Entertainment

Heartstopper’s Joe Locke: ‘A lot of queer people growing up feel like they don’t deserve love’

Joe Locke doesn’t do nonchalance. As the lead in Netflix’s hit new drama heart stopperWhen he found out that he had been chosen from 10,000 teenagers to play the schoolboy Charlie Spring, he let out a high-pitched scream. “I had a call from my agent,” Locke tells me. “He says, ‘Have you sat down?’ And I just screamed. I knew he wouldn’t have asked me to sit down if I didn’t understand. Then he said, ‘You got it.’ And I just screamed again.” A few months later, during filming, Locke discovered that Olivia Colman was the mystery star who had joined the mostly newcomer cast. “They kept it a secret forever. Then one day we were on set and kit [O’Connor, co-lead] he whispered it to me and I started screaming.” On the day his own casting was announced to the press, Locke went from 1,000 Instagram followers to 15,000. He probably squeaked then too.

It’s not typical for an unknown actor to garner so much attention before their show even aired (the day before heart stopper is out, Locke has 188,000 followers). But long before that heart stopper came to Netflix, it already had hundreds of thousands of devoted fans. The show – about two schoolboys, Charlie Spring and Nick Nelson (O’Connor), who fall in love – is based on a young adult webcomic created by Alice Oseman, who adapted her stories for television. Many teenagers already know Charlie and Nick inside and out. They shared their sorrows, their joys. Fortunately, the casting was well received. In a viral tweet earlier this month, a fan posted pictures of Locke and O’Connor alongside their illustrated characters and wrote, “heart stopper The casting department definitely got the job done.”

heart stopper bursts with butterflies in his stomach optimism. It’s, as Locke puts it, “a beautiful story of acceptance and love and friendship and happiness.” It has already been called the “anti-euphoria‘, swapping drugs and sex for milkshakes and snow angels. “There are contrasts in our history,” Locke, 18, says over a video call from a friend’s house in London. He is wearing a suitably healthy patterned wool sweater, has a shock of black curly hair and strong eyebrows. “Our story isn’t so sex based because our characters are turning 15 and 16 on the show, so it’s more about relationships and love. It’s a more upbeat piece. It shows the really beautiful side of being queer. I think a lot of queer people growing up feel like they don’t deserve love because they don’t have the same dating pool or support that straight people have. And so heart stopper It’s so nice that it gives queer characters that.”

The show doesn’t shy away from the painful experiences many queer teens have – Charlie meets and is bullied by Ben Hope (Sebastian Croft), a popular boy who has a girlfriend and refuses to acknowledge Charlie in public . But it also explores the bubbling excitement you feel when a person you like sends you DMs, the electrical rush that surges through you when your crush’s hand brushes your own. In heart stopperIllustrations of flowers, stars, lightning bolts and fireworks flash across the screen when Charlie and Nick touch.

Locke deftly balances Charlie’s puppy hope with vulnerability. His whole face lights up when he sees Nick. And his fidgety awkwardness on the playing field seeps through the screen. Oseman was determined to bring an air of truthfulness to the show, with each casting call limited to the exact sexual identities and ethnicity of the characters in their webcomic. Locke — who grew up in the Isle of Man as the son of a teacher and a newsagent — doesn’t like to think that he slapped 10,000 people for the role “because that seems really scary.” “It was an open casting, so I didn’t have an agent or anything and I hadn’t done anything professional before,” he says. “I sent in a selfie video and got a Zoom call back and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s weird.’ I did another Zoom call, and then another, and I was like, ‘Oh, maybe this could actually happen.’ I’ve always wanted to be an actor, but being from the Isle of Man it’s even harder when you don’t have the same general path that many young actors in the UK would have: to attend drama schools. They bring agents with them or lead at Weekend theater auditions for the West End.” Instead, Locke was a big part of the local amateur drama scene and spent most of his summers performing in his town’s “really nice old Victorian theatre”.

Locke, who has his first high school diploma two weeks after the show came out, says Oseman, 27 – who oversaw every detail of the show right down to the costumes – “perfectly encapsulated the British school experience,” he acknowledged that real British schools may need a lick of paint to do justice to this heart stopper. “Even the uniforms are similar to my school, and the class groups and all the math classes look the same,” he says.

He can also identify with Charlie. “I was never bullied at school, but I was a little different and I went through periods where I was a little calmer than I would have liked…” he says. “Teenage years are really tough, I think, and when you grow up you forget that being a teenager really sucks sometimes. At this age, only school counts. it’s your whole life And your whole life is what people think of you and if you’ll ever find someone who likes you. A part of me is still there, I’m still in school. School can be a wonderful place, but it can also be a less than beautiful place if you don’t really fit in.”

In one scene, Nick, confused about his feelings for Charlie, takes an internet quiz to find out what his sexuality is. “The classic buzzfeed ‘Are you gay?’ Quizzes were really a popular trend at my school,” says Locke. “It was like if you got past a certain score, then maybe you’re gay.”

Teenage Kicks: Kit O’Connor and Joe Locke in “Heartstopper”

(netflix)

Older viewers might suspect that the schoolyard is a place of acceptance and inclusion in 2022, but Locke says otherwise. The word “gay” is still used as an insult. “A lot has changed in recent years, but there’s still a long way to go,” he says. “Difference is seen as a bad thing in many schools and by other teenagers because you don’t fit into a certain norm that is considered acceptable. I know from my own experience that this makes some things a bit difficult. I hope things will change as millennials start having children and raising their children. But I think we’re at the end of the generation before that, which wasn’t necessarily that accepting. There were definitely people in my year who said things to people who were different. And that’s partly because when you’re a teenager you don’t know yourself, and one way to cover it up is to attack other people. That must not change. But we can learn how to try to do better.”

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He hopes that “people will see themselves”. heart stopper. “I want it to say to young queer people, ‘You deserve to have this story. This happiness is not out of your reach. You don’t deserve the things in a classic straight love story because you happen to be queer.’”

For Locke, he hopes heart stopper will be renewed for a second series, leading him to more projects that “mean something”. “I would love to play Disney’s first gay prince,” he says. “That would be a dream.”

Heartstopper is available now on Netflix

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/heartstopper-joe-locke-netflix-b2062325.html Heartstopper’s Joe Locke: ‘A lot of queer people growing up feel like they don’t deserve love’

JOE HERNANDEZ

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