ACTOR Max Harwood, who rose to fame by playing the lead role in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, has thanked his hometown Basingstoke for his career.

Max, who also performed on Strictly Come Dancing last month, said it was a grant from Basingstoke Theatre Trust that helped him pursue a one-year foundation course in musical theatre at The Guildford School Of Acting in Surrey.

“Without Basingstoke, I wouldn’t be where I’m now,” said the 25-year-old actor in an exclusive interview with The Gazette. “I started my theatrical career very early on, doing ballet with Miss Sharon at my school. Then I joined the BATS (Basingstoke Amateur Theatrical Society) NextGen group. Without all of them, I wouldn’t still have the love for what I do.

“I remember feeling so supportive when I sang a song at the Fairfields school. I definitely found my love for acting in those circles. It continues to influence me. I very much feel that Basingstoke is part of my identity.

“I was very lucky as well. When I was applying to go for my foundation year, I was given a grant of £9,000 by the Basingstoke Theatre Trust. It helped me pay for the fees for the foundation course, which was ridiculously expensive.”

Basingstoke Gazette: Max with Jamie Campbell at the premiere of his movie earlier this year. (PA)Max with Jamie Campbell at the premiere of his movie earlier this year. (PA)

His debut film Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, which was released on Amazon Prime in September, captured audiences around the world as Max portrayed Jamie New, a Sheffield teenager, who wants to be a drag queen.

Max said his experiences in growing up in Basingstoke helped him in portraying Jamie in the film.

“Basingstoke is not dissimilar to Sheffield,” Max said.

“My experience of growing up in Basingstoke was similar to what Jamie experienced. Some people liked to call me names and call me gay, although I had not come out at that time. Similarly, teenagers up and down in the country experience similar kinds of insults. In that way, I resonate with Jamie.

“I was the kid who sat in the back row of the history lesson at Bishop Challoner Secondary School and thinking ‘I want to be on the stage’.“But I had an incredibly supportive dad and mum, while Jamie had such a difficult relationship with his dad which we explore in the film.

“And I wasn’t confident as Jamie is. I wasn’t out then, and I definitely didn’t know myself as I do now. I think he was a lot braver and bolder than I was at 16.”

Growing up in Basingstoke, Max said Leisure Park, Aquadrome and Planet Ice were some of his favourite hangout places in town.

“Most of my family is in Basingstoke, so I grew up everywhere. I worked at Odeon cinema when I was 16. So, Leisure Park was a hangout place. I used to love the H20 Friday swim at the Aquadrome and the late skiing at Planet Ice. I spent a lot of time at BATS – lots of my socialising was with them, creating shows and being part of those shows.

“When I was working at Odeon, I watched all of the Hunger Games films and I remember taking the posters of Jennifer Lawrence and putting them in my bedroom.

“It was there I started aiming for my dreams. I used to tell myself – ‘I don’t want to be sweeping popcorns, I want to be up there on the screen’. But it was so far away and never felt like an achievable thing. But I believed in myself.”

Max also has the same advice for the young artists and theatre aspirants from Basingstoke.

“Basingstoke is a fantastic town. Just because you’re from Basingstoke it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything,” said Max.

“Go make music and sell out arenas. I also implore parents and councils to support them.”

While he prepares for his next film, The Loneliest Boy in the World, Max also shared his little ‘Basingstoke dream’with The Gazette: “I wish I get a chance to turn on the Christmas lights."