- Film & TV
- 23 May 22
If heartwarming teen romance is a mainstay of your Google search history, look no further than Netflix’s Heartstopper – a brand new adaptation of Alice Oseman’s webcomic, about love between two British grammar school boys. We meet the cast and writer of the brilliant new show.
In Heartstopper, when gentle Charlie and rugby-loving Nick meet in class, they quickly discover that their unlikely friendship is blossoming into an unexpected, wholesome romance.
Through eight 25-minute episodes, Charlie, Nick and their separate circle of friends navigate the ever-relatable journey of self discovery and acceptance, searching for their most authentic selves. Of course, plenty of challenges stand in their way.
Speaking to the charming Joe Locke (Charlie), Kit Connor (Nick), Corinna Brown (Tara Jones), and writer and executive producer Alice Oseman about Heartstopper, it’s immediately clear just how much the show means to them.
“It was my first ever acting job,” Joe notes. “I had always been interested in becoming an actor, but I never thought it would ever happen. There was an open call, so I sent in a self-made tape. Then I did a Zoom audition, and another one with Kit. We did an in-person audition in the middle of Covid, which was strange. At that point, I was like, maybe this might actually happen? Even though the thought alone felt crazy.”
“It was an amazing process,” Kit jumps in. Still only 18, he nonetheless boasts extensive acting experience. Known for playing the young Elton John in Rocketman, the Londoner also featured in HBO’s His Dark Materials.
“I originally auditioned for Joe’s character, Charlie. Whenever I tell people that, they’re confused, but I just thought it was an amazing project to be part of. The audition tape they sent through was one of Charlie’s speeches, where he’s at his most genuine, stripped-back point. It’s beautifully written. I figured there wasn’t much chance of me getting it. Even physically, I didn’t fit that character! Luckily there was Nick.”
“I auditioned for Tara with her episode six speech,” says Corinna. “I knew I had to do that scene justice when I read it. I auditioned and did the Zoom calls in bed. Everyone reminds me of that!”
“They told me about it as well,” Kit laughs.
“Then I met you at chemistry week,” Corinna smiles, looking at Kit. “After that, I was really nervous. I didn’t think I was going to get it. I was shocked when I got the call.”
“The story Alice has written and the message behind it made everyone on-set really excited,” says Joe, his face lighting up. “That buzz also helped us to bond as friends.”
“We did open casting and got 10,000 applications, which is very intense,” Oseman chimes in. “I was nervous, because obviously I have a very clear idea of what my characters look like and who they are. We had a lot of different things we were looking for, like authenticity. We wanted a trans actor to play Elle, we wanted the actors to be around the right age, and obviously they needed to be talented. There were a lot of different factors, so it was a stressful process. If we didn’t find the people, we knew the show just wouldn’t work. We were determined to do it. Luckily, we found the perfect people – I couldn’t be happier.”
Charlie has a secret sort-of-boyfriend Ben, who meets up with him in the library at break time. Sadly, he picks on Charlie when anyone else is around. Nick later comes to the 14-year-old’s rescue when Ben becomes more cruel towards Charlie, and their friendship slowly builds. Heartstopper remains joyful and vibrant, even while showcasing a well-rounded depiction of what it’s like to be a young LGBTQ+ person.
“I think it’s especially pertinent to be honest about that,” Joe offers, seriously. “Ten years ago, this series likely wouldn’t have been made. We have to tell these stories now that society has moved to a more accepting place. It’s A Sin and Euphoria dive into more hard-hitting issues about what it is to be queer. But I think it’s equally as vital to have the more loving, positive side. How can we make LGBTQ youth feel like they deserve happiness if all we’re showing them is people dying of AIDS? That’s a crucial story to be told, but we need some balance. Heartstopper brings that.”
“It feels really special,” Corinna agrees. “The characters are young, so Heartstopper shows everyone that love is okay, whatever age you are. Let’s not shy away from it. Queer love is okay. Straight love is okay. It’s all the emotions you go through at that stage. It’s depicted brilliantly, I just wish it had been around when I was 14.”
“I think there’s this tendency to undermine teen love and those strong, powerful feelings you experience at that age because school is your whole world,” Kit adds, noting the scene’s importance. “A lot of people think that teenagers therefore don’t see the bigger picture, but we really tried to present the show as the opposite of that.”
“As you grow up, you forget how hard it actually is to be a teenager,” Joe agrees. “School is not a nice place for some people, but it’s your universe. It sort of infantilises teenagers by acting as though it’s not hard or vital for development.”
“The ‘heart’ of Heartstopper is illustrating real issues like homophobia, but showing that there is hope and joy despite this,” says Alice.
“There’s an optimistic spin, but the negative aspects create the realism of the show. It’s not idealised. When I was writing the coming out scene, I always hoped that it would allow parents to see a decent way to react if they were ever in that situation.”
You’d be hard as stone to get through the coming out scene without shedding a tear. Of course, it helps when the actor portraying Nick’s mum happens to be Oscar winner Olivia Colman, which the cast and crew kept under wraps as a surprise.
“We got to have two days on set, and it was really just me and her,” Kit beams. “It was utterly incredible. It’s an honour for any actor to be able to work with an Oscar winner, anyone of Olivia’s calibre. I was so nervous about doing that scene. I spent most of the shoot not knowing who was playing my mum. There was a circle on the call sheet, so we knew it was someone interesting.”
“They kept it secret,” Corinna grins.
“Before every scene we go over our lines just to get a feel of the scene. We were sitting at the table and suddenly there’s a tear rolling down Olivia’s cheek!” Kit shakes his head in disbelief. “I needed to step up my game after that, in the nicest way possible. It was nerve-wracking, but enlightening. A real privilege for me as an actor.”
“Having Olivia Colman and Stephen Fry was so surreal,” Oseman smiles. “I was shocked, but obviously over the moon. When we were discussing trying to get a big name to be Nick’s mum, I just assumed there’s no way this is going to happen. We tried anyway and Olivia wanted to do it. I just couldn’t believe it. Because she is such an incredible actress, she brings so much to that character. The scenes with Nick’s mum feel so special and subtle. It’s just a beautiful performance.
“I feel like she loved the story and really connected with Kit, who plays Nick. I remember when they were rehearsing the coming out scene, and she just cried because she thought Kit was so adorable! It was an amazing experience.”
Nick goes through a rollercoaster arc, as the character with the most self-discovery.
“It’s very necessary for the show to have that resolve for Nick’s character, because I think so much of his story is that level of confusion and fear of the unknown,” Kit posits, pointing out the lack of bisexual male figures in TV and film.
“Nick doesn’t really know how different people in his life will react. He needs to discover how to be authentically himself. We’re trying to essentially show that it’s going to be alright for queer teens. There’s always somebody who loves you. That was the scene I circled when I first read it, because I knew I had to get it right. Opening up like that is such a relatable moment for everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community.”
“Heartstopper goes into great detail about Nick’s journey as a character and the mental struggle,” Kit acknowledges, warmly. “It’s not just that confusion falling for a boy, because there’s that layer of feeling like he needs to choose between boys or girls. That’s an added layer of mental turmoil and conflict. You’ve got similar things going on through shows like Sex Education, but never really to this extent.”
The breakout actor was also inspired by Sally Rooney’s Connell Waldron.
“I’m obsessed with Normal People, and found his character extremely relatable. When I first read Nick, I saw a lot of Connell’s qualities in him because it’s very much about the idea of popularity. Then you’re kind of thrust out of that and suddenly you have to go and find yourself. Nick was so used to a comfortable world because he’s likeable and good at rugby. Suddenly his world is almost turned upside down by Charlie and his new feelings. Then he’s left in that place of unrest with his friends.”
“It’s a fun and interesting dynamic to have one character who’s quite sure of his identity, and then one character who hasn’t explored himself at all,” Alice responds. “Bringing those two together and seeing what happens is absolutely amazing.”
Having first landed a publishing deal at 17, the bestselling author and illustrator has sold millions of books. Now 27, she has been writing queer storylines for a decade.
“Even back when I was writing the comics, I was very aware that there is little bisexual work citation anywhere. As a queer person myself, it’s just something I feel drawn to writing about,” Oseman says. “My very first young adult novel, Solitaire, came out in 2014, and I fell in love with Charlie and Nick. They weren’t main characters but I knew that they had a bigger story to tell, so I decided to start the web comic in 2016.
“I was uploading it for free online for a couple of years. It got published, and then in 2019 after the first volume of Heartstopper came out, it was auctioned by Cecil Films. They were really keen to work with me, which I was really excited about, because I knew I’d be involved. I was working with them for about a year-and-a-half, developing the show, and then Netflix came on board. I’d never written a script before so I had to learn. It was the most surreal experience.”
Another ‘pinch me’ moment was Stephen Fry signing on to voice the headmaster.
“We met him at the acting awards and he was so loving,” Kit mentions, excitedly. “He was delighted to meet us. If we got a second season, it would be great to have him.”
“They wanted a really legendary gay actor to the headmaster’s voice and they were trying to figure it out. He was the one,” Joe states. “No one’s picked up from the trailer that it’s Stephen Fry! How can you not recognise that voice?”
“We honestly did not expect that at all. It was insane,” Kit remarks. “Obviously, the fact that we had Euros Lyn as our director really opened a lot of doors for our show. He’s been around for such a long time in this industry and has worked with incredible people. Everyone he works with loves him as a person. I believe he wrote a personal letter to Olivia and Stephen and asked them to be involved.”
Speaking of a second season, confirmation has yet to arrive, but such a passionate fandom will surely leave Netflix with no choice but to grant us more sweetness.
“It would probably be four seasons to cover the full story. I haven’t done any detailed planning or anything, but it’s quite easy to divide up the books,” Oseman posits, confidently. “I think people would love to see a supporting character get their own story. That’s how Heartstopper originated in the first place. I would love to see one of my other works adapted, whether that’s Solitaire or a different project. Heartstopper is my life for now, so we’ll just have to see what happens.”
• Heartstopper is out now on Netflix. The series has just been renewed for a second and third season.
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