Breaking Barriers with Max Talisman
Max Talisman is a force within the filmmaking industry as an actor, director, and writer. Max started performing at a young age and continued to work on projects like Super Dark Times. Dedicated to representation in entertainment, he went on to write his own romantic comedy which he will star as the lead role in. Max spoke with us about his dreams and aspirations, his love for Serena Williams, and about his exciting new movie Things Like This.
What inspired you to write THINGS LIKE THIS?
When I was originally writing my first feature, I was drawn to something a little darker. Originally, I was writing a horror movie about sleep paralysis. Basically, while I was writing that, I was noticing that there were (finally) some queer romantic comedies being released. Love, Simon was first, followed by Alex Strangelove, and then there were a few more. All of these movies were mostly about coming out and the romantic part was a subplot, to the major struggle of these characters coming out. All of the sudden I was struck by the fact that there is no romantic comedy about two gay men, after coming out, just falling in love. Coming out is such a specific part of the journey, but my story as a gay man only began when I came out and that was a long time ago. During my whole adult life, I have been out of the closet and I know that there are thousands and thousands of gay men who haven’t felt represented by seeing a true love story between two men, where coming out has already happened, and the fact that they’re gay is just a fact. For this reason, Things Like This had to be made and is in the process of being made. When I realized there was a need, I stopped writing my sleep paralysis script and, in a week, and a half I had my first draft of the script for Things Like This. I wrote this movie because I can’t imagine anything else being my first script, at the end of the day. I am so proud to be bringing a genuinely funny, and heartwarming gay love story to the screen.
How did you select the amazing group of cast members?
Luck. I’m kind of joking, but the absolutely stunning cast that we have assembled is beyond my wildest dreams. The first person I sent to with the script is my good friend and costar from Super Dark Times and “Ozark” star Charlie Tahan. When you make connections on a set, like the one we made working together, it just makes you want to work together again and again – I love Charlie! Let’s talk about all the other breathtaking talent we’ve been able to secure. Academy Award Nominee Eric Roberts, this man stars in, The Dark Knight, which is my absolute favorite movie of all time. I just wish someone could have whispered to “little Max” watching TDK in 2008 and told him, you’re going to work with that actor playing Falconi. It’s just too much for words. We also have 3X Academy Award Nominee Dyan Cannon; we had always hoped we’d find someone who would knock her part out of the park. My mom showed my family Heaven Can Wait, when we were very, very young and now, I have the opportunity to work with one of Hollywood’s greatest icons. So, this is another situation where I’m pinching myself at the casting because it’s almost serendipitous. Jasmin Savoy Brown, is one of the most talented young actresses around and I’ve known her since we were juniors in high school, so when we were casting this part, I knew she’s who I wanted. There are so many iconic people in this film that I am only scratching the surface. With that said, 4X Grammy Award Winning Superstar T-Boz is gracing us with her fabulousness – Beyoncé called her one of HER heroes. This is a cast that doesn’t come around every day. Michael D. Cohen (Henry Danger), Romy and Jake Reiner, and Krista Allan (Liar, Liar) are some of the other stunning actors we have. It would be remiss of me not to mention Primetime Emmy Nominee Miles Tagtmeyer, who will be playing the other romantic lead. He sent me the greatest audition tape I have seen in my life and his third scene on the tape made me cry. It was not an easy role to cast at all but he is the perfect actor to bring Zack Mandel to life and he’s such an incredible person beyond that. Miles and I have created a true friendship, that will make our chemistry palpable. I’m just so excited!
What was your favorite part about working in theater?
My favorite part of working in theater was getting to interact with an audience. There’s a special relationship between a theater performer and the audience, when it’s live. Its hard to put into words but I genuinely miss that part quite a lot. I think that performing in a live setting makes you more ready to be on a film set. You can imagine how an audience would react to your scenes and your lines. I will also say that performing as a child in Washington DC, was the beginning of a dream that would come into fruition. It just shows that any stage is an important stage to be performing on, because you never know where the next stage will be.
How did your theater career help prepare you for the big screen?
I think it helped me in a lot of ways. As a director, I think it’s made me be much more collaborative, at least off the bat. My natural instinct, because of theater, is to make each scene a team effort, with me really as a team leader more than anything else. Theater is such a collaborative art and everyone is working together to make something beautiful. I think that can be true to film too, especially when you’re working with the right team. So, transferring that kind of work ethic to the screen has been extremely helpful for me. Also, it has given me a deep love for improvisation, which while working on comedy, is one of the most important devices to getting some comedy gold. I love when a director gives me permission to riff on a set. I remember when I did “Orange is the New Black” Matthew Weiner was directing the episode, and he gave us permission to just go for it and create some beautiful organic moments. Kevin Phillips did the same on Super Dark Times. When a director gives you the support for improvisation, my theater background has given me all the tools I need to create some magic. Dyan Cannon texted me asking if I would allow improvisation on set, and I told her that I think we’ll be making a huge mistake not to and she just responded, “bravo.” Improv can create moments that become truly iconic. They create life in comedy.
Discuss your first memory of performing.
When I was 12 and 13 years old, I starred in the regional premiere of Caroline, Or Change, in Washington DC. I took two days off during the run of the show for my bar mitzvah but I was so excited to get back because that show was really my first taste at what it was like to be a working professional in this industry. All of my cast mates have such a deep love for performing, and I’m extremely grateful that they let me feel like one of the gang. I was invited to all dinners, all hangouts, and even after show drinks, although I had soda! I felt that being part of the show, validated the fact that performing and working in this industry was my calling. To be able to experience that at such a young age is something I’m deeply grateful for. I’m not sure I’d be the performer or actor I am, if it weren’t for that production and time in my life.
Do you have a favorite memory working on Super Dark Times from on or off set?
I have a lot of amazing stories about Super Dark Times and filming that movie was one of the best months of my life. I would say my favorite part is making the connections and friendships that I made on the set of that film. My favorite moment was probably our last day of filming. We had all created a family, it’s true. On the last day of filming, I had a scene where my character has a monologue and so for two hours, I just got to hang with some of my new best friends and shared a crazy story, while walking in a gorgeous setting. When we wrapped the scene, the entire team had flowers ready for us. We laughed, we cried, and we drank. Then we partied the night away. Those moments stay with you forever.
Who is your dream dinner guest and why?
Serena Williams. She’s just the most inspiring person in this world to me. What she has done goes far beyond tennis, and her impact on the court. I’m a huge fan of her as a player, but more importantly a human being. I really would love to just hear how she became such a fierce force of nature. Her work ethic, her drive. It goes beyond what almost anyone has done, and so I’d love to learn what pushes her forward every single day. I’m currently writing her a cameo in the movie, which if she does it, it would be beyond words. She is such a paragon of what it means to be a fighter. She has been close to her deathbed twice, and both times has come back to play at Wimbledon. Her will of spirit is something we all need to learn from. I hope someday I have the chance to sit in a room with her and just tell her how her journey has inspired me every single day. Every day I wake up and I tell myself “live today like Serena and push yourself to be the best version of yourself that you could ever be.” That’s what she does every day. I’m in awe and I could go on about the importance of Serena Williams for days
What is your dream role?
I will say getting to play a romantic lead in a gay romantic comedy that I wrote is pretty dream role worthy. Especially as someone who doesn’t fit what some misguided people consider a “normal” leading man should look like. I’m proud to be someone who doesn’t fit that “Jell-O mold” and I think for a lot of people who want to see themselves represented; this is a moment to be proud of. All of that makes this an absolute dream come true. I hope to have the chance to have many dream roles, and dreams be realized. I want to keep pushing boundaries on what people would expect me to play. I think it’s important to challenge these parameters we have created in what we think a person should play on screen. My dream is to expand those parameters and keep playing great characters with fully realized stories.
Is there someone you would love to collaborate with? What kind of project would you want to do?
I am waiting to be a series regular on a sitcom and really sink my teeth into a show and character for a at least one season! I even have 13 episodes of a show I wrote ready to go. As far as collaborators, I love “You’re the Worst” and “Happy Endings,” so working and collaborating with either Stephen Falk, or David Caspe would be a dream for me. They both have created shows that are funny but hit you in the heart when you least expect it with real beauty, and deeply human moments. I would love to work with Australian Comedian, Actor, and Writer Josh Thomas. I think he’s creating some really amazing work, especially in the queer community, and I think we’d have a lot of fun collaborating together. Lastly, Pamela Adlon is doing some of the best work on TV right now both behind the camera, and in front of it, on “Better Things.”
What does representation in the industry mean to you? What would you like to see more of?
Representation means that I don’t have to use the word “gay” to describe my romcom. Right now I do, and I know I do. I’m honestly just so happy that I get to make this movie and that it can break some barriers, but I just want to refer to it as a romantic comedy, with no other qualifiers. These questions are deeply important because we need to take stock of how we are representing every single community. The world is so gorgeous but it’s gorgeous because of humanities differences. Everyone is beautiful, special, and deserves to have their story told, and deserves to see themselves on screen. I would like to see more of movies where there are many, many different identities, and people. I want to see many, many more trans stories told. The fact that there isn’t a movie honoring Marsha P. Johnson, or Sylvia Rivera yet is shocking. These trans women of color began the LGBTQ rights movement, and no one had thought to tell their story? This goes far beyond that. Until our content reflects the beautiful diversity that this world truly is, then I think we need to do better.
You can only bring three things with you to a deserted island. What are they?
A journal, a pink gel pen, a jukebox.
What is something you are looking forward to in the next year?
I am looking forward to getting to work on projects I love, with people I love. Cheesy answer, but I am who I am, baby.
Talent Max Talisman @themaxtshow
Photographer Bonnie Nichoalds @bonnienichoalds
Grooming Arlene Willis @missarlenethequeen
Stylist Ambika Sanjana @styledbyambika
Interview by Aris Pangan @arisjpangan