Max Harwood and Detox on Drag Queens and Dream Roles
For acting newcomer Max Harwood, success came seemingly overnight. But in truth, the 24-year-old from South Central England has been preparing for this moment his entire life. Being the lead of Amazon’s film adaption of the West End’s Everbody’s Talking About Jamie, a heart-tugging musical about a boy with dreams of becoming a drag queen, marks Harwood’s first professional acting job. And it’s a big one. His face, adorned by a classic queer blonde do, has been plastered across buses, screens, and walls across the world promoting his movie debut. As he gets used to his new life, in between packing for trips and filming more movies, Harwood got on the phone with drag queen legend Detox, a performer who knows a thing or two about serving face and talent for the world to see. Below, the pair discuss the hardships of doing drag, the future, and reminisce on the memorable time they first met.
MAX HARWOOD: How are you?
DETOX: I’m well. How are you?
HARWOOD: I’ve been in and out. I’ve been back from the States for just over a week and I’m coming back tomorrow. Everything’s everywhere. Suitcases, clothes.
DETOX: Welcome to my life.
HARWOOD: The life of a superstar.
DETOX: The life of a superstar drag queen, which gets me right into your new film, Everyone’s Talking About Jamie. I got to see it in Chicago when you guys were here on your U.S. press tour. It was awesome. I’ve seen the show several times on the West End. Obviously, it resonates with me as a drag performer and as a queer kid who grew up in a community that was not super accepting, and fighting my way out of that and finding my own way. Does any of that story resonate with you as a young queer person?
HARWOOD: Yeah. I didn’t grow up wanting to do drag, but I definitely played with my sister’s dress-up box more than I played with my own stuff. And I grew up in what I call a small town, but it’s the biggest town in Hampshire, the county I’m from. Growing up, I definitely did not see much of myself in mainstream media. So a lot of what Jamie was going through I was experiencing internally.
DETOX: That’s one of the great things about the story. Any kind of outsider, queer or otherwise, can resonate with that coming-of-age story, of finding yourself, having support, finding your friends and chosen family. How is your family supporting you in this new trajectory?
HARWOOD: Jamie is my first professional job. My parents have supported me emotionally and even financially through my training to get me where I am now. In the film, Ms. Hedge says to Jamie, “What’s your backup?” Because, like, one in a million people get to do what we do, movies and TV shows and stuff. My parents were supportive but they were also like, “What are you going to do so you can be stable?”
DETOX: Yeah. Think of a bigger picture if this big picture doesn’t work out.
HARWOOD: But they’re so supportive. They’re not in the industry and don’t understand what I’m doing. They love me and want me to be happy. And right now I am happy—I just landed an absolute dream role, and I can have stability for a little while.
DETOX: We’ve met before. I don’t know if anyone knows this, but you’ve mentioned in several interviews that I was one of the first drag queens that you ever saw.
HARWOOD: You were. It was terrifying and very exciting.
DETOX: I get that a lot.
HARWOOD: Not you. You were gorgeous and amazing. I had never been around that many queer people before. It was very overwhelming. And then this gorgeous monster fashion drag queen comes out—which is you—and I’m like, “Where have I landed?” It was stuff I hadn’t seen growing up in my small town. We don’t have drag here. We don’t have queer clubs, queer bars, nothing.
DETOX: Since you didn’t grow up with a lot of exposure to drag, what did you do in order to prepare for this role?
HARWOOD: I think I’m lucky, being 23 now. I went to Guilford to study acting, and then to London to study musical theatre and was exposed to a lot of drag and nightlife. Then RuPaul’s Drag Race became a huge part of that with all of the seasons on Netflix in the U.K. That was a huge part of my preparation. So all I really had to do to prepare was actually get in the studio, try some drag on, and work out the lip sync. It was more physical than mental preparation.
DETOX: Most of the scenes you do in the film were sung live for filming purposes, right?
HARWOOD: Which was a gift as an actor. We often recorded tracks before we went, so the director and composer and lyricist can work out what shots they want and can storyboard it all. I always reference the scene with my mum in the kitchen towards the end of the film. It’s just two people having a conversation, but you want to be able to pull tempo. You want it to feel natural and have flow rather than being on a strict tempo, which is more for bigger numbers like “Don’t Even Know It,” the opening song in the club where everything is choreographed to beats. The more intimate moments aren’t, so that’s where live vocals were amazing to be able to do.
DETOX: I think that the emotion of the scene translates better when you’re doing it live, and kudos because you sounded amazing throughout the whole film.
HARWOOD: Thank you so much.
DETOX: What are the top three things that you learned about drag queens through this whole experience?
HARWOOD: One massive thing I learned is that you lot make it look so easy.
DETOX: It’s hard.
HARWOOD: It’s really hard on the body. Like cinching corsets, tucking, all of those things. I was like, “Do people actually do this?” Even being in heels for however long is physically tough.
DETOX: I feel like an 80-year-old woman after doing this for 20 years. In your eyes, what makes a great, amazing drag queen?
HARWOOD: The drag queens I like are all really witty and are turning a look. I love the transformation. And the drag queens that really know how to hold a crowd and be the host.
DETOX: Which is an art form in itself.
HARWOOD: Yeah, to hold a room.
DETOX: Some queens do not need to ever hold a microphone.
HARWOOD: Don’t give them the microphone.
DETOX: Don’t pass the mic bitch. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. So, you said this is your first professional role as an actor.
DETOX: What a way to start your career. The reception has been amazing and it hasn’t even been released. What were some of the challenges you faced doing this role, preparing for it or the aftermath of it?
HARWOOD: The hardest part about this job was doing the job. There was a lot of pressure and the days were very long. We were shooting 12-hour days and it was essential that I was healthy mentally, physically, and emotionally while shooting because I had a lot to get through. I’ve trained doing theatre, and when you do a play you often rehearse it top to bottom and you perform the show top to bottom. Movies and TV aren’t like that. You can prep to some degree, but you shoot things completely out of order. So to keep my head in preparation, day to day, when we’re jumping around the screenplay, that was mind boggling to me.
DETOX: And production was postponed because of the pandemic, but you had started filming before the pandemic, correct?
HARWOOD: Yeah, we’d finished our principal photography, which is the bulk of the shoot. So we had 12 weeks and we’d wrapped. Then we had some pickups, which is very normal on films to grab a few more scenes or shots after the edit.
DETOX: Continuity and all that good stuff.
HARWOOD: Yeah, so we needed to go back and do that, which was postponed until April. Then COVID continued to happen. We managed to be one of the first UK productions to be back shooting after the first pandemic hit. That was nice, to be working. But then, again, coronavirus. So things just took a bit longer for this to come out. It was supposed to come out in 2019, then October 2020, and now we’re late 2021.
DETOX: So you had the mounting pressure of not only working on your first production but also having to deal with producing a film in the middle of a pandemic that was uncharted territory for everyone. Kudos to you and the entire team, because it looks seamless. It was such a joy to watch you because I’m a huge fan of the show and to see it on the big screen was an awesome thing. Had you seen the show before?
HARWOOD: I had, yeah. I’m such a music fan and knew lots of Feelings songs, which is Dan’s band. When I found out he’d written a musical, I was quite excited because I love musicals that have more of a pop score. So before knowing what the content was, I knew I was going to love the music. Then when I knew it was about a gay, young, effeminate person, I was like, “I’m going to really like this.” I went to see it in London with my three best friends and cried.
DETOX: What is next for Max Harwood?
HARWOOD: I’ve shot another film in the pandemic, which hasn’t been announced, which I’m starring in.
DETOX: So mum’s the word on that.
HARWOOD: So mum’s the word on that. And I’m shooting another film after this press tour, which is a folk horror film. Completely different from Jamie. And then I’m just continuing to create. I write as well. I’m writing music and I’m working on my own pop stuff, hopefully I’ll have some tracks coming out soon.
DETOX: I see you doing big things. I think that you’re phenomenally talented. It’s so great to watch all of your Stories and see how much fun you are having on your US press tour. What was your favorite part of your U.S. tour?
HARWOOD: I loved Miami beach. As soon as I got to Miami, I dumped my suitcase in my hotel, pulled my shorts out, took my clothes off, and ran straight to the beach, because we were there for less than 24 hours and I had one free hour before the Q&A. Outfest was a dream come true, to get to do a premiere and a carpet. That was bizarre because we haven’t even done that here yet.
DETOX: That’s wild that you guys haven’t done that yet.
HARWOOD: Yeah. The UK is smaller and we know a lot more about the show. So they’re holding off and they’ve got huge plans for the world premiere, which is happening on the 13th of September.
DETOX: What are you wearing?
HARWOOD: I don’t know what I’m allowed to say just yet. I’ve been loving the fashion moments and getting to chat with the designers and working with my stylist. I want to continue to be in a fashion space. I would love to do a biopic of a fashion designer or something like that.
DETOX: Who would be your first choice to play?
HARWOOD: Saint Laurent, maybe.
DETOX: That’s a good one. He’s got an amazing story. That was an off topic question. I feel like such an interviewer now.
HARWOOD: Back to you in the studio.
Streaming in over 250 countries, you can catch Everybody’s Talking About Jamie on Amazon Prime Video.
Groomer: Laura Costa
Special Thanks: Polaroid