Jamie New is the kind of character you’re used to seeing play the sidekick: sassy, flamboyant, witty, queer. His creators understand the power of handing him the spotlight in their extravagant new movie Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.
“Although it feels rather niche, about a 16-year-old boy who wants to come out as a drag queen at prom, we never wanted it to be a coming-out story,” director Jonathan Butterell tells EW. “It’s about how you take your place in the world.”
Over the past few years, Jamie’s fizzy energy and gorgeous dreams have captured the hearts of a global audience. Inspired by Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, a 2011 TV documentary, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie premiered as a stage musical at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, England, before transferring to the West End for a smash multiyear run. (Tours in the U.K. and Australia had been set for 2020, but uncertainty looms due to the coronavirus pandemic.) Playwright Tom MacRae and composer Dan Gillespie Sells teamed up again for the film adaptation; Butterell — who was also part of the show’s Sheffield origins — makes his film debut.
The story’s spirit remains in the film, with one new mandate: Go bigger (and gayer). In the stage version, the action is confined mostly to the classroom; Jamie isn’t always in full drag since, well, elaborate makeup jobs take hours, too long for a live quick-change. From the opening number, styled as a glitzy cinematic sequence, the movie takes us into the fabulousness of Jamie’s mind. “We go from this amazing fantasy nightclub, in the contemporary Studio 54 way, to a high-fashion catwalk,” Butterell teases. “We turned the school canteen into a ballroom! It’s a scale of imagination film lets you have.”
In the film’s casting process, Butterell and the team saw more than 3,000 young actors. Newcomer Max Harwood sent along a casual audition tape months into the process — and instantly won everyone over. “He literally just said hello, and you just felt this kind of life force,” Butterell recalls. “He was our Jamie.”
As for writer MacRae, he sees in Harwood’s Jamie the boy he originated, and saw in himself. “There’s a courage to him that we get to celebrate,” he says. “He doesn’t compromise on who he is. We’ve never had a lead character like that before.”
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie will be released later in 2020.
A version of this story appears in the June issue of Entertainment Weekly, which you can order now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.