How ‘Heartstopper’ and its cast are redefining queer joy, one wholesome season at a time

By Louis Shankar

Published Sep 27, 2022 at 12:31 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

Heartstopper, the Netflix series based on Alice Oseman’s cult classic webcomic of the same name, has just started filming its second season.

The first instalment, which was released on 22 April 2022, was met with immediate critical acclaim. And the show’s stars, many of whom were acting professionally for the first time, have quickly gained huge fanbases, in particular, Joe Locke as Charlie Spring—the main character, a shy year 10 student who was recently outed—and Yasmin Finney as Elle Argent—a teenage girl who transfers to the local all-girls’ school after coming out as trans.

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A post shared by Joe Locke (@joelocke03)

Oscar award-winning icon Olivia Colman also plays the mum of Nick, Charlie’s crush-turned-love-interest—a casting move that was somehow managed to be kept under wraps until the show premiered.

Neither of their stories is airbrushed or sanitised, but both provide honest, recognisable, and relatable queer representation onscreen, without resorting to traumatic or exploitative narratives. It’s rare to see a gay teen played by an openly gay teenage actor—or to have a trans teenager whose story explores the joys of her gender identity and expression. It’s not trying to be a gritting, hard-hitting drama, like Euphoria, that grapples with the most difficult parts of growing up.

The representation Heartstopper is giving to its viewers—and the fact that the comic had a loyal fanbase waiting eagerly for season one—will have huge and potentially life-changing impacts on the younger generations.

Stories have already been shared across social media platforms of teens and adults alike who are increasingly leveraging the show in order to understand themselves better, and for some, to come out to friends and family. Even a sweet rom-com has the power to be quietly revolutionary.

Luke Pollard, a Labour MP, surprisingly brought this up in a parliamentary debate by stating: “That visibility has changed lives.”

Joe Locke was chosen out of around 10,000 other potential actors who applied for the role via an open casting call, and now has over 850,000 followers on Twitter. Earlier this year, he made his West End debut at the Donmar Warehouse, playing Noah in The Trials, a piece of new writing about climate justice featuring a cast of predominantly teenage and child actors.

I managed to get myself a ticket, which wasn’t easy as the relatively-short run quickly sold out due to Locke’s casting—alongside fellow Heartstopper cast member, William Gao. Locke certainly proved his acting chops, and it’ll be exciting to see what else he branches out into, having only just finished school this summer.

He also went viral internationally for singing Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)’ and flipping the bird to anti-LGBTQ+ protestors at this year’s London Pride parade.

Meanwhile, Finney had gained prominence on TikTok before being cast in Heartstopper, where she talked about her experiences as a black British trans teenager. She now has over 1.8 million followers on the video-sharing platform and, at just 18 years old, has won a Price Icon Award from Attitude Magazine.

Finney had previously also been set to star in Billy Porter’s queer rom-com Anything’s Possible, but had to pull out due to travel restrictions and visa difficulties. In 2023, she’s set to be a series regular in Doctor Who, working with the legendary Russell T. Davies, who is returning as showrunner for the next season. Her character is called Rose, just like Billie Piper’s role who first appeared in Davies’ revival of the show. Intriguing, indeed…

The Heartstopper star has also become a minor fashion icon, appearing in the Royal Box at Wimbledon and on the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival—as well as being spotted in the front rows of several London Fashion Week shows. Surely the first of many, and I’d wager she’ll soon be strutting the catwalk herself too.

In September 2022, she appeared on an episode of Queerpiphany, an MTV online chat show hosted by queer British legends Munroe Bergdorf and Tayce. It’s honestly a wonderful watch and utterly heartwarming to see the amount of black queer/trans joy in one room, a level of celebration we don’t get to see much of in the UK at the moment.

The second season of Heartstopper introduces four new core cast members: Leila Khan as Sahar Zahid (a Higgs student), Jack Barton as David Nelson (Nick’s older brother), Bradley Riches as James McEwan (a Truham student), and Nima Taleghani as Mr. Farouk (a Truham teacher).

But as they’ve only just started filming, we could be waiting a while before we get to see Charlie, Nick, Tao, and Elle again. In the meantime, stardom awaits.

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