'Everybody's Talking About Jamie' Star Max Harwood's Breakout Role Taught Him to Be 'Unapologetic'

"I wish I could have had a bit of Jamie's courage when I was younger," Max Harwood tells PEOPLE of his role as a teenage drag queen in the movie musical Everybody's Talking About Jamie

Max Harwood
Photo: Monarchy Enterprises

Max Harwood is making a splash with his breakout role as a teenage drag queen in the movie musical adaptation of Everybody's Talking About Jamie.

The British actor, 24, opens up to PEOPLE about making his big screen debut in such a joyously queer role. "I feel like it's enabled me to really step into myself as a person and as an actor," says Harwood. "And it's giving me the inspiration to step into my other projects being unapologetic, in all areas of my work, really. I'm so, so grateful."

He stars in the film as Jamie New, a 16-year-old from Sheffield, England who chases his dreams of being a drag queen with some support from his mom, his best friend and a local veteran queen. The movie is based on the stage musical of the same name and the 2011 BBC Three documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16.

For Harwood, the movie presented quite a few firsts, including the first time he did drag. He says it was a "truly exciting" experience to see himself transformed into drag queen Mimi Me. "I just loved it. It didn't look like me," he raves.

"Obviously, I went blond for the role as well. I'm actually really dark featured usually, and so it was just an incredibly transformative moment," Harwood adds. "And as an actor, any moment that's transformative is helpful in getting you to a place where you can do your job. So it was just so exciting and terrifying at the same time. Mimi Me is terrifying. She looks terrifying, in a good way. In a fierce way."

Max Harwood and Sarah Lancashire
Monarchy Enterprises

The trained dancer admits that learning to walk in heels was painful on his feet, but he was otherwise a quick study. The skill came in handy for one scene reminiscent of the real Jamie, as Harwood balanced on a brick wall in sparkling red six-inch stilettos, while performing "The Wall in My Head," his favorite song of the film.

"It was windy as well. And those heels are high, but I had lots of preparation," Harwood explains. "I had this coach. It was so much fun. Loads of stuff on this job I hadn't done before. I hadn't done drag. I hadn't done heels. So I just threw myself completely in, and was like, 'Yeah, I'll do my own stunts. I'm Tom cruise. I can walk on a wall in heels. No problem.'"

He was also fortunate enough to have a scene partner in Academy Award nominee Richard E. Grant, who plays Loco Chanelle, a retired drag queen who takes Jamie under his wing. Harwood recounts the "amazing experience" of working with Grant, 64, and how the onscreen mentorship mirrored their offscreen dynamic.

"He's teaching Jamie all about drag. And I went through the same parallel where Richard was, without being patronizing, teaching me lots and guiding me through a process of doing my first film," he explains. "So it was an incredibly special moment to be in those two roles with Richard, someone who is so fun and full of life, vivacious and so willing to have fun and not take ourselves too seriously."

Harwood also had help from the real Jamie Campbell in perfecting his performance. "He was on set, actually, quite a lot. And I got to meet him before we started shooting. So that was really nice," he says.

"Because I wanted to root all of my performance in reality. So it was good for me to have the anchor, really," Harwood continues. "He's the nicest person and has completely taken this whole process in stride. Someone creating this whole movie based on your life, inspired by your life is a wild thing to have to go through. And he's just been so brilliant."

Richard E Grant
Monarchy Enterprises

Although Harwood's own coming out experience was vastly different from Campbell's, he hopes the film can inspire others with its universal themes of chasing dreams and embracing who you are.

"Mine and Jamie's stories are very different, and I wish I could have had a bit of Jamie's courage when I was younger," Harwood says. "And maybe if I had had a film like this, maybe I would've come out earlier. Maybe I wouldn't have, but I suppose everyone's journey is different, aren't they?"

See Max Harwood in Everybody's Talking About Jamie, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video and playing in select theaters.

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