Despite growing media representation for LGBTQ+ people over the last decade or so, it is still increasingly rare to find a robust representation of bisexuality or questioning sexuality on television. What’s even rarer is representation that is not only healthy and poignant, but also not particularly interested in the trend of queer trauma porn, as is the case with the overwhelmingly wholesome Heartstopper. Focused primarily on high school rugby star Nick Nelson, played convincingly by breakout star Kit Connor, and his newfound infatuation with openly gay classmate Charlie Spring (Joe Locke), the Netflix show follows Nelson as he explores the many complicated milestones that come with discovering and coming to terms with one’s own sexuality as a young person.
Connor plays the role of Nelson with remarkable restraint, giving the often misunderstood role of a questioning teenager a good dose of authenticity. Never resorting to broad stereotypes or over-the-top storylines, Connor’s portrayal will bring up memories for queer people of many upbringings today, from the early stages of his crush on Charlie to his tearjerking coming out story. Having also starred as a young Elton John in 2019’s Rocketman, Connor has been hitting his stride in the last couple of years, with Heartstopper only catapulting his fanbase further.
We chat with Kit Connor about his groundbreaking role in Heartstopper, his chemistry on set with costar Joe Locke, and just what’s coming up next for the young star. Read the full interview below.
You’ve been acting from quite a young age. How did you get into acting initially? Do you come from an artistic or theatrical family?
When I was about seven or eight, I got my first commercial: an Xbox ad. I only got that as I went to a Saturday stage school, and there was an opening for an Xbox ad and I thought “yeah cool, I’ll do it.” It was a bit of fun and then I progressed from commercials to TV shows and then I got my first film at nine. But it all started from commercials. My parents are both in advertising so they are kind of in the creative industry a little. But still a different world from my industry.
Who are some of your biggest acting inspirations? Do you take inspiration from anywhere outside the realm of acting too?
I have lots of inspirations, especially in the industry. As a child actor I always used to look up to people like Asa Butterfield, Will Poulter, and Tom Holland, those who were child actors who made that transition to being an adult actor working in the industry. I think those were always my big inspirations. Robert Pattinson also has had such an interesting career; the way he holds himself is something that I try to replicate. I think outside of the industry I have been a big NBA fan so Kobe Bryant (who is sadly not with us anymore) has been one of my big inspirations mainly because of his work ethic, and he was really cool.
What attracted you to the role of Nick Nelson in Heartstopper? How did the opportunity to play him come about for you?
There are so many things that attracted me to playing Nick Nelson, it came about via my agent. It was a self-tape and they’d sent through the first volume of Heartstopper [the graphic novel] and I read it and thought it was great. There isn’t much bisexuality representation [in media], especially male, but in Heartstopper it goes into quite a bit of depth. That was something new and fresh that I didn’t think had really been done before.
What is the biggest message you want viewers to take away from watching Nick on the show?
The main thing I want people to take away from Nick in particular is just to learn to be authentically yourself and don’t be afraid of what other people think of you. To be completely genuine and have the confidence to be, that’s the aim of Heartstopper as a whole, to give people the confidence in themselves and give them a space to discover themselves, as I think that’s what Nick does.
Do you see any of yourself in Nick? How are you similar and how are you different?
I’m sure a lot of people can see themselves in Nick, I try to play him as not only a popular and confident character, but he also has a layer of sensitivity and vulnerability. I’m not particularly extroverted or super confident in day-to-day life, and that’s probably the main difference between us. Nick has some amazing bravery to explore himself, and I think a lot of people at times are scared to explore their personality and sexuality, and undergo a massive change in their life.
How’s your real-life friendship with Joe Locke, aka Charlie? We hear you got along quite well on set!
Joe and I are very close, we are comfortable at a point in our relationship where we can take the mick out of each other, that’s the main element of our friendship. We just have fun; we feel very at ease with each other. When you spend so much time together on set – most of my scenes were with Joe – it did mean we very quickly got on together. It was a good thing that it did happen as it would’ve been very difficult to portray that relationship if we weren’t as close as we are.
Did you find any scenes hard to film? Particularly with Joe?
I think one of the hardest scene to film was a scene wherein after I’ve run to Joe’s house in the rain, we go up to his bedroom and confess our emotions, it’s quite a long scene and difficult as I was drenched in water and I had to cry and be vulnerable and emotional. I think it was a very important scene in the graphic novels and in the script as well, and it was something I really wanted to do well.
As you mentioned, bisexuality is still a fairly underrepresented group on TV. Besides being a bisexual/questioning role, how else did Nick stand out to you?
When I was reading the script, one thing that stood out to me about Nick was that I compared him to a character in Normal People called Connell. I felt that he very much came to his popularity through minimal effort, was very easy to speak to and good at rugby. He was genuinely quite nice so people like him, so he didn’t try very hard to make those friends that he has in season one; and he makes friends effortlessly. It’s what made the role stand out to me as he had another layer of complexity.
Were you familiar with the graphic novel Heartstopper was based on before joining the cast? Did you read it to prepare for the role?
I was aware of it; my sister actually had the first volume in her bookshelf and used to read it, so I remember seeing it in my house. But when I got the first email about it and they sent through a link to the first volume, I obviously read it. Then after one or two auditions I read the other three volumes. I quite quickly read everything I could get my hands on. It was amazing, I think it’s such a beautiful set of graphic novels and they’re so rich and joyful.
Even at a young age you’ve shared the screen with some big names, like Taron Egerton and Richard Madden in Rocketman. Who are you dying to collaborate with next?
It’s quite a niche choice but I’d probably say Andrew Scott because I remember watching Sherlock as a child and just being blown away and absolutely astounded by his performance. I remember watching his performance of Hamlet at the Almeida Theatre, and that was incredible as well. It would be an amazing experience to act alongside him.
Playing a young Elton John in Rocketman was a huge role for you. If you had to play another famous musician, who would you pick?
I think I’d have loved to do The Beatles, like Paul McCartney – not that I have any kind of resemblance to any of The Beatles, but I feel like that would’ve been quite a cool film to do. The era, the ‘60s; any musician where I could do the ‘60s or ’70s or maybe even ’80s. That three-decade era is pretty awesome.
Can you clue us in about anything regarding a potential season 2 of Heartstopper?
I know absolutely nothing about season 2, they haven’t told us anything. My main hope is that people enjoy season one and if enough people watch it then who knows what will happen in the future!
Do you have any philosophies you stick to as an actor or in everyday life?
I think my main philosophy is just try to be nice to everyone. I think that goes a bit deeper. As an actor, a lot of the time you could be an incredible actor but there’s one thing that stops you getting jobs: if people like working with you. If directors, producers, or other actors don’t want to work with you then you probably won’t get the job. I think even from a career standpoint, just to be nice to everyone, genuine, and real. Obviously in day-to-day life it’s good to be nice to people and be a pleasant person.
What else can we look forward to from you in 2022?
The main thing for me in 2022 is my A-Levels starting quite soon, and that’s my main mountain to climb at the moment.
Interview by Jason Daniel Levy for The Untitled Magazine
Photography by Jemima Marriott @jemimashoots
Stylist Ruta Jane @ruta.jane
Stylists Assistants Carmel Anderson @styledbycarmel & Stoyan Chuchuranov @___stoyan
Skin and Hair by Nadia Altinbas @nadiaaltinbas
Shirt by Carlota Barrera
Cardigan by Toga Virilis
Trousers by Toga Virilis