Love blossoms when boy meets boy in Netflix's Heartstopper, a new teen drama adapted from the bestselling comic book series of the same name by Alice Oseman.
The story begins when shy Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) is assigned the seat next to school rugby star Nick Nelson (Kit Connor) in their form group. The two boys strike up an unlikely friendship, and Charlie quickly develops a crush on his kind and handsome new pal — but Nick is caught off guard when he realizes that he sees Charlie as more than just a friend too.
Here stars Joe and Kit talk about turning a comic book story into a live-action romance, and why they believe Heartstopper is an important show...
Heartstopper stars Joe Locke and Kit Connor on Charlie and Nick
Joe: "Charlie is the most loving, kind person who worries about everything and everyone that he cares about — sometimes slightly too much, but in the best way possible. There's a really lovely quote in Solitaire, one of Alice's novels, where Charlie's sister Tori describes him as 'just a nice person', and how she thinks that's such an underrated way of talking about someone. I think that's how I'd describe Charlie — he's just a nice person."
Kit: "I think the best way to describe Nick is that he does a lot of things quite effortlessly, in the sense that he doesn't try particularly hard to make people like him, but because he's good at rugby and he's quite easy to talk to, it means that people are kind of attracted to him. At the soul, he's an extremely warm-hearted and caring, but conflicted, kid."
How does their love story develop?
Kit: "Their relationship hits them both by surprise — especially Nick. Originally it is just a friendship, and they enjoy spending time with each other, and they love being with one another, and that's when Nick starts to realize that it's maybe something more. That's the beauty of it — they sit next to each other in form and just start talking to each other and slowly, slowly grow this bond together."
Joe: "I think Charlie already has a crush on Nick when he first sets eyes on him. But to Charlie, it doesn't seem like it's a realistic crush — it's just another crush on a straight boy. I think that stems both from his low self-esteem, but also just in general, a lot of young queer people have that sort of experience where they don't think any of their crushes will happen. It's something he doesn't believe will happen, until it happens — and even then, he still can't quite believe it!"
Was it helpful to have the comic books for reference while you were filming?
Kit: "Yeah, the great thing is that there were scenes — especially the intimacy scenes between me and Joe — where we weren't really sure where to put our hands, or how to stand, or where to be, and it's like having a really detailed, beautiful storyboard that we could look at and go 'okay, maybe I'll stand like that'."
Joe: "Euros [Lyn], our director, had the script on one side of an iPad with the corresponding comic strip on the other side, so we could reference it all the time. That was really great."
Did you get to speak to Alice about your characters too?
Joe: "Yeah, we had two weeks of rehearsals before we started filming, where we just talked about character and all the different stories, and Alice was there every single day on set, always there to be asked questions. There's nothing better than having the person whose world you're bringing to life there the whole time — it's like having a Heartstopper bible in a human, she's so talented and so amazing."
Kit: "Alice is so passionate about the characters, so if there was something that didn't really feel quite right, she'd let you know immediately. That really was an incredible asset to have as an actor, because you might make a decision about a character and it might just not be right to the actual source material. Like Joe said, we spent two weeks getting into the minds of the characters, and working out some backstory that Alice didn't even know, which was cool as well — it was a group back-and-forth conversation."
Their story is told in a very warm, positive way — how important do you think it is to have stories like this for young LGBTQ+ people?
Joe: "I think Kit was the first one to say this, I don't know if I've stolen this from him, but it's like a realistic story told in an optimistic way. We have the challenges that the characters face, and the realistic school bullying, but it's like you can always see the light at the end of the tunnel, you can always see that it's going to have a happy ending. I think it's definitely an important story to tell for young queer teenagers because there's increasing queer representation on TV, but not so much in a show that's aimed at young teenagers, and a lot of shows focus on the more negative things that people may face. It's equally, if not more, important to show the beauty of being queer and all the lovely things that come along with that."
Kit: "I always say it's looking at the world through rose-tinted spectacles — it's a very optimistic, warm view of it. Shows like It's A Sin show the more adult side, or the darker side, of being queer, but I think it's also incredibly important, like Joe said, to have this show which shows just how wonderful it can be. It's not really a show that has been made before, definitely not to this extent where it does just focus on teen queerness, and queer love, and showing the utter beauty of it. It's just a good old-fashioned love story."
Heartstopper launches on Netflix on Friday, April 22
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Steven Perkins is a Staff Writer for TV & Satellite Week, TV Times, What's On TV and whattowatch.com, who has been writing about TV professionally since 2008. He was previously the TV Editor for Inside Soap before taking up his current role in 2020. He loves everything from gritty dramas to docusoaps about airports and thinks about the Eurovision Song Contest all year round.