It is always fun to catch up with past students busy making headway in their interesting and challenging careers after Hurtwood. It is particularly fascinating, however, when you find them at potentially key intersections, on the cusp so to speak, with all kinds of possibilities suddenly in the mix. Is this a sudden development in Max’s case? On many levels, no. He left Hurtwood in 2014 already with some key theatrical work to his name, but with a real hunger for success and, of course, much to achieve.
Meeting him again for the first time in five years via Facetime, he was bubbling with energy and self-analysis, much as I remember him five years back. Also in evidence, however, is considerable humility, given that he has just landed some substantial critical accolades for his performance as asylum seeker Viktor Goraya, in the impressive BBC series ‘Years and Years’. This provocative production offers an imaginative vision of our near future in terms of technical and political trends evident already in our contemporary world, and it is both convincing and disturbing in equal measure. The writing is top drawer, as are the body of actors with whom he worked. Lots to catch up on, little time to waste: how has he arrived at this point?
With impromptu good luck I catch Max back in London briefly, before heading back to Croatia the following day, filming an action TV series ‘in which lots of things get blown up’, which at this point must alas remain nameless. Certainly he is riding the crest of a wave of interesting acting challenges right now, with four big jobs in the bag this year and with plenty of news to share.
When he arrived at Hurtwood seven years ago Max already had some highly credible performances to his name. The biggest of these was the role of Stepan in ‘Mr Bean’s Holiday’, and this was by way of a glorious contrast with Caesarion, illegitimate offspring of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra in HBO’s iconic and ironic blockbuster (surely in tone and mood a forerunner of ‘Game of Thrones’?) So he was already off the blocks then, but still looking for the next big part, the next step on the ladder. The ensuing two years gave him wide-ranging experience across many genres with amazing in-house stage work over the two years of A levels (English, History, Theatre Studies). He clearly valued the input of so many of the professionals who cajoled and encouraged him over his time, so much so, that like many ex-students he still seeks their counsel at key moments.
‘The special thing about Hurtwood,’ he tells me, ‘is the people that it draws in, and the community of like-minded teachers, mentors, everyone.’ Good to hear. This is, of course, especially pleasing to us as teachers. ‘[Hurtwood] doesn’t try to make you into a specific type of person. It just brings out who you really are.’
A levels over, it was then off to Edinburgh University to study English Literature. This proved a more challenging role – and Max is reflective about his failure to complete this. With a fine intellect, and a profound interest in character and ideas it seemed the obvious course, while he waited for the next acting ‘break’. What he had not taken into account was his restlessness, especially when he felt uninspired both by the texts and course. Unsettled and depressed, he was lured away by a part in long-running soap, Channel 4’s ‘Hollyoaks’, as Liam Donovan. It becomes clear that this decision troubles Max; of the many elements that Hurtwood provided, he valued the wise mentoring of acting teacher Adrian Rawlinson (‘H’ to those who know him), most recently in Chernobyl. H actually advised him to turn the role down, yet acknowledged that he knew he would take it. Turning to H ‘at all moments of panic and joy,’ he tells me, he knew that there was a deep psychological need to get back to ‘doing’. Max remains rather sheepish about the year-long experience, he also identifies ‘the snobbishness of the business’ that on one level threatened to maroon him in a typecast role. Nothing is wasted, I remind him. No indeed: unknown to him he had been spotted by writer extraordinaire Russell T Davis. He meanwhile had to weather the challenges of survival, leaving ‘Hollyoaks’ behind, and once again seek work without much success, hoping for the longed-for break. Bar work followed and a particularly low point was working as a Deliveroo rider in the eighteen months or so that followed.
Then it all changed. Davis had, it seemed, decided to ‘write a part for that boy’, having seen him in the soap, and ‘connecting the dots later in life’, he now sees that high and low culture can and do meet in strange ways. After a long time of seeming failure, things changed. Auditioning for ‘Years and Years’, Maxim felt confident and comfortable; after a painful two-month delay he got the part and the tide turned. ‘It opened the door to many things,’ he enthuses, and suddenly four jobs followed in quick succession. He takes all of this very seriously. ‘I wanted to get back my credibility… Earn my stripes’. He certainly seems to have done so, and has been involved in some extraordinary projects over the last year, which he shares with me. One in particular also involved the incredibly talented Russell T Davis but, once again, must remain under wraps until early 2020.
One role that he can be candid about is a film, a comedy drama written by (and featuring) Emma Thompson, focusing on a girl in the middle of an existential crisis. Played by Emilia Clarke, it is called ‘Last Christmas’. ‘If you like Christmas and George Michael,’ he assures me, ‘you will love it.’ Sounds promising. What was it like to act with Deanerys Targarian is the inevitable next question, especially as G O T had provided a wonderful sounding board in class back in the day, for evaluating the techniques of shock, entertainment and sheer brilliance of narrative unfolding. He is effusive in his praise of this luminous actress, who is ‘beautiful inside and out,’ he makes clear. Like many others he seems to be in thrall to the ‘Mother of Dragons’. Paul Fieg (of ‘Freaks and Geeks’ fame, he tells me) directed, and the combination of talent briefly overwhelmed him at one point. He confesses to almost having a panic attack. I suggest that he has ‘arrived’ at this point, but again his answer is ‘not yet.’ He is certainly poised at a moment in his career with all kinds of possible new paths, and we shall see what the future brings.
More feedback, I ask, on acting with the likes of Russell Tovey, Emma Thompson, Rory Kinnear, Jessica Hynes, Ruth Madely, to name only a few of the hugely talented yet understated actors he has so recently worked with? He clearly is in awe across the board, but has enormous praise for the support from Tovey: by way of preparing for a pretty challenging and intimate scene with him, he went out of his way to put Max at his ease. He was really helpful, apparently. ‘He let me in,’ he confides, and ‘he didn’t have to do that.’ His support and friendship remain invaluable to Max. The scene incidentally was wonderfully torrid and high octane, the great chemistry on show. So well done, Max – you made some of us blush, which has got to be a good thing, surely? Without question he found himself working with marvelous actors who are ‘wonderfully instinctive’, and many of whom are, like him, not formally trained.
‘Rome’ was likewise an impressive parade of some of the finest actors at work today, but I am guessing that different things might have left their mark on him at the tender age of 11. He tells a funny story of his chaperone taking a wrong turn on set which ended up in ‘a room full of naked women.’ As I say, he was probably distracted.
So back to the now: he is heading to Croatia until early November, subsisting on a diet of ‘meat and creamed potatoes’. He confesses that he is not being particularly stretched on the acting front, but is working with some great people and having lots of fun on this high-budget action series.
As we part – his phone keeps ringing and people various pass through – he once again bats away my praise of his moving performance as the beloved Viktor at the heart of ‘Years and Years’. Actually, he admits to a certain terror about his role as an actor. ‘It’s such a temporary existence. The fear in a sense never goes away.’ At the end of the six months filming they all shared that unease about what would come next. Interestingly it took only two months to hit our small screens, and he now seems up to his ears in great work and good reviews. I remind him again about how prophetic and engaging this series was in forcing us to think more deeply in our Brexit/Trump world. ‘I have no idea what I’m doing half the time,’ he jokingly responds. We agree that this is a near-universal fear, but it is also good to think that Hurtwood has added another layer to his experience and time, one that will not go unused. I cannot wait to see the new performances as they emerge.
Let’s go for maximum Max I say, and thanks for sharing your post-Hurtwood journey with us!