There’s no way Netflix’s new queer teen drama Heartstopper would have been made even 10 years ago, according to its cast.
Joe Locke is the 19-year-old actor who landed the coveted role of Charlie in the hotly anticipated series, which tells the stories of a group of teenagers figuring out love and life in a picturesque English town.
The show, based on the hugely popular webcomic of the same name, follows Charlie as he navigates his burgeoning feelings for Nick (Kit Connor), a rugby-playing boy at his school.
That isn’t Heartstopper’s only queer story – it also features Yasmin Finney as a trans teen adjusting to life in an all-girls’ school, while Corinna Brown and Kizzy Edgell play the adorable lesbian couple Tara and Darcy.
It feels remarkable that a show like Heartstopper even exists – for so long, authentic queer stories were shut out of television and film.
“Ten years ago this series wouldn’t have been made, so I think it’s really important that we tell these stories now that society has moved to a more accepting place,” Joe told PinkNews and other outlets during a roundtable discussion.
“We have stories like It’s a Sin and Euphoria which [deal with] the more serious, hard-hitting issues… but I think it’s equally important to have the more loving stories and the positive stories of being queer, because how can we make queer youth feel like they deserve happiness if all we’re showing them is people dying of AIDS – which is an equally important story to be told and it’s really good that we have that, but we also need the opposite to that, which I feel Heartstopper is.”
Kit Connor and Joe Locke in Heartstopper. (Netflix)
Kit Connor echoes that. “You can watch it with your parents, you can watch it on your own, you can watch it with anyone,” he said. “I think that’s an incredible thing, the fact that we were able to make that show, because it really hasn’t been made before.”
Corinna Brown is proud to be part of a show that shows young people that love is something to be championed and celebrated – especially for young people.
“It shows everyone, all young people, that love is OK, whatever age you are, let’s not shy away from it,” Corinna said. “Queer love is OK, straight love is OK, it’s all the emotions you go through at that stage. To have a show that depicts it all brilliantly, it’s like, oh my god, if I had that when I was like 14, it would have made things so much easier!”
To have a male bisexual character is something that’s even less represented, and that’s something that’s really special about Heartstopper.
One of Heartstopper‘s greatest strengths is that it shows teenage love as a force to be reckoned with – something to be respected and revered. While the show is unabashedly positive in its outlook, it’s also unafraid to delve into some of the challenges teenagers are facing today.
“As you grow up, you forget how hard it is to actually be a teenager,” Joe says. “It’s actually really quite hard and school is not a nice place for some people, and that is your whole world.”
Heartstopper gives queer youth the ‘layered, complex’ characters they crave
Joe, Kit and Corinna also opened up about what drew them to their characters, and how they built lasting friendships behind the scenes.
One of the things that appealed to Kit was the opportunity to play a well-rounded bisexual character. Bisexuality is still caricatured too often on screen – Heartstopper subverts that trope.
“I think especially to have a male bisexual character is something that’s even less represented, and that’s something that’s really special about Heartstopper,” Kit says. “We go into great detail about his journey as a character and his mental struggle because it’s not just that confusion of, ‘Oh, maybe I like a boy, maybe this isn’t just what I thought it was,’ suddenly there’s a layer of, ‘Do I like boys, do I like girls? How do I feel?’ I think that added layer of mental turmoil and confusion and conflict… it creates a really layered, complex character…”
Corinna Brown in Heartstopper. (Netflix)
Joe liked how “nice” Charlie is – he was excited to play a character who makes other people smile. Meanwhile, Corinna loves that her character is so empathetic and such a good listener.
“I think that quality in her is something I admire to have as well. She’s clued in, she’s a listener. She takes it all in and she can pick out when someone’s over in the corner not quite right, she’s clued into all of that which I think is beautiful.”
Winning those roles wasn’t an easy feat – around 10,000 people auditioned to star in Heartstopper. For most of the cast, it’s their first professional acting gigs. Because of COVID, they had to send in self-tapes and do auditions over Zoom.
Kit originally sent in a self-tape audition for Charlie. He knew he wanted to be part of the project once he heard about it, but he didn’t think he was the right fit for the lead character.
“The audition tape they sent through was one of Charlie’s speeches where he’s at his most genuine, stripped back point, and it’s really beautifully written, and I thought, ‘I really want to do this,’ but I thought, there’s no chance I’m going to get it because even physically there’s nothing about me that could fit this character. But then luckily there was Nick who I could slot into quite well.”
Corinna auditioned for Tara with a speech from episode six. “I was like, I’ve got to do this justice. So yeah, auditioned, did the Zooms. I actually did my Zoom record in my bed! You could see my duvet and pillows behind me.”
Fans who have been waiting with bated breath for Heartstopper to be released will know by now that the cast are friends behind the scenes too. That happened naturally.
“I think it’s just spending 12 hours a day there,” Joe laughs. “It’s such a unique experience to go through as a group.”
“As a cast overall but also as a crew, everyone on set was just happy to be there and was enjoying each other’s company,” Kit adds. “[For a] show that’s so positive and so happy, it would feel a bit wrong if people weren’t having a good time and people weren’t happy and people weren’t getting along.
“We’re lucky because you can’t force chemistry, you can’t force people to like each other.”
Heartstopper is out on Netflix on Friday 22 April.