As one half of Narlie, fans have wondered how Heartstopper star Joe Locke’s gay experience relates to his character and what he’s said about his sexuality since starring in Netflix’s latest phenomenon.
Heartstopper, which premiered on Netflix on April 22, 2022, is based on Alice Oseman’s 2020 graphic novel
of the same name, which tells the love story of Charles “Charlie” Spring (Joe Locke), a shy gay student at Truham Grammar School who was recently outed, and Nicholas “Nick” Nelson (Kit Connor), a popular rugby player a year older than Charlie, who sits next to him in class one morning. The show, which has been viewed more than 24 million times since its premiere, follows Charlie and Nick’s relationship, from the start of their intimate friendship to Charlie’s crush on Nick and Nick’s struggles with his own sexuality and feelings for Charlie.
Joe and Kit, who are both 18 years old, told Them in May 2022 about how being close in age to their characters (Charlie is 15, while Nick is 16) helped them relate to Charlie and Nick. “I think it makes it more authentic because there’s a time and place for 35-year-olds playing 16-year-olds, you know.,” Joe said. “But Heartstopper is definitely a story that hasn’t been told before and so it should be told with the most authenticity as possible. I mean, me and Kit are still in school. We have our A Levels like three weeks after the show comes out. You couldn’t get anymore in school than that!” Kit added, “A really, really important aspect of it is how it plays out in school, and how it works in that environment. The fact that Joe and I both are still in school made it, to be honest, a little bit easier as actors because we didn’t have to think back and remember what it was like. We’re not thirty-year-olds playing teenagers; it’s very much our mindset now. School can be a very strange environment because it does feel like your whole life is just in school, in these friendship groups.”
Kit and Joe also told Them about what it was like to meet each other for the first time. “It was instant. What can we say? It was an immediate connection that we shared,” Kit said. “One of the best decisions about the schedule of how we filmed Heartstopper was that it was quite chronological. In a sense, as these characters got to know each other, we as actors and as people also got to know each other. That doesn’t just work for Nick and Charlie, but for the whole cast, really. We slowly but surely actually started to like each other. Joe and I are really good friends and it’s always a pleasure to share the screen with him.” Joe added, “We’ve gotten to that point in our friendship where you’re allowed to be mean to each other. There was a day on set where our director was like, ‘Guys, I’m getting more Kit and Joe than I am Nick and Charlie.’”
So how does Joe Locke’s gay experience relate to Charlie and what has he said about his own sexuality? Read on for Locke has said about his own coming out story and the “differences” between his teenage years and Charlie’s.
What has Joe Locke gay?
Is Joe Locke gay? He confirmed he was gay in an interview with The Independent in May 2022, where he opened up about how he felt “different” while growing up in Isle of Man in the United Kingdom because of his sexuality. “I was never bullied in school but I was a little bit different and I went through phases of being a bit quieter than I’d have liked…” he said. “Teenage years are really hard, I think, and when you grow up, you forget that being a teenager is actually really a bit shit sometimes. When you’re that age, all that matters is school. It’s your whole life. And your whole life is what people think about you and if you’re ever going to find someone who likes you. Part of me is still there, I’m still at school. School can be a wonderful place but it can also be a not so wonderful place if you don’t happen to fit in properly.”
Locke also emphasized about how he felt different in school because of his sexuality in an interview with Attitude magazine. “I think that with queer people there’s a universal experience of school that everyone sort of relates to, but then there are differences,” he said. “I never would say I was bullied. There was only a handful of people I can think of who ever said anything bad to me. Charlie really struggles with that. I think going to an all-boys school probably comes with its differences.” He continued, “I went to a co-ed state school, and I had more friends who were girls than boys. I think it would have been difficult for Charlie, especially in that situation.”
Despite his experience in school, Locke also told The Independent about how acceptance toward the LGBTQ+ community, especially among younger generations, has changed since he first came out. “A lot has changed in recent years but there’s still a long way to go,” he said. “Difference is seen as a bad thing in a lot of schools and to other teenagers because you don’t fit in with a certain norm that’s seen to be acceptable. I know from my own experience that that makes some things a bit difficult. I’d hope that as millennials are starting to have children and bring their children up, that will start to change things. But I think we’re on the tail end of the generation before, which wasn’t necessarily as accepting. There were definitely people who said things to people in my year who were different. And part of that is because, when you’re a teenager, you don’t know yourself, and a way of covering that is to attack other people. That may not change. But we can learn ways of trying to make it better.”
As for how he relates to Heartstopper, Locke also told The Independent about how he could see himself in a scene where Nick takes a BuzzFeed quiz to determine if he’s gay. “The classic BuzzFeed ‘Are you gay?’ quiz was genuinely a popular trend at my school,” Locke said. “It was like, if you got above a certain amount of points, then maybe you’re gay.” He also told the site about how his “dream role” would be to play Disney’s first openly gay prince to star in more projects that “mean something.” “I would love to play the first gay Disney prince,” he said. “That would be a dream.”
In an interview with Behind the Blinds, Locke also opened up about how he saw himself and his own queer experience in Charlie when he read the Hearstopper comic. “When I first heard about the audition, I read the comics and I just saw so much of myself in Charlie and so much of what my school experience was like,” he said. “I really wanted to be a part of the project because I felt like there are not many shows out there that depict the positives of growing up as a queer person – I just thought it was so great that there’s a story in which we can show younger queer kids that they deserve happiness.”
Locke also told GQ about how he related to the script of Heartstopper because of how rare it is to see “unapologetic queer love” on screen. “Charlie’s story is relatable for so many queer people. The second I read the script, I saw Charlie as a more introverted version of me. When I read it, I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s me. That’s really weird,’” he said. “I love how the script talks about queer love, which a lot of people still don’t write about. I love how unapologetic the queer love is in Heartstopper. The characters are never sorry about who they are, and they’re never ashamed to be themselves. It’s so empowering to see! The atmosphere on set was always happy and upbeat, and just really excited to be creating a queer story with nuance. It was such a supportive environment that shines through in the show.”
He also told the magazine about how he appreciates that Heartstopper tells the story of what it’s like after someone comes out. “I really relate to Charlie and his experiences a lot too,” he said. “There are a lot of stories about coming out, but there are not as many stories about the actual queer experience post-coming out and how just because you’re out, doesn’t mean everything is magically better. Charlie’s experience with settling for a love that isn’t necessarily what he deserves is pretty universal for queer people. I think there are a lot of queer people who just accept what they get because they’ve told themselves they don’t deserve better. Heartstopper is so great at being like, ‘Queer people deserve real love. Queer people deserve a love that actually is fulfilling.’ Heartstopper is a real celebration of queer love.”
Locke also told Attitude that his message to queer kids watching Heartstopper would be, “You can have happiness and you deserve happiness.” He also told the magazine about how he hopes Heartstopper will lead to other shows about LGBTQ+ youth. “I think it’s really important to push the idea that no matter who you are, or what you identify as, or your sexuality, you’re allowed happiness,” he said.
Heartstopper is available to stream on Netflix.
For more about Heartstopper, read Alice Oseman’s 2020 graphic novel
that inspired the series. The New York Times bestselling book, which features two-color artwork and was the American Booksellers’ Association’s Next Indie Pick of 2020, tells the full love story between Charlie Spring, a shy and softhearted student at Truham Grammar School who was recently outed, and Nick Nelson, a popular rugby player a year older than Charlie, who sits next to him in class one morning. The book follows Charlie and Nick’s relationship, from the start of their intimate friendship to Charlie’s crush on Nick and doubt that he even has a chance. The book also explores Nick’s struggles with his own sexuality and feelings for Charlie, as well as the ups and downs of high school and the innocence of first love.
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