‘Heartstopper’ Connor escape kit aims for authenticity

‘Heartstopper’ Connor escape kit aims for authenticity

At just 18, Kit Connor garnered the kind of attention online that could only be gained by starring in a hugely popular Netflix series. Heart stroke, which casts Connor in one of two lead roles, was adapted from the webcomics created by Alice Oseman, and as a series (also written by Oseman) it goes to the heart of queer connection in an upbeat and surprisingly delightful way. Don’t be fooled by the series’ seemingly juvenile setting, though—Heart stroke may take place in a high school during sweaty rugby matches and after-school parties, but its central relationships can warm the coldest of hearts.

Joining the cast of up-and-coming young actors, Connor plays Nick Nelson, a high school jock who begins to discover his true feelings for protagonist Charlie Spring (Joe Locke), and with it, a reckoning of his friendships and sexuality. In a Zoom call from his home in the UK, Connor recounts O he is studying for his advanced level qualifications, as he sits in front of a bright pink poster with the words ‘It’s going to be fine’. He shares a feeling of immense gratitude for his Heart stroke role, adding that after originally auditioning for the role of Charlie, Nick’s landing turned out to be “a match made in heaven”.

Dressed in a beige short-sleeved shirt, Connor looks relaxed and articulate. In our conversation, he embodies a level of introspection and self-reflection about his role and the landscape of queer representation in media that seems rare for such a young actor. When I tell her that Heart stroke made me feel very single as a millennial elder, he jokes that this was the plan all along, to make everyone “feel very, very sad and jealous of Nick and Charlie — and that it must be “bittersweet” for older queer viewers to experience Heart stroke when they were more limited in their queer-centric TV options growing up.

With the encouragement of his parents, who wanted their shy child to come out of his shell, acting was originally just a hobby for Connor. He landed his first role at age eight, appearing first in commercials, then in film and television. In 2019, the actor gained some recognition for his appearance as young Elton John in the biopic Rocketman, while also starting to do voice-over work. He admits few people may know that he is currently voicing Pan on Its dark materials, the shapeshifting mouse of protagonist Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen). “It always surprises them when they hear it, and then they can’t hear it anymore,” he jokes. (Its dark materials is slated for a third and final season to be released later this year.)

According to Connor, Nick is one of the most relatable characters in Heart stroke, and one he was able to connect with on a personal level while preparing for the role. “On a bigger scale, he’s going through this mental turmoil and internal struggle about his place in school and in society, his sexuality and the people around him,” Connor explains. “I can relate to Nick in so many ways, and so many experiences that he has on the show, I’ve literally been through exactly that.”

As the series progresses, Nick grows closer to not only Charlie, but also an uplifting group of friends who identify as straight and gay, embracing him as one of their own. “The characters are so pure and it’s such a refreshing, positive, optimistic view of life and queerness,” notes Connor. “I think it’s beautiful.”

A highlight of filming the series came when Connor spent two days working closely with prolific Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman. It was an experience he calls “absolute bliss” and “an honor”. Colman was cast to play Nick’s caring mother, and the two actors share some of the season’s most tender scenes. “She’s such a talented actress,” he exclaims. “She’s so professional, but also so calm and immediately puts you at ease, and knows exactly when to crack a joke.” While Connor says crying at the right time doesn’t come easily to him, he was impressed with Colman’s mastery of his emotions and his ability to shift from one to another in a seemingly effortless way. That said, a scene in which Nick frantically searches “Am I gay?” produced a true Connor’s Tear, a viscerally realistic to queer coming-of-age experience.

Heart stroke provides an example of positive queer portrayal for its young audience, and Connor says he wants the show to benefit both straight and gay viewers. He wants the show to be “a safe space for queer teens and adults, for the LGBTQIA+ community to feel safe and to feel represented and loved,” he says, adding, “I hope we’ve done justice. to homosexuality”. But he also wants straight viewers to stick around to watch and enjoy queer characters in states of joy and love, rather than some of the darker subject matter, such as drugs and death, which can often give the tone in queer storytelling.

The series has been so intensely embraced by fans that Connor is still adjusting to the experience of being recognized on the streets. In a recent Tweet, the actor also felt the need to address fans who speculated about his sexuality online. On the one hand, Connor says he has empathy for those who want to know. “I completely understand the idea that they want authentic queer representation, and so ideally they would like to know the sexuality of whoever is playing the role,” he explains. “I totally agree that authenticity is something that should be sought after.”

On the other hand, however, boundaries are rarely respected online. “People can be a little too comfortable on social media,” he says. “It’s so dangerous to speculate on someone’s sexuality, especially for someone my age of 18, it’s kind of weird to me. If I didn’t say anything, you shouldn’t assume anything, but you shouldn’t force me to tell people either. It’s a very personal journey that people have to take.

To stay centered, Connor found a sense of peace by unplugging at the gym for two-hour workouts, a habit he stuck to after bulking up for his Heart stroke role. He also watches “everything I can, whenever I can”, lately relaxing to Bridgerton, best boy, and catch up Euphoria. And while he would one day like to play a character poles apart from Nick (“someone meaner and more twisted,” he says), or enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe, his philosophy is to remain open to everything. For now, Connor will continue to play Nick for at least two more seasons of Heart stroke, a renewal announcement that arrived just in time for Pride Month. “I try not to have a lot of dream roles or goals or anything like that,” he says. “I’m just trying to see what’s going on.”

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