On the heels
of a big break

Lauren Patel, the Bolton-based newcomer, talks about starring in the film version of hit musical Everyone’s Talking About Jamie

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As Lauren Patel procrastinated on her drama homework, she stumbled upon an opportunity that would change her life forever. Then an A-level student living at home with her parents in Horwich, Bolton, Patel, an acting newbie with no formal training, spotted a casting call for South Asian teenage girls to attend an audition 20 miles down the road in Manchester.

“I’m always going to love the North. And even if I’m further away, I’ll still be here every weekend.”

Patel auditioned for the role of Pritti Pasha in the film version of hit stage musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie for “experience”, if nothing else. She never imagined she’d get the role.

Fast-forward two years and Patel has just returned from a tour across the United States promoting the film ahead of its launch on Amazon Prime on 17 September.

“It all happened really quickly,” says Patel. “I think I sent my first tape in on 5 May [2019] and I found that I got the job three weeks later, and we started filming the following month. It was really fast.”

For those who haven’t yet heard of the Jamie everybody’s talking about, the musical was inspired by the 2011 BBC Three documentary Jamie: Drag Queen At 16, which followed Jamie Campbell, then a year 11 boy who decided to wear a dress to his school prom, and the fall-out when his teachers tried to ban him.

The stage show premiered at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre in 2017, to critical acclaim, before transferring to the West End, opening up conversations about gender, identity, prejudice, acceptance and diversity to audiences across the country when the show went on tour.

This year those conversations, and the musical’s catchy numbers, are set to reach a global audience with the release of the film adaptation.

The film follows Jamie New (Max Harwood), a teenager growing up in Parson Cross, a working-class suburb of Sheffield.

While his classmates mull over their futures, Jamie secretly dreams of bright lights, lipstick and a career as a drag queen, one day finding fame on the stages of San Francisco.

His best friend Pritti (Patel) and his loving mum (Sarah Lancashire) shower him with support, while drag legend Miss Loco Chanelle (Richard E Grant) mentors him towards his debut stage performance at a drag night.

But it’s not all rainbows for Jamie as his unsupportive dad (Ralph Ineson), an uninspiring career adviser (Sharon Horgan) and school bullies try to rain on his dreams. In rousing and uplifting musical numbers, Jamie and his community inspire one another to be more accepting.

“Our director [Jonathan Butterell] always says that this is not a coming out story,” says Patel. “Jamie is already out as a gay boy so the film isn’t really about that.

“It’s about how he has decided that he wants to be a drag queen, and he is in Parson Cross in Sheffield, where you don’t get a lot of drag queens, and it’s about him navigating that decision and how the people in his life react to him just wanting to live as himself.”

When Jamie’s mum Margaret buys him his first pair of red, sparkly sky-high stilettos for his 16th birthday – proudly telling the shop assistant they are for her son, not her daughter – Pritti, a studious, hijab-wearing Muslim who dreams of becoming a doctor, is the first person Jamie shows them to.

“I think their friendship is just so pure and so wholesome,” says Patel. “Pritti is very much by the book, she’s very sensible, she’s got her head screwed on, and she knows exactly where she wants to be. She is absolutely a Hermione. She’s terrified of getting into trouble, which I can definitely relate to.

“I love that she and Jamie are just polar opposites of each other. They’re just from two completely different worlds, but they both love each other so much and they both try so hard to understand each other.”

Patel hopes her character’s non-judgmental questions about Jamie’s desire to become a drag performer open him up to a range of audiences who may not have encountered a character like Jamie before.

“I’m sure there are audience members who don’t understand Jamie and have never seen someone like Jamie or known someone like Jamie,” she says. “So I think it’s really lovely to have Pritti there to ask the questions and be asking them because she loves him and because she wants to know him properly.”

For Patel, acting isn’t something that runs in the family. She comes from a family of pharmacists and teachers, but she credits her initial interest in acting to her older brother, now a lighting technician, who often talked her into putting on shows with him when they were young.

Patel attended Carol Godby’s Theatre Workshop in Bury, joining alumni Helen Flanagan, Georgia May Foote and Jennie McAlpine with her early acting success.

Patel was in the process of applying for drama schools when she was selected for the role of Pritti, but she’s put those plans on hold for now.

“I decided not to go to drama school, because I’m just going to enjoy this time with the film coming out,” she says. “I’ve got a wonderful agent and I’m auditioning for lots of fun stuff, so I’m just going to do this and see where it takes me. And if I want to go back to drama school, then I can go in the future.”

Patel knows her acting career may eventually take her all over the country and beyond, but she insists her heart will always be in the North.

“I’m always going to be a northern gal,” she says. “I’m always going to love the North. And even if I’m further away, I’ll still be here every weekend.”

Patel’s ambition is to become a versatile actor who can do “everything”, transforming with every role she takes on. But for now she is fully immersed in the world of Jamie and Pritti.

“I feel like Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is just a celebration of LGBT people and of anybody who feels different or marginalised. And I feel like that’s going to resonate with a lot of people.”

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is available on Prime Video

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