Josh O’Connor was ‘giddy’ meeting the cast and crew of his new queer film Bonus Track

Director Julia Jackman and star Samuel Paul Small have spoken to PinkNews about queer coming-of-age rom-com Bonus Track and Challengers star Josh O’Connor’s involvement in it.

Starring 1917‘s Joe Anders as budding musician George, and Small (So Awkward) as new pupil and the son of a pop Max, the film charts the pair’s relationship as they prepare for the end-of-year talent show, which will also bookend their year-11 experience.

The film is a “gentle and modest” addition to the queer romantic comedy genre – and is based on a story by man-of-the-moment O’Connor.

Although he handed over the script to childhood friend Mike Gilbert to write, the God’s Own Country heartthrob appears in the film in a brief cameo.

Working with him, Small and Jackman reveal, was nothing short of delightful, and although he only appeared for a day of reshoots, the pair insist that O’Connor had a genuine care for the film.

“Josh was like this mythical being throughout the whole shoot,” Small jokes. “He was whispers, and I hadn’t met him, none of the cast had, he wasn’t on the set because he was busy.

“When we finally got to meet him, and thank him for this film, and thank [him] for being in it with us, it was really sweet…. he was just so giddy, and it was a really genuine moment for all of us.”

Working alongside the man who’s just been cast in the third Knives Out film, was “an honour”, Small says, adding: “He was fantastic, funny and off the cuff. Everything that came out his mouth was gold.”

Jackman met O’Connor via Zoom right at the start of the process, and he remained a constant hand in crafting an authentic storyline.

“From the very beginning, he was curious and excited about coming in and helping to make the story,” she says. “Like, ‘What was important about being a queer teen for you?’ he would ask. He was very keen in fitting the pieces of the puzzle together.”

Samuel Paul Small (R) and Joe Anders in Bonus Track. (Sky Cinema)

Speaking of authenticity, one of the highlights of the film – which also includes tunes by Olly Alexander – is the connection between the shy, music-obsessed George and the more confident, outgoing Max. The chemistry between the actors, it turns out, came naturally.

“I’d love to say that we sat down and really worked with the characters, and got down to the nitty gritty of it,” Small says. “But we had a couple of days of rehearsal… then [Joe] came over to [where] I was staying and we sat in the garden and chatted for like five hours. I didn’t feel like I had to act as if I’m obsessed with him, I feel I was.

“So, going into the film, where I had to adopt that mentality of taking him under my wing, and acting like I was obsessed with how cute and sweet and innocent he is, just felt easy.”

Jackman remembers that Small was so obsessed with his co-star that she kept having to “rein him in” during early parts of the script, joking: “You’re not in love with him yet.”

She goes on to say: “I know the crushing disappointment when you get so excited about a queer film, then the chemistry isn’t quite there. That’s the most important element of it for me, and it’s a little bit of a more-innocent script. So, it’s more about the longing of first love and the awkwardness. A very specific kind of chemistry.”

Max (L) and George have to prepare for an end-of-term talent contest. (Sky Cinema)

The pair are also keen to emphasise the importance of having a queer relationship representation on screen, that has – SPOLER ALERT – a happy ending, something which queer cinema often forsakes in favour of tragedy.

Small also recall an early reaction to the film. “The second screening we had at the London Film Festival last year, someone came up to me and said: ‘I can’t thank you enough for being involved in a film that makes me proud to be queer’, which was touching.

“To know that you’ve hit that mark, that people are proud after seeing some of your work, [is] fantastic.

“You see it so much in straight relationships in romcoms, where they overcome those odds and live happily ever after. To be able to live that in a queer relationship was brilliant.”

For Jackman, the film also had a personal appeal: Bonus Track is set in the early 2000s, a time when she was coming to her own realisations, and making the film was a love letter to her younger self.

“I received the script, which was very different from the ones I normally was sent to read, during a grim, dreary lockdown, and the warmth in it really appealed to me,” she says.

“And the fact that I was having my first experiences in 2006, films like Bonus Track are something I wish I’d seen more of growing up. It’s like counterbalancing the trauma a little bit. It was a cheeky wish fulfilment.”

Bonus Track officially premiered at BFI’s London Film Festival in October and will be available on Sky Cinema and NOW from 1 June.

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