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‘Heartstopper’ Star Joe Locke Talks Season 2 and Coming of Age

Photo by Joseph Sinclair

This interview took place prior to the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike.

Joe Locke has been coming to terms with adulthood. Perched on the sofa in his new apartment, he relives a phone call with the local water company pleading with them not to turn off the mains. “I feel like a real adult today,” the 19-year-old Isle of Man native says with a laugh. Coming of age has been a public adjustment for Locke, who rocketed to fame for his role in Netflix’s much-adored Heartstopper, a wholesome and bountifully optimistic LGBTQ+ drama.

In the show, Locke plays Charlie Spring, a 15-year-old gay high-schooler who embarks on a clandestine romance with fellow student and “rugby lad” Nick (Kit Connor). The story’s a faithful adaptation of Heartstopper creator and screenwriter Alice Oseman’s Tumblr-originated graphic novel—a sacred text for both actors and fans. Upon its release, Heartstopper proved an instant hit, with 53 million hours watched in its first month and now over 10 billion views on the #Heartstopper hashtag.

Maturing has been an integral theme that bridged Heartstopper’s debut and sophomore season (out August 3rd) for the show and Locke. From an unassuming high school boy working towards good grades to sitting front row at fashion shows and on the Netflix homepage, Locke was thrown into the epicenter of fame overnight after being selected from 10,000 applicants. “The two weeks around the release of the show are a blur in my memory,” he says. “My whole life changed like that. It was a very strange but amazing experience.”

Following Heartstopper’s premiere, with millions more online followers and an onslaught of international praise, Locke returned to high school. “I had the best time, coming to school hungover, no sleep, having just got off the plane,” he recalls. “I felt so cool but I was completely burnt out. I shouldn’t have been going to all these things but I was very new to this world and didn’t know what the word ‘no’ was.” These days, he’s mindful to not get too caught up in the whirlwind.

We’re speaking a month ahead of the new season’s release, a time when fans are feasting over every tiny detail Netflix provides and theorizing where this season will go based on which t-shirt Charlie’s wearing. Although the expectation has mounted, Locke maintains an impressively grounded perspective: “One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that you can’t ever do everything right. It’s not an actor’s job to make everyone else happy. I was very in my head about making sure I did the character justice and [in season two] I’m more proud of my work.” Still, he concedes it remains tricky to not invest too much of himself into the role, “especially when you relate so much to the character you’re playing.”

Courtesy of Netflix
Joe Locke in Heartstopper.

Known for feel-good queer representation, Heartstopper’s forthcoming season sees a confrontation of disordered eating and mental health issues. “As the characters grow up, so does the show,” Locke explains. “I think it’s important we don’t shy away from that while retaining the optimism the show has.” Heartstopper’s more emotionally turbulent moments often rest on Locke and his co-star Connor, for whom he expresses nothing but love. Season two sees them level up with more intimate and stirring performances—a development Locke notes came about naturally. “Our friendships are much like the characters’,” he says. “We’ve matured and got deeper bonds that will definitely last for life.”

Locke’s first love was theatre—and at 10 years old, the stage was his second home. Playing Lord Farquaad’s father in a production of Shrek the Musical is a particularly memorable role, despite Locke having only one line in the show. He describes his younger self as “a Marvel kid”—and it seems like an act of manifestation that he landed a role in the upcoming WandaVision spin-off Agatha: Coven of Chaos.

He’s predictably tight-lipped (and not even allowed to confirm his role) but clearly giddy about the show, hugging his knees as if trying to contain his excitement. “I did everything I could to get it,” he says of the undisclosed part, despite the fact he had no idea which Marvel project he was auditioning for during that four-month period. Filming Agatha: Coven of Chaos, Locke spent six months with “the most incredible women” including his childhood hero, Patti LuPone; Kathryn Hahn, and the notorious prankster: Aubrey Plaza. The latter, in classic Plaza fashion, gave Locke a signed image of her face on their last day of filming. He looks over his shoulder—and sure enough, it has pride of place beside a mirror.

Intertwined cast connections were also integral to Heartstopper season 2, especially during an intense eight-day shoot in Paris. “We’d be up at 4 AM, on 3 hours of sleep—but we’re filming at the Eiffel Tower so you can’t really complain,” Locke recalls, noting his whistle-stop Parisian tour included running through The Louvre, visiting the Arc de Triomphe, and watching the sunrise at the Sacré-Cœur. Alongside the Parisian adventure, one of Locke’s highlights was filming with the incomparable Olivia Colman, who stars as Connor’s onscreen mother. “I said to Alice when she was writing season two, ‘If you don’t write me a scene with Olivia Colman, I’m just going to quit.’ I think they took that to heart more than I meant it.” (Locke certainly got his wish with the imminent season.)

Courtesy of Netflix
Joe Locke and Kit Connor in Heartstopper.

Although Locke is now well-versed in the Heartstopper fandom and all the commotion surrounding the series, there was a time when all the attention proved challenging. Following the show’s season one premiere, the actor unfollowed all his family and friends online after they received messages from fans trying to contact him and pry into his private life. “There’s a level of guilt I sometimes feel to [family and friends], having to not do things because of me—which is part of the job, I guess,” he says. “I think I’ve found boundaries in the past year.” Locke follows up that he’s endlessly grateful for the support. Nevertheless, it can be overwhelming. “It’s not a normal thing for a 19-year-old to have their life and friendships scrutinized.”

Our conversation winds down as Locke heads to dinner with Heartstopper producer Patrick Walters and Oseman to discuss season three. “Who knows—we might get four, five, six, seven seasons until Nick and Charlie have children,” he teases with a knowing smile. Two days hours after our chat, Locke posts Instagram stories from a Heartstopper-themed float at Pride in London, waving at fawning crowds as an emblem of a new generation of actors.

W Magazine

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