If you know, you know - and if you don't, you're about to find out why Heartstopper has legions of fans all over the world. Based on the hugely popular graphic novel series of the same name by award-winning author Alice Oseman (you may have seen it doing the rounds on BookTok...), the series follows two teenage boys named Charlie and Nick who discover that their unlikely friendship might be something more as they navigate the tricky path of adolescence along with their strong and supportive group of friends.
For a very special Spotlight exclusive, HELLO! sat down with the stars of the series – Joe Locke, Kit Connor, Corinna Brown, Yasmin Finney, William Gao, and Kizzy Edgell – who revealed how it feels to be part of the most uplifting show Netflix has ever made…
"Ten years ago, this series wouldn't have been made," Joe Locke, the 19-year-old newcomer who plays the show's openly gay lead character Charlie, says. "I think it's really important that we tell these stories now that society has moved to a more accepting place.
WATCH: Heartstopper season one is available to stream on Netflix now
"It's A Sin and Euphoria tell the more serious and hard-hitting issues of what it is to be queer, but I think it's also equally important to have the more loving and positive stories of being queer. How can we make queer youth feel like they deserve happiness if all we're showing them is people dying of AIDS? Which, although is an equally important story to be told – and it's really good that we have it – we also need the opposite of that, which I feel like Heartstopper is."
Kit Connor, 18, who plays his rugby-playing on-screen love interest, Nick, agrees. "It's not just limited to teens and young adults. You can watch it with your parents. You can watch it on your own. You can watch it with anyone. I think that's an incredible thing."
Indeed, despite covering a wide range of themes, including mental illness, homophobia, transphobia, bullying and more, the series doesn't lean into the darker side of this and instead is unapologetically positive in its outlook, allowing Netflix to give it a 12 maturity rating (TV-14 in the US).
Corinna Brown, who plays Tara, a character who spends much of the first season dealing with the reaction of her classmates after coming out as gay, says she wishes a show like Heartstopper existed when she was growing up - a sentiment we're sure many adults tuning in will share.
"It shows everyone, all young people, that love is okay, whatever age you are, let's not shy away from it," she explains. "Queer love is okay, straight love is okay, 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!"
Yasmin Finney, 19, who, like her character Elle is a Black trans woman, echoes this. "I definitely didn't have an Elle growing up," she says. "To have that representation of that and seeing yourself reflected in the media from a young age can really help you in the future."
As Kizzy Edgell, the non-binary actor who plays Darcy, stresses, Elle being trans isn't the most important thing about her - in fact, it's hardly brought up. "It's not about a trans woman, it's about Elle, and she is the most sweet, most lovely, most caring girl ever, and that's the most important thing. The fact that she's trans is just part of it."
The show is moving representation and sexual identity forward in a number of nuanced ways. Over the course of the eight episodes, Kit's character Nick struggles to pinpoint his sexuality after discovering that he is attracted to both boys and girls. He soon learns that he falls under the B in LGBTQ, making him bisexual - a sexual orientation that has been long overlooked in mainstream storytelling.
"It's a real honour to be able to play Nick because it's such an under represented kind of character, really," Kit says.
"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," he adds. "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 and it creates a really layered, complex character."
When it came to depicting Nick's inner conflict as he struggles to maintain his friendship with his less-than-accepting rugby mates while exploring his burgeoning relationship with Charlie, Kit turned to a recent screen star for inspiration.
"I have this sort of obsession with a TV show called Normal People and Paul Mescal's character Connell I found extremely relatable," he says with a smile. "When I first read Nick, I saw a lot of similarities: the idea of popularity and friends coming so easily and then you're thrust out of that and suddenly you have to fend for yourself.
"Nick was so used to this comfortable world because he's very likeable. He's got rugby and he's easy to talk to, so he attracts a lot of friends and he never really had to try for that. Then suddenly it's all turned upside down by Charlie and his new feelings and suddenly discovering himself. Not knowing whether or not the friends that he did have will still accept him, whether he still feels the same way about his old friends, that's something that I found really interesting."
Kit, of course, also used the original Heartstopper webcomics for inspiration, but as William Gao, who plays Charlie's best friend Tao, reveals, creator Alice Oseman was keen for them to make the characters their own. "She had a chat with us before the shoot and she was like, 'I want you to make it your own. You don't have to base it solely off the comics because I want you to incorporate your own thing into that'. So that was really liberating."
Because Darcy isn't in the comics as much as she is in the show, Kizzy was given even more freedom to shape Darcy's character. "The drawings helped in the sense that you can see the humour a lot more than you would in a written book. You get good facial expressions, you get a sense of mischief you wouldn't have gotten otherwise".
The cast all still revel in the fact that Alice Oseman, who swapped writing webcomics for scripts to bring the show to life, pushed for authentic casting and would settle for nothing less. "For Alice, I know that Elle had to be played by a trans person, and I'm really happy with that," Yasmin says. "The fact that I get to be a part of the Oseman universe, being authentically myself and being openly trans, I think that's amazing."
Meanwhile, William was shocked when he saw the casting call specifically asking for a British East Asian actor - something he says very rarely happens. "I talked to older East Asian actors and they were like, 'We've never ever seen that,' so that was the first time and it was a bit of a shock for me," he says.
"But it's just indicative of how precise they were with this casting, to bring the diverse group that we have together. I think it's just beautiful the way they did the process and then in the show. It's just wonderfully diverse, in every sense of the word."
For all six of the young leads, there's absolutely no doubt that Heartstopper will propel them to international fame thanks to its release on Netflix, which remains the most popular streaming platform worldwide. Yasmin has already landed a huge movie role in Pose star Billy Porter's directorial debut, and we expect Hollywood will come calling for the rest before too long.
They've already had the chance to work with some big names as director Euros Lyn brought on not one but two British national treasures to play supporting roles in the drama. First, there is Olivia Colman playing Nick's wonderfully supportive mother, which Kit describes as "an utterly incredible, enlightening experience."
"We got to film with her for two days. It was really just me and her," he says. "Having that chance to spend two days with someone like Olivia Colman was an incredible experience and I think it's an honour for any actor to be able to work with an Oscar winner of this kind of calibre."
Elsewhere, viewers will be able to hear the unmistakable voice of Stephen Fry as he lends his mellifluous vocal cords to the role of Headmaster Barnes, who is never seen in the series but heard throughout. Explaining how he was brought on, Joe says: "I think they just wanted a real legendary gay actor to be the headmaster's voice and they were trying to figure out people and they asked Stephen Fry and he said, 'Yeah, of course, I'll do it.'. It's great. It's so cool!"
The cast are all hopeful that both will return for the show's second season, which, although has not been given the green light by the powers that be, is surely on the way.
So what can we expect from Heartstopper season two? Well, fans need only to turn to the comics to find out what's in store for the gang. First, there's the school trip to France, which the cast are hoping to see played out on screen as it's amid the cobblestone streets of Paris that the romance between Tao and Elle blossoms.
"What was once such a strong, beautiful friendship has turned into a beautiful relationship. I think in season two, there's going to be just a lot more drama, trips, public outings and friendship development," Yasmin says as William laughs.
At the end of our conversation, one thing is clear: Joe, Kit, Corinna, Yasmin, William and Kizzy are just as close (maybe even closer) than their on-screen characters and have built beautiful friendships over the last year. So, what's their secret?
"I think it's just spending 12 hours a day there," Joe says with a laugh. "It's such a unique experience to go through as a group."
"Everyone on set was just so happy to be there and enjoyed each other's company," Kit adds. "Shooting a show that's so positive and so happy, it would feel a bit wrong if people weren't having a good time and getting along. We're lucky because you can't force chemistry, you can't force people to like each other. But I think that it was there from the start. Yes, we were really lucky."
Heartstopper is available to stream on Netflix now.
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