‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ brings buoyancy to a teen drag queen story

Stars come to Atlanta to promote the British indie film premiering Sept. 17 on Amazon
Lauren Patel and Max Harwood star in "Everybody's Talking About Jamie," out on Sept. 17 on Amazon Prime. AMAZON PRIME

Credit: John Rogers

Credit: John Rogers

Lauren Patel and Max Harwood star in "Everybody's Talking About Jamie," out on Sept. 17 on Amazon Prime. AMAZON PRIME

In the 1980s, when RuPaul Andre Charles was working at Atlanta gay establishments with fierce determination, being a drag queen was a radical statement, a joyful, in-your-face expression of artistry.

In 2021, drag queen culture has become mainstream, at least in some circles, in part because of RuPaul’s Emmy-winning “Drag Race” series.

But it’s still hardly acceptable for a teen in working-class England to declare his desire to become a drag queen. Based on a true story that became a documentary, then a musical, “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” depicts the joyous, if hardly easy, journey a 16-year-old teen takes to tap his inner diva and accept and love himself even if not everyone else accepts him ― including his father.

The movie, which is showing at independent Plaza Theatre in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood, will debut on Amazon Prime Sept. 17.

Amazon tapped two key actors ― Max Harwood (Jamie) and Lauren Patel (his best friend Pritti) ― and director Jonathan Butterell for a seven-city United States publicity tour that stopped in Atlanta last month.

Harwood and Patel are both newcomers to the big screen and are now close friends in real life. Butterell said finding the right person to play Jamie was difficult but crucial.

“It’s a lot to ask a young actor to play 16 and be comfortable in their own femininity and have fierceness to portray drag,” said Butterell. “They have to show vulnerability and be able to sing and dance and wear heels.”

Harwood was a 21-year-old performing arts student when he heard about the casting call. At first, he hesitated.

“I didn’t feel I was good enough, that this movie was too big for me,” he said. “It felt too much of a dream.”

But his friends convinced him to send in a bio video. “I did it in my bedroom,” he said. “I talked about being into ‘Drag Race.’ I was caught applying makeup and dressing up with my sister. I was Rizzo and she was Kenickie. That was me as a kid.”

Butterell was intrigued by Harwood’s video and brought him in for auditions. “We had him sing and dance,” he said. “We had him perform the entire film. We put him in drag. I watched as his drag persona arrived. He put on lips, the lashes, the wig. Something began to emerge. I remember seeing him and saying, ‘Wow!’ Something in his body shifted. Something changed.”

Harwood had to learn how to be a drag queen, much like Jamie the character.

“I’m gay,” Harwood said. “It’s important to tell queer stories conceived by queer people. In this case, though, it’s ultimately not a story about sexuality. And it was my energy and femininity that got me the role.”

Jamie is already out as gay at his school but faces resistance from school officials and fellow students when he starts showing up in women’s clothing. His biggest allies are his steadfast mom and his friend Pritti, a geeky but vibrant sounding board for his hopes and dreams.

Butterell said he purposely sought newcomers for the teen roles because they were “not encumbered by process. Experience they lacked. Talent they had in abundance.”

In the film, Jamie also gets advice and support from a dress shop owner, Hugo Battersby (Oscar-nominated Richard E. Grant), who performed as drag queen Loco Chanelle back in the day. Hugo, worn down by time, is re-energized when Jamie enters the shop.

“I stalked Richard in a non-creepy way,” Butterell said, in terms of convincing the big name to join the film. “He has such deep soulful eyes. His character’s story is so complex. I needed a whole life attached to that person and Richard clearly brings that regardless of who he’s playing.”

Despite the pressures of being the lead actor, Harwood said a collaborative and supportive crew and cast helped him get through the 11-week shoot. And he was involved in most of the 11 musical set pieces.

“The opening number was so much fun to shoot,” he said. “So many colorful costumes and the sets were so lavish. I got to be a pop star. And I felt like I poured myself into the kitchen scene with my mom. It was quite close to the end of the process of making the film and [actress] Sarah [Lancashire] was so open with her support and guidance. It was just so affirming.”

Harwood said he hopes the film also honors the gay rights movement of yore by including a short historical interlude.

“We sit on the shoulders of all those people who marched, who protested,” Butterell said. “We are not all the way there. They had to deal with the prejudice of the AIDS epidemic. It’s important as young queer people that we know our history.”


“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” available to Amazon Prime subscribers Sept. 17