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In Conversation: Max Raphael

Max Raphael is a nineteen-year-old actor and filmmaker from London. Having acted from an early age, he began writing and directing during 2017, whilst making short films during his down time on set. That same year, he picked up photography, and has since shot album covers, editorial pieces and, last year, his first fashion campaign. Fresh off the back of starring in Disney’s ‘Black Beauty’ last year, his latest film ‘School’s Out Forever’ is released February 2021.

Photo @connorpickenfilms

Max, it’s come to our attention that you’re very much a triple threat, delving into acting, photography and directing. How important do you think it is for creatives to spread their wings and delve into various other aspects of creativity?

I think it can be really helpful. Putting yourself in boxes is only going to constrain you. That’s not me saying be a jack-of-all-trades - find something you’re passionate about and work hard at it. But if you’re a creative person, then I’d say try letting that creativity go wherever it wants to - you might surprise yourself. Personally, being creative is a way to keep healthy, mentally - having an outlet is so important, so delving into different mediums has always been a really useful way for me to try and avoid burnout.

Could you tell us where all this creativity started, and how it developed into your other creative ventures?


I got into acting when I was really young - seven or eight - and I did it for a couple years before taking some time away to just be a kid, I suppose. I found it again at 14 and haven’t really stopped. It’s a lovely feeling, to discover what you’re going to do with your life. Scary too. But it opened up so many avenues, creatively. I got my start in British indie films, and even though working on big, high budget projects is great, I’ll always love doing indie stuff - the last one I shot was the most fun I’ve ever had on a set. It’s about to come out, actually. I’ve been fascinated by storytelling for forever, so I try to do that in whatever I’m doing. I think that writing follows naturally from that. Photography too - plus, when your job is literally having a camera pointed at you, I think it’s only fair to want to get behind one at some point. I really got into it a couple of years ago and have just kept shooting since then.

You mentioned the latest film you worked on, 'School's Out Forever', was the most fun. Could you tell us more about the film itself?

Yeah, absolutely. Ironically, it’s about a pandemic - the world is thrown into chaos and a rag-tag bunch of survivors hole up in a posh boarding school, slowly going insane together while fighting for their lives. It’s kind of like ‘Lord of the Flies’ meets ‘Contagion’ meets ‘If...’. There’s a real humanity to the film, despite how brutal it can get - Ollie, our director, has this amazing ability to create properly exciting action whilst still making us care so much about the characters. It’s a really hard thing to achieve as a filmmaker but he does it so effortlessly. I think people are going to really like it.

What was the process of creating ‘School’s Out Forever’ and bringing it to life? Could you give us some on set exclusives?

It was honestly brilliant. Within about two days everyone knew everyone, so it felt like a real team effort. Our crew were super talented, and Ollie is a wonderful director to work with - he made us all feel so comfortable with trying things out, so building a character became this very natural process - especially when you factor in how good the script was. I think there was just a feeling in the air that what we were making was special. We really bonded as a cast, as well - I love all of them to bits. It’s always nice when you genuinely get on with the people you’re working with, and it helped keep morale high even when some of what we were filming got pretty dark. There’s a lot of stunt-work in the film too, fight scenes are always great to shoot. Being repeatedly slammed into a bookcase by someone at 3 in the morning isn’t exactly glamorous, but it’s so much fun. What’s very weird is that we shot the whole thing pre-covid - it’s inadvertently become such a timely film. 

In terms of your character, if there was one song to represent your character in your latest film ‘School’s Out Forever’ what would it be?


Hmmm, tough question. I often listen to music to get into character - usually I’ll end up with a whole playlist by the time we start shooting. My character ‘Wiley’ is quite unstable emotionally and suffers from poor mental health - people in his position often find music very therapeutic, so a big part of understanding him was finding what he listened to. Lots of very fast paced, hard hitting music: Queens of the Stone Age, Babymetal etc. If I had to pick one song to represent him, though… probably something like ‘Dropped’ by Atoms for Peace or ‘Sea Within a Sea’ by Horrors.

‘School’s Out Forever’ was shot pre-pandemic, how has your creativity been affected since this within regards to quarantine? Have you been working on any project within quarantine?


I’ve been disappearing into film and TV even more than usual lately - revisiting old classics and discovering new stuff. It’s a nice way to forget about the state of the world, and it keeps me on my toes creatively. I’ve been thinking a lot today about ‘Maniac’, by Cary Fukunanga - why did people not talk more about that show? I loved it. I’ve been reading more, too. I’m about halfway through ’The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy. It’s fantastic.

I spend a lot of my time writing at the moment - I’ve got a couple of projects in development so those have been keeping me busy. I wrote my first feature length screenplay during the first lockdown way back when, so that’s proving kind of a nice touchstone for me to return to every now and again if I ever feel like I’m running out of steam - it happens. But having so much time on my hands has meant that I can really knuckle down and work hard on developing ideas.

Photo @connorpickenfilms

How has living in London influenced your work, specifically your photography?

It’s a bit of a cliché, that whole ‘the city is a character in the story’ thing, but it's one I have a bit of a soft spot for. I love the London I know, but I like that that’ll be completely different from the London of someone who lives a half hour drive from me. It’s such a massive city, and I don’t think that there’s one definitive ‘London’ per se. The London of Richard Curtis and the London of Guy Ritchie are very different, but it’s the same city at the end of the day. Sometimes I’ll just walk for a good three hours and an idea for a photo or a story will form in my head because of something I see. It’s an endless source of new ideas for stuff, precisely because it’s this constantly changing, undefinable place. It’s got a remarkable photographic pedigree, too - David Bailey has always been a massive influence for me. His photos exude an attitude that I think you can only find in London. It’s indescribable, but you just know it when you see it.

In terms of your photography, what has been your greatest piece of work so far?


That’s tricky. I know that my friend Mason Newman, who’s a very talented fashion designer and artist, has a print of one of my pictures on his wall. It’s a shot I took of him that ended up being the basis of a limited line of his. I love fashion, so actually wearing something with one of my images on it was pretty surreal.

Is there any specific creatives you look to for influence?

Oh my god, so many. Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver, springs to mind. I love his music, and for some reason it always puts me in the mood to write. In terms of film, directors like Lars Von Trier and Edgar Wright, George Lucas, Tarantino, the Coens, Martin MacDonagh, The Zucker Brothers - the list goes on. Writers like Philip K. Dick and Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. Marco Pierre White. Anthony Hopkins. Kenneth Branagh. John Mayer is my style guru.

Philip Seymour Hoffmann was my hero - as an actor, I don’t think anyone’s ever done it better. Sometimes I’ll spend a whole afternoon rehearsing a scene from ‘The Master’ or ‘Synechdoche, New York’ to myself in my room, trying to get inside his head. I never will. But he’s been such an important influence on my journey as an actor.

Photo @connorpickenfilms

Going back to film for a minute, if you could have anyone play you in a movie who would it be and why?


Ha. This is tough. I don’t know if Ryan Gosling would look right for it, as much as I’d like to give myself that compliment... So is this a movie about current, 19 year old me? In that case, maybe someone like Jack Grazer, or Will Poulter. They’re both brilliant. If it was a slightly older me... probably Kenneth Branagh. Or Paddy Considine. Or Ewan McGregor. Or Robert Sheehan. I’m beginning to realise that I’d be a shit casting director.

I think I’d have to go for Branagh. He’s a genius, and we apparently have quite similar looking mouths. Yeah. Branagh it is.

If you were to have a film, say about your life, 'The Life of Max Raphael'. What song would you have play when the end credits run?


‘Ramble On’ by Led Zeppelin. Didn’t even have to think about that one. Something about it just makes me feel so optimistic. A little serotonin boost. The lyrics represent a kind of outlook I’d love to live by. Then again, in typical Led Zep fashion it turns out they’re actually all about ‘The Hobbit’ - come to think of it, the entire verse about Gollum and Mordor should probably have been a tip off. Not sure if that’s disappointing or fun or both. At least the bassline is really fucking cool.

Are there any creative ventures that you are interested in getting into, that you have yet to experiment with? Have you got any projects lined up? Are any of them outside of photography, acting and directing?

I’m completely obsessed with animation - so I’d love to do an animated project at some point. Working with Michael Dante di Martinez and Bryan Konietzko, who created ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’, is a bit of a dream of mine. If you’re one of those people that ‘doesn’t like animation’, watch ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse’. I’d love to make something like that. There are projects on the way this year, yeah. Lots of writing, and I’m looking forward to directing again. Acting too, of course. I can’t say too much right now, but I’m really excited about them.

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