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Olly Alexander interview: the Years and Years singer on his 1980s drama 'It’s A Sin'

Olly Alexander in It's A Sin.
Olly Alexander (front) with the 'It's A Sin' party crowd. (Image credit: Channel 4)

Olly Alexander is best known as the lead singer in the synth-pop trio Years and Years. But now he’s part of a stellar cast, which includes Keeley Hawes, Stephen Fry and Neil Patrick Harris, in a new five-part series It’s A Sin, coming to Channel 4 and HBO Max, and penned by screenwriter Russell T Davies of Doctor Who and Queer as Folk fame. 

Set in the 1980s, with all the fashions and music of the era and at the height of the AIDS epidemic, Olly plays Ritchie Tozer, a gay wannabe actor, who swaps his sheltered life on the Isle of Wight for a hedonistic life London. There he moves into a party pad with best mate Jill (Lydia West) and his new gay pals, party boy Roscoe (Omari Douglas) and shy Welsh lad Colin (Callum Scott Howells). But the gang’s journey to freedom and self-discovery is soon marred when news of a mystery flu-like illness hits the headlines – a deadly virus that will end up casting a traumatic shadow over all their lives.

Here, Olly Alexander, tells us more about Ritchie Tozer, filming in the nightclub, Heaven, and what he knew about the 1980s AIDS epidemic before starring in It’s A Sin

Olly Alexander on his 'It’s A Sin' character Ritchie Tozer

“Ritchie is one of those kids who wants to get out of his small town and escape to London as soon as he can. He's very ambitious, super confident and always has to be the centre of attention. I felt quite emotional reading the script because as a gay man I could really identify with him – there are some moments that I’ve definitely drawn on from my own life.”

Olly Alexander reveals how he got the part of Ritchie Tozer in 'It’s A Sin'

“I hadn’t planned on making more of a move into acting at all, but my agent told me about this project and I was immediately like, ‘yeah, I want to read that!’ And as soon as I did I thought, ‘I want to be in it!’ I just feel very blessed that the stars aligned at the right time and that I was able to do it.“

It's A Sin Olly Alexander

Ritchie (Olly Alexander) and Jill protesting Thatcher's government in 'It's a Sin'. (Image credit: Channel 4)

Olly Alexander on what he knew about the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s before starring in 'It’s A Sin'

“Growing up I remember being scared that if I had sex I would get HIV. I know that’s quite a common fear among gay men. Part of my self-discovery as a gay man has been reconciling what this whole AIDS epidemic really means. There’s still a lot of misinformation and stigma out there and I’m still learning a lot every day. I think it’s a part of history that some people would rather we forget, but it’s really important we don’t. Filming It's A Sin made me think about what it means to be gay now as opposed to being gay in the 1980s. People’s attitudes have changed a lot since then, but there’s still so far to go. It’s always good to be reminded of what can happen when people let in fear and hatred.”

Olly Alexander reveals his favourite moment filming 'It’s A Sin'...

“We did one scene in the famous London gay nightclub Heaven. It was really fun because there were 100 or so extras there and the Frankie Goes To Hollywood song, Relax, was playing. It was just amazing to experience what Heaven would have been like in the 1980s!”

Olly Alexander explains why viewers will fall in love with 'It’s A Sin' 

“At its heart, the story is so universal. It’s a piece about being young and figuring out who you are and falling in love, and I think that’s going to resonate with everybody. But it’s also going to be quite eye-opening for a lot of people because it helps shed some light on a really complicated issue that doesn't get spoken about very much, and it does that by telling a really moving and beautiful story. It’s what Russell T Davies does really well – creates something that makes you laugh and cry, makes your heart break as well as growing ten times bigger. I’m so excited for everyone to see it.”

Who else is starring in 'It’s A Sin' coming soon to C4 and HBO Max?

* Keeley Hawes stars as Ritchie’s mum Valerie, who lives on the Isle of Wight.

* Shaun Dooley (Gentleman Jack, Broadchurch) plays Ritchie’s bullish, bigoted dad Clive.

* Stephen Fry is Arthur Garrison, Conservative MP for Richfield South and a big fan of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

* Doogie Howser star Neil Patrick Harris plays British shop worker Henry Coltrane.

* Other stars include Tracy Ann Obermann, Lydia West and newcomers Omari Douglas as Roscoe, and Callum Scott Howells as Colin.

Neil Patrick Harris in It's a Sin

Neil Patrick Harris as British shop worker Henry Coltrane (Image credit: Channel 4)

When can we see Olly Alexander in It’s A Sin?

The five 60-minute episodes will begin on Channel 4 on Friday 22 January at 9pm, and all episodes will then be available on the On Demand service All4 after the first Channel 4 episode is shown. It's A Sin will premiere Feb. 18 in the U.S. on HBO Max

Nicholas Cannon

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus Whattowatch.com. I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s.