate runs a company called ZooNation, which is a street dance organization. I saw 3,000 young people and had to pick the best dancers for the movie.
WCT: What made you cast Richard E. Grant as a drag queen?
JB: He asked, "Why Me?" when we met. The first thing I said was, "Because you have sad eyes." When you look into those magical eyes, you fall deep.
There was no doubt that Richard has a drag queen inside of him! He thought he was going to need help, but the first time he put on six-inch heels, he suddenly was trotting around. He started posting pictures of them on Instagram.
Our second day of filming was with Max and Richard. Richard looked after Max so beautifully. The story is about a faded drag queen, who meets a 16-year-old boy who wakes him up a bit. What happened on set was reflected in the movie.
WCT: How did Frankie Goes to Hollywood singer Holly Johnson's song happen?
JB: We knew we needed to the character into a deeper place than we had before with the stage production. The three of us, Dan Gillespie Sells, Tom MacRae and myself, who created the piece, were all from that generation. We had been on those marches and lost many friends to HIV/AIDS. We felt it was important to tell that part of the story. When we wrote the song, we knew we wanted someone from that era. Holly just felt perfect and has his own story about that time period.
WCT: How similar are these characters to you?
LP: I have a certain energy that all the girls that have played Pritti Pasha in the past have. I played her when I was 17, so we were both figuring out who we would be one day.
MH: I have lots of similarities to Jamie. I was a dreamer in school and wanted to be outside the classroom. My creative brain was always ticking.
I was not as bold and courageous as Jamie was in school. At 16 years old, this is a kid who is out and gay. i didn't come out until I was 18.
WCT: Jamie was so good at fighting back when he was bullied.
JB: This was inspired by the true story of Jamie Campbell. I saw the documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16 and I thought some researchers had found out about his story. That wasn't what happened. Jamie found the documentary workers and asked to be followed around while coming out as a drag queen at school. He's an ordinary kid in England, who just had the courage to do this. This boy was not a victim to anybody. He was someone who could handle himself in those situations.
WCT: Performer Todrick Hall was just in Chicago for Market Days. What made you decide to put him on the soundtrack?
JB: I'm just a big fan. I rang him up and asked him. He had seen the stage show a few times in London.
There's a section in the film where Jamie is earning the money to buy his dress for his first drag show. Todrick made a song called "Werk Girl" and it's an amazing track. We only hear about 50 seconds in the film.
WCT: What future projects do you have?
MH: I am working on a film called Magpie that will be filmed next year. It is completely different and a British thriller.
LP: I just finished a short film called White Pudding Supper that I loved. I am doing some cartoon voice acting coming up.
JB: I have been writing. I was asked by the company who made Jamie, Warp Films to write a TV series for them. It is about a gay person in 1990, who hasn't come out. He's part of a couple in the North when they had football firms. These firms were when a company would attach themselves to a team and have a savage fight. They eventually became the security for the raves at that time. It has raves, football, police, the catholic church and gay culture all coming together!
WCT: Why should everybody be talking about this film?
MH: Because it is full of joy and speaks to what it is like to be a young, queer person finding their place in the world. It has universal messaging about coming together, especially after the time we have had this year.
JB: It is full of heart. Hopefully, it will make you laugh and make you cry…
LP: And hopefully, it will make you dance!
Everybody's Talking About Jamie premieres in Chicago on Friday, Sept. 10 at Landmark Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St.; and streams Sept. 17 on Amazon Prime Video.