The hit West End musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is getting a makeover in film form. It tells the story of Jamie New, a fabulous high schooler who is coming of age with the assistance of some glittery red pumps, his best girlfriend, and a sick lip (of course). The titular character is portrayed on screen by newcomer Max Harwood, and actress Lauren Patel plays Jamie’s bestie, Pritti. The movie is directed by Jonathan Butterell (Broadway’s The Light in the Piazza, Assassins), who also helmed the stage show. Entertainment reporter Frank DiLella recently caught up with Butterell and his two stars to chat about bringing Jamie to the screen.
Jonathan, starting with you: This musical is based on a true story, and the show Jamie was your idea.
Jonathan Butterell: The initial story came from the documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, which told the story of Jamie Campbell, who came from the northeast of England, who wanted to come out as a drag queen at his prom. What I subsequently learned is that his story wasn’t found by some researcher. Jamie Campbell actually reached out to documentary makers and said, “Please, I’m a bit scared to do this. Will you follow me as I pursue this? I need to tell my story to the world.” And I was just happening to flick through the TV one day and saw this documentary and was totally and utterly inspired by it, so much so that I rang the artistic director of a theatre in Sheffield and said, “Can I come and create a piece for my own hometown” — which was Sheffield — “and tell this story?” And fortunately, they commissioned it. And now I’m here in L.A. talking to you as we are about to send the movie version out into the world.
Max and Lauren, were you fans of the show prior to signing on for the film?
Max Harwood: Yes. I’m a huge theater fan. So I had seen the musical in 2018 and I loved it. I never really thought it would be turned into a film, and now it’s me and I’m doing it, so it’s really weird. [Laughs.]
Lauren Patel: I had never seen it until I had submitted my audition, and I watched a recording of the stage show and thought, “This is quite good.”
Max, playing Jamie is your first professional gig. What a debut!
MH: It’s surreal. I had never been to L.A. before, and now I’m here promoting this film. It’s really crazy. I filmed this film two years ago in Sheffield in, essentially, a shed — a little studio there. And now we’re promoting the film around the world, which is special.
You were in year two in acting school when you booked the gig and you kind of went against the rules of your training program. Technically, you’re not allowed to audition for projects outside of school.
MH: Yeah — bad-boy energy! I suppose there are opportunities in life that don’t come around often. And my friend Lydia encouraged me to put myself forward for it. And I thought, “You know, the opportunity to play a part like this on film for someone my age and the casting director specifically looking for a new person doesn’t happen often.” So I had to put myself forward.
So you book the role of Jamie, and the casting director says you can’t share the news quite yet. But you did tell your friends in a very special way.…
MH: I went to a pharmacy, and I bought a box of blond hair dye. I’m a brunette and Jamie is a blond. My friends also knew that I was auditioning for the film. I hadn’t been too involved with telling them about the process. And so I called a meeting with my friends. In the boys’ changing room, I said, “Be there!” And I sat them in a circle and put the box of blond hair dye in the middle of the circle and I just sat there in silence and smiled. And they were all like, “What?! Uggh! You?” And I was like, “Yeah.”
Jonathan, what was it about Max that made you want to cast him as Jamie?
JB: It’s a big ask to play Jamie New. You need a young actor who is comfortable with expressing his feminine side and an enormous skill set of being able to sing, dance, and act. I met over 3,000 potential Jamies as we were casting this film. And Max sent a video in in which he just told me about himself and how he was interested in drag and how he loved playing around with makeup. And I remember watching and thinking I want to meet this boy. There’s something magical about him.
Lauren, you play Jamie’s best friend, Pritti, on screen. Is your character based on a real-life person or is your character a combination of folks in Jamie’s life?
LP: The real-life Jamie does not have a friend named Pritti who is a Muslim girl. So that was very much the creation of the creators of the musical. But I’m assuming Pritti is a combination of people in Jamie’s life. When queer people are struggling with their identity, the kind of support system you would want to have and wish to have is someone like my character of Pritti.
Max, I understand the real-life Jamie was around when you guys were shooting the film. What was it like to have him on set?
MH: I spent time with Jamie while I was rehearsing in Sheffield. Usually when you’re doing biopics, the person who is the inspiration for the film is not around. And as an actor you have to use public knowledge to draw and create the role. I got to spend time with Jamie and speak to him about his experience and his life story and personal stuff that is not in the documentary. That helped me anchor my performance.
Jamie’s story is a story for now. I take it you would agree.…
MH: People are still, unfortunately, in a space where the communities around them are not shifting to make space for them to be themselves safely. We all need to be not entrenched in two political sides and we need to open our ears and educate ourselves. And I think this film does that in a nonpreachy and human way.
Jonathan, your musical has been celebrated in the U.K. It’s been turned into a feature film. I know it’s making its North American debut on stage in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theatre with Bianca Del Rio as one of the featured characters. Is Broadway the goal?
JB: It’s coming to L.A. with Center Theatre Group. So watch this space! [Laughs.]
I hope that’s a yes!
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is now available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
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