Rhea Norwood photographed by Jemima Marriott for The Untitled Magazine. Rhea wears a jacket by FOAM OF THE DAYS.

In the bustling world of entertainment, certain individuals shine bright, not just for their talent on screen but also for their advocacy and resilience off-screen. Rhea Norwood embodies this multifaceted brilliance, emerging as a rising star with her compelling performances in Heartstopper and Consent.

Beyond her acting prowess, Rhea utilizes her platform to champion awareness for disabilities and spotlight the female experience. Rhea’s experience managing type one diabetes while pursuing a career in the entertainment industry highlights the need for greater awareness and accommodation for individuals with disabilities in the workplace. With a passion for storytelling and a commitment to authenticity, she is poised to make a lasting impact in the industry. We are looking forward to more from the rising actress including season three of “Heartstopper” as well as checking out what is next as she explores her own avenues of writing and producing.

Read on for our exclusive interview with Rhea by Indira Cesarine, with photography by Jemima Marriott. 

Rhea Norwood photographed by Jemima Marriott for The Untitled Magazine. Rhea wears a jacket and fishnets by FOAM OF THE DAYS, and bralette by WACOAL.

Indira Cesarine: You’ve gained a lot of recognition for your role in Heartstopper playing Imogen Heaney. Can you tell me about your character, how you prepared for the role, and what makes her stand out?

Rhea Norwood: For me, she represents a certain kind of young girl who is desperate to fit in and does whatever she can to achieve that. That can mean some wholesome moments between her and other characters, but it can also mean that she can come across as a little abrasive and slightly obnoxious at  times. But it comes from a genuine place, and that’s what fascinated me about her. You have somebody who’s at her core just trying to navigate the complexities of being a teenage girl, friendships, school, romance, feelings, sexuality, and figuring out who she is. 

She tackles that front on and in an energized way. I think that’s admirable about her. She wants to live her life to the fullest, and she’s still learning. As a society, we’re afraid to see young women learning, navigating, and messing up. She’s not perfect at all and that’s lovely to me.

IC: Tell me a little bit about working on set. What is the vibe like? It seems like such a fun cast, and everybody seems to have such good energy on the show. Does that translate behind the scenes?

RN: For sure! When we started in season one, I hadn’t done a professional acting job before, and that was the same for a lot of the cast. We were all teenagers. It’s so fascinating now, being an adult and looking back at nineteen. There is this incredible bond that we all have, being so young and placed in this exciting opportunity that translates into our relationship.

We have intrinsic love and support for each other. It’s a family type of relationship. When you’ve grown through something with people, you can’t help but feel connected to them, and that will always be the case. Regardless of when we’re older, I think there will always be that tie that this was our first job and such a crazy one as well.

Rhea Norwood photographed by Jemima Marriott for The Untitled Magazine. Rhea wears a jacket by FOAM OF THE DAYS.

IC: How did you end up getting cast if that was your first role?

RN: I was still at drama school. I was in my second year, and I saw that there was an open casting call online. I thought, “I’ll just send a photo in so maybe when I’m graduating and trying to book jobs they’ll remember my face.” I didn’t expect to get auditions through it or to get the part at all. But then I did, and I had to take a term out of drama school. I did a self-tape originally for Darcy, another character, and then I got re-called for Imogen. And that’s who I ended up playing. I look back now and I’m like, “How did that happen? That was so unexpected.” The best things in life and in acting are when jobs and characters take you by surprise. 

IC: The show blew up overnight and put all the talent featured on the map. One thing I love about Heartstopper is how it promotes themes of individuality and acceptance. How do you feel the show’s message resonates with you personally?

RN: I’m quite private about my personal life, so I won’t delve into that too much, but I think that ultimately it’s a show that’s about acceptance of yourself, of others, and friendship. That’s something that resonates with all of us.

IC: You were also recently featured last year in Your Christmas and Mine. That seems like a very different production. How did your role and experience differ from working on that compared to your experiences working on Heartstopper?

RN: We filmed up a mountain in the Alps, out of key season. It was genuinely the most exciting location you could be filming in. It was really, really cool. The cast was so incredible. A lot of seasoned pros were in that cast. I was in rehearsals with them, so it was amazing for me to sit back and just watch people, who have had years of experience in the industry, do what they do best.

I was in a place where I could look up to older actors, work with them, and learn from them. Whereas with Heartstopper, we’re all learning on this journey together. I look up to and admire so many of my Heartstopper cast members as well. I’m in awe of all of them, for sure, but I think having that grounding in older and more experienced actors on a set was cool in rehearsals for the Christmas film.

IC: You also recently starred in a TV movie, Consent, on Channel Four, where you played the character Alice. Can you tell us a little bit about Consent?

RN: Consent was a single drama for Channel Four, and it was meant to create a conversation around the relationship between sexual allegations and private schools, looking at how often institutions can enable bad sexual behavior, which I think is a relevant concept. I’ve just picked up the Evening Standard newspaper today, and it was talking about the Sarah Everest case, where the Met police officer had allegations made about him previously for so many years. He’d not been stopped because the police institution was enabling his behavior. Then you get a case where she’s killed. 

Consent was playing into that, and it was looking at how our old institutions can teach bad behavior and allow it. That was cool to be part of. It was a cool young cast who were talented and lovely. Even though the show had quite a big, heavy subject matter, it was surprisingly a lot of fun to film with all of the cast. We had a good laugh outside of the scenes. 

Rhea Norwood photographed by Jemima Marriott for The Untitled Magazine. Rhea wears a bonnet by FOAM OF THE DAYS.

IC: You went to Bristol Old Vic Theater school and you mentioned that you had to pause that to work on Heartstopper, did you end up going back to school? 

RN: I took a term out in second year to do season one of Heartstopper, and then I returned for third year. I did get my degree, which was nice and made my parents happy. I took some time out at the end of third year as well to film Consent. My entrance into the industry has looked much more unorthodox than a lot of my peers at drama school as a result of Heartstopper and the snowballing of that show. It’s been an interesting journey to navigate. It’s lovely that my peers from drama school are now working and we can be in this industry together now.

IC: Was it strange for you, having had such a successful experience on Heartstopper, to then have to go back to school? Other classmates must have been impressed with your experience being on such a big show.

RN: It was weird. I think the training at Bristol Vic is mostly theater based, and I love theater. It’s really what I want to do. Filming Heartstopper was TV. It was great for me to go back and work on theater shows. At the same time, it was weird because I had this entrance into the industry and had a taste for what my life is like now.

Overall, it was helpful for me because I’m a believer that you continuously are a student and you should always keep it that way. Going from professional actor to student actor is a great mindset to continue with for the rest of my career.

Rhea Norwood Photographed by Jemima Marriott for The Untitled Magazine. Rhea wears a dress by KIKA VARGAS and bracelet by GIOVANNI RASPINI.

IC: You were diagnosed with type one diabetes in 2022, which obviously must have been a very intense thing to experience as an adult, since often that is not a diagnosis that’s received later in life. Can you tell what led up to that diagnosis, as well as living with diabetes and managing that with your entertainment career?

RN: It was difficult for me because I was getting extremely ill and it coincided with going back to the final year of drama school and doing these theater shows. It went on for many months. I was like, “This isn’t right. This has gone on for too long.” 

So I went to the doctor, and I had quite a slow diagnosis. By the end of the summer of 2022, I was diagnosed with type one diabetes, which was an interesting thing to experience because it is something that I now carry as a bit of a burden, but at the same time, there was this real relief going, “Oh, my God. I’ve been wondering what was wrong with me for nearly a year and now I have answers.”

Now I’ve got the tools and the ability to make myself better. Nobody wants to live with an autoimmune condition, but I do. It’s important to recognize that it’s hard, but also that I can take positives from it. 

I used to be such a workaholic. I am still married to my work, but my biggest priority in my life is my health. I’ve realized that is such a blessing because of my diagnosis that I think a lot of people don’t get to experience. Getting diagnosed with type one means I’ve had to interrogate everything about my life, my exercise, food, relationships, time, stress, and sleep. Being an actor is not the most compatible with a healthy lifestyle because it often comes with a lot of irregular hours. Sometimes you don’t know when you’re going to sleep or eat. That’s been something I’m learning to adjust to when I’m working. 

When we filmed season two [of Heartstopper], I was still feeling ill and I didn’t quite know how to advocate for myself. The industry is still incredibly ableist in terms of how it’s laid out, and although everyone that I worked with has been super supportive of my diagnosis and my condition, I think there are fundamentals of the industry that need to shift. I feel passionately about that because storytelling should be accessible to everybody, regardless if you’ve got a disability or are neurodivergent, whatever the case may be. 

I’m learning to advocate for myself more, but with an invisible disability, it’s really hard to do because people don’t understand it because they can’t see it. Yet, that doesn’t mean it’s any less real. It’s now nearly a year and a half since I got diagnosed and I feel the best I’ve ever felt. It’s so exciting to regain my personality, my zest for life, and my love of acting because I kind of lost that all. I felt like I lost my personality quite a lot with just the sheer fatigue of not having enough insulin in my body.  

Rhea Norwood photographed by Jemima Marriott for The Untitled Magazine. Rhea wears a jacket by FOAM OF THE DAYS, and tights by WACOAL.

IC: How did you manage the demanding schedule of acting? Is there any specific way to navigate that? 

RN: That’s something that I’m still working on, and I’ll continue to work on. I’m lucky that I know a couple of actors who also have type one, so it’s been amazing to talk to them and see how they manage it. I do think it’s about finding the regularity in the irregularity of the scheduling. I have to honor my disability with communication because I had a situation where people didn’t understand that I was type one on a job. They didn’t understand what type one meant, and I took it for granted that everyone would understand it. That experience showed me that now when I start a job, I have to be really on it with communicating what I need to function as a human being but also to do good at my job. 

The complete answer is pending, it’s a continual process. Water, exercise, sleeping as much as I can, and trying to manage what I can eat when I’m working as well because when we have catering that’s quite hard. Those are all the things that help.

IC: Your journey in the industry has just been remarkable. It’s incredible how you jumped from having never worked as an actress before to now where you’re doing all of these exciting projects. Are there any role models or actors that inspire your career?

RN: My God, I have so many. I’m such a fan girl. I love what Margot Robbie is doing. I think she’s fantastic in not only acting but producing as well. She’s doing everything, and she does it so well, so gracefully, and so professionally. Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, both, are so good. Imelda Staunton because I love that she’s able to blend a career in musical theater, film, and TV. She’s such a powerhouse. There are lots I could give you so many. 

IC: Speaking of working on theater and TV, do you have a preference for one or the other? 

RN: Oh, gosh, if you’d ask me that like, four or five years ago, I would have gone “Theater. Theater. Theater. Theater,” but having mostly worked with film and TV, I’ve begun to really enjoy it. Unfortunately, theater remains quite inaccessible. And, for me, what’s more important is telling stories that can reach and affect people. I think at the moment, film and TV are doing that more.

In terms of myself as an actor, I love theater. You’re able to have that live rapport with an audience and go through the whole journey on one stage. [Theater jobs] are so different. They’re like entirely different jobs, to be honest.

IC: You’ve spoken also about hopes of writing and producing your own work. Can you share any sort of themes you plan to touch on? Is this something you’re actively working on? 

RN: When I’m not on an acting project, I spend all my day writing. It’s been one of the most creatively fulfilling experiences for me. I’m currently working on a couple of things that I’m really excited by and I’m currently in the process of sharing with people. So who knows? I haven’t got any news for that at the moment, but hopefully, there will be soon.

Regarding the themes, I’m interested in writing about the female experience. I’m one of those writers who writes more about what they know. Anything that touches on what it is to be a woman navigating through life and what we deal with in society, that’s what’s fascinating to me.

IC: I can’t wait to check it out! Reflecting on your journey so far, what would you say to your younger self just starting out?

RN: That’s such a good question. I’d say, “Don’t get lost in the noise of it all.” I think the reason that I’m acting and why I always wanted to act is because of the work, the art history, and the storytelling. The industry and social media can be noisy. You can get caught up in things that aren’t important and don’t matter. So, “Stay true to why you wanted to do it in the first place, which is about the work and the art.”

Rhea Norwood photographed by Jemima Marriott for The Untitled Magazine. Rhea wears a jacket by FOAM OF THE DAYS, black tights by WACOAL, and red tights by EMILIO CAVALLINI.

IC: What do you have coming up next? Are there any exciting projects you can share? 

RN: We just finished filming season three of Heartstopper. I don’t know when that’s going to be coming out! I’m excited about that and nervous. I always get very nervous. I think Imogen is such a splurge of teen anxiety that I always feel nervous to watch myself portray that!

Rhea Norwood photographed by Jemima Marriott for The Untitled Magazine. Rhea wears a top and skirt by KIKA VARGAS, tights by EMILIO CAVALLINI.

Interview by Indira Cesarine @indiracesarine
Photography by Jemima Marriott @jemimashoots
Talent: Rhea Norwood @rhea.norwood
Photo Assistant: Eric Anderson @ericranderson
Fashion by JO Shippen @joshippen
Makeup by Charlotte Kraftman @charlottekraftmanmakeup
Hair by John Chapman at Carol Hayes Management @jonchapmanhair @carolhayesmanagement

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