Max Harwood is a self-proclaimed “theater geek” living the dream. Not long ago, he went to see one of London’s hottest musicals, “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.” Loosely based on the documentary “Jamie: Drag Queen at 16,” the show (with music by Dan Gillespie Sells and book and lyrics by Tom MacRae) tells the story of a teenage boy who aspires to be a drag queen and the prejudice he faces on his journey. Now, Harwood is starring in the film adaptation, set for a Sept. 17 release on Amazon Prime Video.
Where did you first develop your talent for acting and singing?
I’ve always loved performing and did loads of amateur dramatic shows growing up. When I was 18, I met two teachers who did my A-level drama program, and they encouraged me to pursue acting. So I thought I’d study musical theater at drama school. Now, that’s easier said than done because I auditioned for all the drama schools I wanted to go to and didn’t get into any! But one school came back — the Guildford School of Acting — and offered me a foundational course in acting and musical theater. My local theater society actually gave me a [scholarship] so I could afford my fees because otherwise I never would have been able to go. It was at Guildford that I really fell in love and was like, “Wow, I’m going to do this as a career.”
You’ve said that when you first responded to the open call for the film version of “Jamie,” you thought you had no chance?
I was in my second year at Urdang Academy, and you’re not allowed to audition for outside projects. I was like, “I’m not breaking the rules. … I’m too not out there.” I also assumed they were looking for a name, a star. I wasn’t going to sell a movie. But my friend Lydia encouraged — or forced — me to send in a tape. Because I didn’t think I was going to get it, I used the whole thing as a learning process. And I didn’t put too much pressure on myself.
Had you ever attempted drag before this film?
Not really. I dressed up as a kid; my sister and I would perform “Grease” for the family, and I would swap roles so I could play Rizzo. But I’m a huge fan of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” I was incredibly excited to have a makeup artist put me in drag. And when I was auditioning, I went out and bought makeup, and I followed YouTube videos where you learn things like how to glue down your eyebrows. Honestly, some of the things I put on my face were really questionable and awful. But I’ve gotten better. I can actually do an OK drag face for myself, so I’m super proud of that.
I would think learning to walk in high heels would be the toughest.
It was really hard! And I’d done ballet, so my feet were quite strong. I worked with an amazing heels coach named Shawn Niles, and we spent hours in the dance studio just walking around, playing Whitney Houston, learning about hip placement and strengthening ankles and things like that.
Things you didn’t know about Max Harwood:
Birthplace: Basingstoke, Hampshire, about an hour southwest of London
Previous jobs: His local movie theater and a sneaker shop
Dream job: A role in the Marvel universe