From niche webcomic to graphic novel to highly anticipated Netflix show, Heartstopper is a love story grown in fandom.
When author Alice Oseman posted her first panel of the comic on Tumblr in 2016, it connected with a passionate audience of queer fans who were searching for a home online, and were thirsty for content. The Norwegian webseries Skam was just starting to take off, disseminated in massive Google Docs and virus-ridden media files, and the queer webcomic “Check, Please!” had reached dizzying heights of popularity. In other words, there was an appetite for LGBTQ+ stories, and “Heartstopper” blossomed as the sweetest of them all.
Obviously, when Netflix announced last year that they were adapting the comic into a TV series written by Oseman herself, readers rejoiced.
Like the comic, the TV adaptation follows a tight-knit, loving, and equally messy troupe of British teenagers muddling their way through first loves and heartbreaks in high school. At the center of this confection is its ooey-gooey heart: Charlie (Joe Locke), an overly anxious musician, and Nick (Kit Connor), the ebullient rugby player enamored with him. You may know Connor from his roles in His Dark Materials and Rocketman, while Heartstopper will mark Locke’s on-screen debut.
Before their Netflix rom-com hit our watchlists, Connor and Locke spoke with Them about working with Alice Oseman, playing teenagers as actual teenage actors, and the thrill of bringing beloved comic characters to life.
What was it like for you to adapt a story with an already dedicated fan base?
Kit Connor: It’s been really overwhelming — overwhelmingly positive. The whole reaction to our casting, and just all the updates that we’ve given the Heartstopper fans so far has been so amazing. It makes it so exciting to actually just give ’em the show, you know? We just hope that they like it as much as we do.
Joe Locke: For me, it was so life changing in the best possible way. I feel like I’ve really found myself as a person through this experience, and to be able to tell such a beautiful story fills me with a very big sense of pride. I feel like there’s not enough of these stories being told, and so it’s nice to be some of the first to be able to do that.
Heartstopper is such a sweet show, but it’s also such a unique show in a lot of ways. What drew you to it?
JL: All of the characters are just so beautifully written, in that they show really diverse types of people. Just really lovely characters who are so full and have different flaws, but also, those flaws are what make them who they are. It’s rare that you find characters who are written so beautifully, and their flaws are the things that are celebrated about them. I feel like I’ve got a bias for [Charlie]. You just wanna give him a hug all the time! I just really like that about him.
KC: There’s really something and someone for everyone. There’s always a character that I think, honestly, anyone can relate to. They’re just so nuanced. Every character has got a different thing going on, and there’s so much internal and mental conflict in all of them. I think the show is such a positive, lighthearted, heartwarming show because it celebrates those flaws that they have. But then it also tells the audience that everything’s going to be alright. Things are going to work themselves out.
Considering that this started as a webcomic, what was it like speaking with the creator, Alice [Oseman]? Did you work with her?
JL: Alice was so involved in the best way. In a lot of adaptations, the original writer gets lost, whereas Alice wrote this screenplay. She was there on set every single day. We had two weeks of rehearsals where Alice was there just to answer any questions and talk about the characters that she has made. Obviously, we wanted to do them justice because they’re just beautiful characters. But she also let us have the freedom to make them our own which was really lovely.
KC: As an actor, it’s such a luxury to have the creator of these characters to talk to and ask your questions. If there’s anyone who knows everything and anything about these characters, it’s Alice. Like Joe said, we were definitely given our own free reign to actually do what we want, as well. My main priority was to keep the essence of Nick that all these characters love so much, just as they do Charlie. I wanted to try and catch that essence, but then also make it my own.
Speaking of Charlie and Nick, did you guys identify with your character’s personalities or are they a bit different from who you are off set?
JL: I always say that Charlie’s like a more introverted version of myself. A little bit nicer than I am, and maybe everything I want to be in a person. I was always the different kid in school, and I have very much overthought absolutely everything in the way that Charlie does. But I also think that Charlie may be more confident in social situations. He has confidence that I could never have. I would never ever join a rugby team for someone I had a crush on. I just couldn’t do that!
KC: Nick is, in many ways, who I aspire to be. I’d love to say that I was just pure and wonderful and kind and just generally as lovely as Nick or Charlie. They’re just so pure. I don’t really know what other words to use. That’s what I try to be, and that’s what I think everyone should try to be. Nick and Charlie are great role models for not just kids growing up, but really, everyone.
An original article by Sadie Collins for Them.