When Lauren Patel attended an open call for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, she thought she was just going for some early career audition experience. Little did she realize she had just walked into the room that would award her with her screen acting debut, and on the big screen no less. With limited acting experience and little exposure to the world of drag, Patel charmed director Jonathan Butterell with a nervous, but controlled energy that was perfect for her debut role, Pritti Pasha.
Based the West End musical of the same name (itself based on the TV documentary Jamie: Drag Queen at 16), Everybody’s Talking About Jamie follows 16 year old Jamie New, an aspiring drag queen struggling to fit in as a queer student amongst his peers. Patel takes the role of Pritti Pasha, a Muslim student who is Jamie’s best friend and supporter. She discovers the fascinating world of drag and performance alongside him, and despite their polar opposite personalities and goals, she and Jamie are always there for each other.
We had a chat with Lauren Patel about her experience working on her first film, her budding friendship with costar Max Harwood, and her newfound experiences in the film industry.
Congratulations on your screen debut in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie! Has being a part of this film changed your life? If so in what ways?
It definitely has! I am so fortunate to be able to pursue acting as a career now and to be meeting people for some really cool projects, and I met so many wonderful people whilst making Jamie that I know will be friends for life.
Tell us about your role in the film. Who is Pritti Pasha?
Pritti is Jamie’s best friend, she’s quite shy and very sensible and in a lot of ways the complete opposite of Jamie. She isn’t afraid to ask questions and even though they’re both so different, Pritti and Jamie love each other unconditionally and I think that’s lovely.
What kind of preparation did you do to play Pritti? Do you relate to her in any way?
During the film Pritti is introduced to the world of drag for the first time, which I can definitely relate to. Before doing Jamie I’d just seen a couple of episodes of [RuPaul’s] Drag Race and that was all I knew. I remember walking onto the makeup trailer and seeing Anna Phylactic, Myra Dubois, and Son of a Tutu’s stunning makeup and outfits and just being blown away! Before we started shooting, we did a lot of prep for the big dance numbers which was a challenge for me, but I loved it and was surrounded by such amazing dancers that broke everything down for me to learn. We also had an amazing acting coach Alison Rashley working with everyone both before and during shooting.
I heard you auditioned for Jamie through an open casting call while studying in college. What made you decide to go for it?
Honestly — the only reason I saw it was because I was putting off doing my Drama homework! I looked on open audition websites a lot and went to a couple of open calls in my area just for the audition experience. Throughout the audition process I just kept saying to myself “Ok I’m not going to get this but at least I’m getting audition experience” and then I blinked and I was on set!
Since this is your debut, did you have any acting experience before your audition? What do you think won the producers over?
I’ve worked as an extra during the summer holidays just because I wanted to see how TV sets worked. It was loads of fun. Our director Jonny [Butterell] said I came in with a nervous energy that suited Pritti really well. (I was hoping they wouldn’t be able to tell how nervous I was!)
What is the most important thing you want viewers to take away from Jamie and Pritti’s dynamic?
I think the wonderful thing about Pritti is that when she’s faced with something she doesn’t understand she doesn’t just run in the opposite direction. I hope her role in this film encourages people to learn and ask questions about groups they may not have interacted with before instead of just turning the other way.
Were you familiar with Jamie: Drag Queen at 16, the TV documentary Jamie was based on before auditioning for the film? How about the West End musical?
I saw the West End recording of the show whilst I was auditioning and loved it, it was SO joyful and I loved seeing a south Asian character in musical theatre (I think she’s the first south Asian character I’ve ever seen in a show). I remember the songs being stuck in my head for ages and thinking how great the original cast were. I watched the documentary during prep for the film and was so inspired by Jamie Campbell’s bravery.
Did you know anything about drag culture or performance before working on the film? Did you need to learn about it for the role?
I think Pritti doesn’t know a lot about drag and only learns it through Jamie being in that world and I kind of did the same, learning through watching Max [Harwood] being a fabulous drag queen and talking to all the other queens on set.
How was your overall experience working on the film? Were you nervous going in as a newcomer?
I was SO nervous, but a lot of people on that set were there for the first time and felt the same. It was really nice to be able to be so honest with everyone about how overwhelming it all was! I felt completely supported.
How did you get along with Max Harwood, who plays Jamie?
We’re very lucky that we got on as well as we did since we spent so much time together! I love Max and I can’t wait to see him shine on the big screen. This is his first film too so we’re kind of going through this whole crazy journey together.
Favorite West End musical? Movie musical?
Wicked! I saw Kerry Ellis’s last show as Elphaba when I was 12 and it was electric, it was what made me decide I wanted to be a performer. My favourite movie musical is La La Land, I’ve seen it more times than I can remember.
What new insights into the film industry have you gotten from working on your first movie?
It amazes me just how much gets left out in the final product, I find myself watching films now and thinking “I wonder how long that two minute scene took to shoot.”
Any dream actors or filmmakers you would love to work with on future projects?
I would love to work with Greta Gerwig, I love the way she writes, I’m honestly just excited to be in this industry and have the opportunity to work with any brilliant filmmakers.
Are there any particular actresses you look up to or model yourself after?
I think actresses like Mindy Kaling and Jameela Jamil have been very influential to me.
Do you have any other projects on the horizon we can look forward to? If so can you tell us about them?