Who knew one story could adapt from a documentary, to a stage show, to a film in such a visceral trajectory? But it happened with first-time director Jonathan Butterell’s debut feature, “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.”
Inspired by true events, the story coming out in theaters and Prime Video is the film adaptation of the award-winning hit musical from London’s West End, about Jamie New (newcomer Max Harwood), a teenager in a blue collar English town with a dream of life on stage. It has all of the ingredients you would expect with show-stopping numbers, sparkling costumes, over-the-top dancing and plenty of fantastical drag moments. But, there are also many heartwarming moments. There’s Jamie’s mother (Sarah Lancashire) who supports her son coming out of his shell, Jamie’s mentor (Richard E. Grant) who allows Jamie to finally show his passion and his best friend, Pritti (newcomer Lauren Patel) who really brings so much heart and love to Jamie in every facet she can.
This film has one core theme at the center of it: Joy, and to talk about how they were able to make it come across on screen, Jonathan Butterell, Max Harwood and Lauren Patel all sat down to discuss the making of “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.”
Jonathan, you’ve been with the story for so long, but why was a movie the next step for ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’?
JB: The platform it could give and the reach it could have. I’ve lived in theater all my life and I love theater… but you have to come to it, and in some ways, what’s wonderful about this is that it’s going to 250 territories across the world and the reach of this story has now expanded. Also, what cinema has done for me is allow for my imagination to fly. It has scale. The theater has that relationship with the performers on stage and the audience, and the imagination of the audience fills in the gaps — I didn’t have to fill in the gaps. I could be in the streets that I grew up on, that Jamie has lived in and I could also have the camera do close-ups and then, take Jamie’s imagination and let him run with it. It was amazing.
Lauren and Max, with this being your first film what was this process like for you?
LP: My process happened really quickly. I saw it online while I was putting off doing my homework and I submitted a video tape telling them a little bit about myself thinking I’m never going to hear back from this. I did that on the 5th of May, then I did two more auditions in person and I found out I got the job on the 25th of May, then we started filming on the 25th of June… so, it was all extremely quick. I just remember watching a version of the stage show while auditioning and I just thought, ‘Wow, this looks like so much fun, they all look like they’re having the best time’ — and I did have fun I’d have to say.
MH: I had watched the musical a year or two before I heard they were doing the film and I was familiar with it. I loved the show and the music and the story and then the opportunity to audition for the film came up… I was apprehensive because I thought I wasn’t ready to do the film and I’m not good enough — all of the things you tell yourself when you suffer with imposter syndrome, which I do and did massively back then. I read the script, and I thought this a three-dimensional queer character that is at the center of their own story that isn’t a victim, that isn’t the comedy sidekick, that isn’t all of those things that we’re so stereotyped into being. I just thought, ‘Wow, this is going to be really special to be a part of,’ and then obviously Johnny decided after rounds of auditions that I was going to be the right person to choose and I’m so grateful because the role is a complete gift. Me and Lauren poured so much of ourselves into these characters and we were so happy to be there, every day was new and fresh.
Jonathan, were there any challenges taking it from a musical to the screen and on the other hand, what were some benefits?
JB: Oh yes, the challenges with making a film are enormous. It was my first time and I’ve got so much to learn and I prepped and prepped and prepped — but you can’t prep for what you don’t know, and with the first time you always step into [moments] that you didn’t expect. That is challenging to say the least. But I loved every second of it. To come up close in [with the camera] for me, you see right inside the character and the actor is brave enough to let you in—[they do] not feel the need to push anything out and they just let you in.
There are a lot of heartwarming relationships in the film, but Lauren and Max, yours was one of my favorites. How was that developing it on and off-screen?
MH: Well, we spent so much time together. We both moved to Sheffield and to be honest with you, we were lucky that we just really clicked because it would have been a horrible job if [we hadn’t].
LP: I feel like we clicked anyways, because believe it or not, I do like you. But especially because we went through this crazy experience together. It was both of our first films and we just clung to each other and went, ‘This is a bit mad isn’t it?’ And we’re still doing that now.
MH: I think me and Lauren have so much in common despite being from opposite ends of the country. We both really love film, we’re both huge musical fans and we just have so much to talk about all of the time, outside of film even.
What were some moments you were excited to see come to fruition onscreen?
LP: I was really excited to see ‘Work of Art’, and I wasn’t even in it. I just watched it being filmed.
MH: Yeah, it was very technical. But the thing I was most excited for were not the fabulous moments. For me, those moments on set were very visceral and I was very aware of the surroundings and being more performative. I was more excited and nervous to see the more intimate moments where I didn’t have to be aware of my surroundings and be more present with the other actors. It wasn’t about the aesthetics; it was about feeling.
Jonathan, another interesting aspect of the film is Jamie’s imagination, as you mentioned before. What went into creating those fantasies?
JB: From the onset, you want to know where Jamie’s head is at, but [we] didn’t want to give away everything right at the very beginning. So, with the opening number, he does see himself as this amazing creature that is going to go out into the world and be fabulous. But I didn’t want to show that aspect of drag right at the beginning, that’s something he works towards. So, that opening number really was to find his own style and his own sense of himself. I worked really closely with Max to create that fabulousness and to create his styling and to create how he saw himself. That in essence showed his pre-drag, as you call it, but really it’s what he’s like at home and what he’s like when he gets to his inner world. Because with his inner world, he doesn’t see himself as fabulous — he sees himself as fearful and flawed and complex. He has to come to terms with how responsible he is for taking that wall down so he can let that joy come forward. But that’s a negotiation he makes throughout the whole film. When it comes to him putting on that drag for the first time… it’s an enormous experience because once that wig goes on and once that makeup is there, he doesn’t know what comes out. He’s even not prepared for that first performance and he doesn’t know what his name is even going to be… he hasn’t christened himself yet. He’s asked to give us his name, and all he can say is, it’s me. And fortunately, Hugo grabs that and says, ‘Yes, we’re going to call you me, me, me.’ So, it’s stepping through the courage that we watch him do in front of us, and I watched Max do on set in actuality.
Catch “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” in select theaters now and on Prime Video Sept. 17.