Max Talisman will make his screenwriting and directorial debut this year with his upcoming gay romantic comedy, Things Like This. He has assembled a talented ensemble cast, casting names like Charlie Tahan (Ozark), Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight), and Miles Tagtmeyer (Disney Descendants; School of Secrets) to bring to life his story about two young gay men, who happen to have the same name living in NYC, as they fall in love.
Talisman is also a talented actor who starred in the 2017 film Super Dark Times, and has appeared in Orange is the New Black, Search Party, and The Blacklist.
Before the holidays we chatted with Max Talisman about Things Like This, coming out, and his post-pandemic plans.
Interview: Max Talisman
Maggie Lovitt (ML): So when did you first know that you wanted to be part of the film industry.
Max Talisman (MT): It was a mix of a lot of different things. I felt like I could make the biggest impact if I did film, instead of theater. I love theater and I love my background in theater. My whole thing is that I want people to feel represented and seen. In theater, I can do that, but in film I can do that in a global way. I wouldn't be able to have the same reach in theater.
I started to realize that film acting, writing, and directing was a way for me to go right around when I left college. I just felt like that was where my journey needed to go so I could tell the stories that I needed to tell, at the level that I needed to tell them.
ML: So what were some of your first professional theatrical projects in the D.C. area?
MT: The first professional thing I ever did in D.C. was Caroline, or Change at the Studio Theatre. I was young during the production period, I [even] took two weeks off to be bar mitzvahed. It was a really exciting and thrilling time because it was the regional premiere of that show. It had only been on Broadway and toured in a few places. It was a big production. It was exciting.
I felt for the first time like I was really getting to do what I love to do as a job. I felt like there was nothing else I'd rather be doing. It was my life. I loved it so much. There's not a day that goes by that I don't feel like I'm the luckiest person in the world to get to do this job.
ML: You grew up in such a great area too. D.C. has so much fantastic theater.
MT: A lot of people who aren't from the area don't really know just how many highly reputable theaters exist in that city. I learned so much getting to work with them and getting to learn from professionals from New York and from all over who came to D.C. because it was such a theater hub.
There are multiple theaters that have won the Tony for the regional theater of the year. D.C. is amazing and it really is a great place for theater and there's a lot of really cool experimental work there.
ML: So who are some of your role models?
MT: The biggest role model in my entire life is not film-related. It's Serena Williams. I think that she lives her life in a way that is a way that we should all kind of aspire to. She's so passionate, she's so driven. She wears her emotions on her sleeve. But she never lets them get in the way of her success. I get inspired by Serena every single day. I think she has so many different business ventures and then obviously, in tennis, she's the greatest of all time. She's always been driven to be that. I just draw a lot of inspiration from her.
In terms of film, I would say the truth is that there are not a lot of openly gay and queer filmmakers and actors. I would say probably someone like Craig Johnson, who directed the Skeleton Twins. He's directed a few other great movies as well. He's queer. He was able to make movies about the queer experience and I also want to be able to bridge the gap and tell stories about every one as well. I think the point is that I want to be someone who's kind of a voice for the voiceless as much as possible.
Also someone like Ava DuVernay. Someone who is fighting for all different kinds of diversity and people. Shonda Rhimes. I mean, these are people who fight for diversity in many ways and fight for voices to be heard. So [I look up to] people like that. People who were driven to tell the stories of people who don't get their stories told.
ML: What inspired you to write Things Like This?
MT: When I started writing Things Like This I was in the middle of writing a horror script. The horror script kept deviating back into being a comedy. It was one of those things where it's kind of like, write what you know. It was the same time that movies like Love, Simon were coming out. (laughs) And they were about that. They were about coming out. I just noticed that so many queer films are specifically about that moment in the gay experience. That's such a specific moment. That doesn't last forever, once you've done it. Obviously, it's a major part of a person's life, but it's not everything.
For me, I only felt like my life as a gay person started once I came out. That was a long time ago. So for me, it's like, what happens next? Why don't we have any films about two people existing and falling in love? Because the thing is, it's a universal experience, right? The fear of falling for someone? So I just wanted to tell that from the lens of a gay experience. So I'm really excited.
ML: Why do you think it is that so many films focus on the coming out experience?
MT: I'm honestly not 100% sure. I think because these movies are made by executives or by people who identify as straight, I don't think they realize that coming out is just part of the process. I think they probably feel like coming out is very dramatic and very cinematic in its scope. I don't think that makes any other part of the journey less film-worthy. That's probably what people think in their mind. But that's just the beginning of an interesting story.
It doesn't even need to be shown in the films that I want to watch. It exists. When you see a movie about a queer person you can already assume that the person has come out at some point.
ML: What is the core message of Things Like This?
MT: The core message of Things Like This is that falling in love is terrifying. I think that's what it is. I think love is one of the most beautiful things that a human can experience. All different kinds of love. Falling in love romantically, with one person, is the most terrifying form of love, but it's also the most rewarding. It's a universal feeling. That feeling of being terrified and really trying to allow yourself [to feel] and diving off the cliff into it. At some point, the fear gives way to beauty.
ML: Was there anything when you were writing the screenplay that surprised you? Did a character take a turn that you weren't expecting?
MT: When I'm writing something I very much let it lead me wherever it does. I think that's really exciting. I'm not a huge storyboard person initially, at least. Obviously down the line it's important. Recently, I've been talking to a lot of filmmakers who won't write anything until everything is laid out before them. I wouldn't be able to do that process.
I find it really exciting when you're writing something and all of a sudden someone's character is like “No, let me do this.” And you're like, “Yeah, that sounds cool. I'll let you do that.” There were some moments in Things Like This that really surprised me. It was really exciting to let the journey of the characters lead me.
ML: I understand that you love traveling. So when COVID is over, where's the first place that you plan to travel to?
MT: I'm already starting to plan a few things. My sister has a travel blog, Lita of the Pack. She plans a lot of trips and she does an amazing job. My dad also has planned the trip for years and does an incredible job. So even though I'm also going to take a few trips out here next year, I'm asking her like, “Help me plan it!”
But as a family, the big one we're talking about is maybe going to Japan, which will be really exciting. That's kind of new and we're exploring it. I was the one who suggested it and the entire family was really excited by it. So I think that's definitely something that we will be doing. Once I wrap production on Things Like This, I want to take a week without my phone somewhere tropical with a beach.
ML: I've always joked that I got into acting because I love set catering. So what is the best meal you've ever had on a set?
MT: Orange is the New Black. When I did that show, I was there for three weeks. Every day they just had the most amazing foods. It was like a carving table, pastas, salads, and it was the best thing I've ever had. They would have beef tenderloin carved. It was unreal. They also had juicers and smoothie makers.
ML: What do you always have to grab at crafty on set?
MT: Candy. More specifically, whenever chocolate is there. On Super Dark Times, they would have a lot of different chocolates especially for me. Unfortunately [I would] also probably grab a soda, at some point throughout the day, to give me some energy.
ML: I always poll everybody about which sparkling water is the best. La Croix, Bubby, non-sparkling water, or another brand?
MT: I'm actually really passionate about this. I've only been drinking Berry La Croix.
ML: One of the best flavors.
MT: I'm obsessed. I think it's delicious and it reminds me of childhood. I cannot stop. Right now that's all I've been drinking and I love it. I would say in general, I really do love La Croix and their flavors. Some of them are not my favorite flavors. Razz-Cranberry is on that list, unfortunately. But in general, it has an amazing bubble ratio.
In terms of plain sparkling? I grew up on Perrier. What a horrible statement! (laughs)
ML: I love that though!
MT: My mom would get it for me because I loved it. These days I've been enjoying the lighter version with Pellegrino.
ML: What is something that you always have to make sure that you have with you on set?
MT: I never have my phone on set, so probably some form of the time. Like a watch or something in my pocket. When you're on a set time kind of blurs together.
ML: What's next for you in 2021?
MT: My next project is going to be taking off pretty soon after Things Like This. I'm hoping that I can talk about it pretty soon. What I can say is that it's a horror-comedy and I'm really excited about it. I love that one so much. Hopefully traveling and getting back to whatever semblance of a quote-unquote normal life.
2020 has been a tough year for a lot of people. I think if we support each other and if we focus on the greater good, I think that we can get back to a place and we'll all be a lo