'Heartstopper' Boys Talk Overnight Fame and Their Crazy Chemistry

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday May 7, 2022
Originally published on May 5, 2022

A few weeks ago Netflix dropped a new queer series without much fanfare. Since then "Heartstopper" has become a fan favorite for two reasons in particular: Young actors Joe Locke and Kit Connor, who talk of their experiences with the show.

Created by Alice Oseman (adapted from her own graphic novel), "Heartstopper" is a queer coming-of-age story like no other where characters are treated with love, respect, and kindness (with some animated hearts and flowers tossed in).

Charlie Spring (Joe Locke) is an out gay teen lacking in self-esteem who occasionally hooks up with one of his bullies. Nick Nelson (Kit Connor) is a popular rugby player who is starting to feel uncomfortable in his clique and his own skin. These two boys meet and begin to bond, and that bond turns to...something more.

This astonishingly good show is also peppered with an extraordinary queer-positive supporting cast and boasts Oscar-winner Olivia Colman in a key role.

But would it find an audience?

Happily, yes. After being released, "Heartstopper" was number 7 on Netflix's Top 10 Most Watched English TV Shows. And in its second week, it jumped to number 5.

And it has two extremely talented leads — Joe Locke and Kit Connor — who have been all over the internet and social media since the April 22nd premiere.

Meteoric is a good word for how "Heartstopper" has risen in terms of its binge-appeal, as well as how quickly its relatively unknown actors have become sensations. Both 18 years old and still in school, they have unfortunately already had to deal with social media trolls and the negative side of instant fame — all in the span of less than two weeks!

Connor made his acting debut at 8 years old and has gone on to roles in the BBC One miniseries, "War and Peace," and the films "Ready Player One" and "Rocketman," where he portrayed the young Reginald Dwight (Elton John). This is his first leading role.

Locke is from the Isle of Man and has participated in the 2020 National Theatre Connections. He won the role of Charlie out of 10,000 submitted actors.

EDGE had the pleasure of chatting with the two superstars-in-the-making during the pandemonium.

EDGE: Congratulations. It's a wonderful show.

Joe Locke: Thank you so much.

EDGE: I'm not surprised by the massive success because when I saw episode one, I was blown away. How is all of this settling with both of you?

Joe Locke: Still hasn't, I think.

Kit Connor: I don't honestly think it will ever feel real or normal...it's just starting to really hit now...yesterday, I was, honestly, about five minutes away from my house, and I got recognized. I was literally wearing a baseball cap. And I think that was probably extraordinarily surreal...I mean, that was one of the first times I've been recognized, especially so close to home. Yeah, it's insane. So, we're so happy about "Heartstopper" and then the whole reaction has been extremely overwhelming.

Joe Locke: It's not what we expected at all. We always saw it as our, like, little show that we were making. Then when it came on, we were like, "Wow, this really isn't little anymore, is it?"

EDGE: Tell me about working with Alice Oseman on developing Charlie and Nick and establishing this crazy great chemistry.

Joe Locke: Alice is so so amazing. And she has these amazing characters that have been in her head for years. And she has this amazing way [about her] especially like, even in the scripts, everything was so detailed and so, so great. But we had two weeks of rehearsals with Alice and our director, where we were able to just talk about the characters and talk through the scenes — about how they're feeling and what they were feeling. And Alice was always there to answer any questions or give us any suggestions of what the characters might be feeling without limiting our ability to explore the characters.

Kit Connor: And in terms of chemistry, we as a cast would try and spend time with one another...not just on set but offset as well as on weekends and things like that. And going out to London, and just all hanging out. And I think that really helped in terms of chemistry. We just sort of grew more and more comfortable with one another. And I think that was really helpful.

EDGE: Joe, you've been refreshingly honest, talking about how, as a young gay man, you related to the show. Can you expound on the importance of having a show like this for queer teens out there?

Joe Locke: I think that there's an increase in queer shows being made at the moment. But lots of them tend to show the more negative aspects of life as a queer person and some of the negative things that may happen to you. So, I think that our show is so important to show, especially younger queer teens, that this is the happiness that you're allowed. And you deserve that. And you don't have to have horrible things happen in your life. And those stories are equally as important. It's important to talk about all of these horrible things that happen in the world. But it's also so important to teach love and teach happiness to younger queer teens.

EDGE: One of the things I also love about the show is that it is queer and empowering, without trying to be. Alice has this way of showing tremendous love and respect for her characters.

Joe Locke: Yeah. I don't know how she does it.

Kit Connor: Yeah...what Joe and I both say is that it's very much giving, in a lot of senses, that sort of classic, old, Hollywood romance — that queer representation never really got — so, this time, we're able to give that, kissing in the rain, and standing on tiptoes and things like that. It's those moments that...I just think they're wonderful...that you don't really get in queer representation.

EDGE: So, Kit, coming out as bi to Olivia Colman, who plays your mum. Wow. What was that like Filming that scene?

Kit Connor: I mean, it could be worse...it was a wonderful, wonderful two days that I spent filming with Olivia...it was an honor because she is so incredible. As an actor and as a person as well. She's so down-to-earth and so genuinely wonderful, but also just so skilled and effortless.

Yeah, I mean, it was a real challenge to do such a challenging scene alongside someone like Olivia. But at the same time, it also...sort of forced me to almost step up my game to a point where I could really kind of go head-to-head with her. And I think that sort of stretched me as an actor. Honestly, I think that that scene is probably one of the hardest things I've ever done in my career. And, you know, I think it paid off, because the reaction that we've had to that scene has been overwhelming and absolutely wonderful.

EDGE: I think there was an anticipation to it as well because it was with Olivia Colman. We were all waiting to see what the reaction was going to be like.

Kit Connor: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

EDGE: Joe, you're quite different from Charlie. So how do you manage to un-extrovert yourself so well?

Joe Locke: Um, I don't know, I feel like I've got a hidden introverted side inside me. As much as I would say I'm very extroverted and very loud. I can't complain in restaurants. And I can't do anything like that. When I was younger, I was very much more like Charlie. I was always sort of a little bit quiet. And then once I got to know myself more, I sort of came out of my shell. So, it's quite easy for me to look back at younger me to see Charlie.

EDGE: What are you both doing to help keep yourselves grounded during this crazy time?

Joe Locke: Our A levels.

Kit Connor: Yeah. Our A levels. Just going to school...it's pretty grounding. It's obviously all so exciting, but at the same time, I'm also just so scared of failing my exams, which is good. I think it's a two-sided thing. Because on one hand, it does kind of force me to not be constantly on my phone. Because I think that's one of the really bad things about a show like this coming out. I'm constantly scrolling and things like that. So, it has been helpful to just sort of help me put my phone down and live in the real world.

EDGE: If you guys were going to speculate about what happens in season two with Charlie and Nick, what would it be?

Joe Locke: I think it's quite easy to talk about where they might go. Because there's other graphic novels in the series. Series 1 only covers volumes 1 and 2. So, I think in Volume 3, Charlie struggles with his mental health, and Nick comes out to his friends, and there's a whole next level of their relationship.

Kit Connor: Yeah, and you've got the famous Paris trip where the Paris gang emerges. And I think that's a really wonderful story and a very important story, because as Joe said, they touch on Charlie's development of an eating disorder, and, even in Season 1, there are definitely hints to that...but also, just as a couple...learning about one another even more and learning especially to cope as a couple with Charlie's eating disorder. I think it's something that should be very interesting to approach if we do get a Season 2.

EDGE: I have a final question for you both. What's your favorite series to binge right now?

Joe Locke: "Slow Horses" on Apple TV.

Kit Connor: I haven't seen that one yet. I've got to say, I actually saw a video from the David Tennant era "Doctor Who" and I honestly had this massive urge to binge that again. So, I think I might be doing that after my A levels, watching the good old David Tennant-era "Doctor Who."

"Heartstopper" season 1 is currently streaming on Netflix.

Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute