The Netflix adaptation of the hit webcomic and graphic novel series Heartstopper drops NEXT WEEK, people!
BuzzFeed UK: Hi Alice! First off, I have to ask, BuzzFeed is mentioned in the Heartstopper books and the series – does it feel like a full circle moment talking to us today?
Alice: Oh my God, I'd not thought about that. I guess it is! BuzzFeed is like the place you go for internet quizzes, which is why it comes up when Nick is Googling. But yeah, how weird.
BuzzFeed UK: I had to ask! So to give people a little context, could you briefly summarise the series for those who might not already be familiar with it?
Alice: Sure! Heartstopper is the story of Nick and Charlie, two boys who meet at an all-boys grammar school. Charlie is openly gay and quite introverted, which he's been bullied for; Nick is a rugby player and is very popular. They meet in form and they become friends, and then Charlie develops a crush on Nick, but he doesn't think Nick could ever like him back. Then their friendship blossoms ~potentially~ into something more.
BuzzFeed UK: You started publishing your webcomic back in 2016, how does it feel to now be at the helm of your own Netflix series?
Alice: It's very strange! I guess it's been quite a gradual journey, from self-publishing the book in 2016, to having it published traditionally a couple of years later, and now the Netflix show – it's just been so fun and exciting! I love Heartstopper and it's always been a passion project and something that's very dear to my heart. I'm just very grateful and I'm having a great time!
Alice: Our goal with Heartstopper was for it to appeal to teens, mainly. There are a lot of teen shows that are for adults, but Heartstopper is primarily for a younger audience. I think people of all ages can enjoy it, but teens and tweens were who we wanted to cater to and make it accessible for.
"Nick and Charlie are such important characters, not just to me but to so many people, and I knew if we didn't find the right actors then the show just wouldn't work."
BuzzFeed UK: You answered my next question there, so I'll ask this instead – who did you write the original webcomic for?
Alice: Honestly... Myself! I decided to do Heartstopper because I cared about these characters so much. Nick and Charlie appear in a book I wrote before Heartstopper called Solitaire, and after I wrote that I kept thinking about them and I just knew I wanted to tell their story. I basically just wanted to write it so that I could read it, but then people of all ages ended up enjoying it!
BuzzFeed UK: A lot of people, myself included, have become really close to the idea of Nick and Charlie – how did you know when you'd found the right actors for them?
Alice: It was a really scary process! Nick and Charlie are such important characters, not just to me but to so many people, and I knew if we didn't find the right actors then the show just wouldn't work. We saw SO many actors. We did an open audition search for Charlie and so many talented people turned up, but not many who I saw and just thought, you could be Charlie.
It was probably because I have such a clear idea of who these characters are in my head, but eventually Kit and Joe just showed up – I have no idea how! It was very hard and we didn't have many options, to be honest. We just got very lucky!
BuzzFeed UK: You wrote the screenplay yourself, but did it ever occur to you to pass it off to another writer and see what they could do with it? Or was it something you absolutely wanted to do yourself?
Alice: I really wanted to do it, but I wasn't sure if that would be an option because usually, the author isn't the writer of the adaptation. I also hadn't written a screenplay before, but See Saw Films asked me to have a go. I fully went into it thinking "if I'm not good at this, they'll hire someone else, and I'm okay with that". Thankfully they liked what I did, and so did Netflix so that really worked out!
BuzzFeed UK: A few things have changed story-wise, what was the thinking behind these changes?
Alice: Most people don't realise that in comics there isn't a lot of space because it's drawings and not prose, so you really can't put a lot of story in there. In the show, however, we had a lot more room to do what we wanted to. One of the big things we did which is different to the comics is expand the supporting characters, in particular Tao, Elle, Tara, and Darcy. They have so much more to do in the show!
BuzzFeed UK: Was expanding those characters also something you wanted to do because the medium was different?
Alice: Definitely! People really liked the supporting characters in the comics, and this was an opportunity to give the people what they want basically.
BuzzFeed UK: I've gotta say, the playlist is banging – how did you choose the music for the series?
Alice: I'm glad you think so! It was a collaborative process between all of the executive producers, the director, and the editor. In the editing process, our editor Sophie was the first person to pick a song while she was editing, and then we would all give our feedback.
Patrick Walters and I had many playlists prepared for this series, and a lot of ideas for particular scenes. For example, the Beabadoobee song that plays in the snow day scene, I picked that! I feel very proud of that.
BuzzFeed UK: I have to ask, HOW did Olivia Colman become involved?
Alice: We had this dream of getting a ~big~ actor to be Nick's mum. I thought this was a very silly idea because who's going to want to spend their time on a small role in a show that no other huge actors are a part of. Anyway, we – me and the other executive producers – came up with a list of people we could ask, and Euros Lyn reached out to Olivia because they'd worked together before and knew each other.
She was sent the scripts and a bit of the comic, and miraculously she agreed to do it! I literally did NOT think it was going to happen... I was like, this is a stupid idea, but it did!
BuzzFeed UK: You know what I'm going to ask next – who else was on that list?
Alice: D'you know what? I actually can't remember! She was the first person we asked and our top choice as well.
BuzzFeed UK: As a twenty-something queer woman, what originally motivated you to pen a romance story about two queer teenage boys?
Alice: Well, I'm a writer of teen fiction. Outside of Heartstopper I've written four young adult novels, which are all about teens who are mostly queer. That's always been the type of story I enjoy writing. What appeals to me about teen stories is how emotional they can be, as well as the focus on growth and relationships and character development.
BuzzFeed UK: Off of that, you write quite often about queer topics and a lot of your characters are LGBTQ+ – why is that important to you?
Alice: Firstly, as a queer person, it's just what I enjoy writing about. Secondly, I really like taking characters through queer discovery in a joyful way. To be honest, I haven't thought about it too much, I just like writing about queerness!
BuzzFeed UK: Do you think that the ideas and attitudes in the novels and the TV series reflect real life for young queer people?
Alice: It's difficult to say. I think here in the UK, the teenage experience of being queer in school can really vary. I think some teens have a much better experience than the characters in Heartstopper, whereas others might really be able to relate to what Charlie has gone through, for example.
I do believe things have improved even since I started writing Heartstopper, but definitely since I was in school myself. There's still a lot of homophobia, transphobia, and bullying out there though, so I'm sure some people will relate.
"I really like taking characters through queer discovery in a joyful way. To be honest, I haven't thought about it too much, I just like writing about queerness!"
BuzzFeed UK: Say you could do this series again, or it gets renewed for a second series (as it should), who would be a dream cameo for you?
Alice: Ooh, that's really hard. It would have to be somebody iconic like Ian McKellen as a teacher or something!
BuzzFeed UK: Final question, would you like any of your other works to become a TV series, and if so, which one(s)?
Alice: Yeah, I would love that! My answer to this changes all the time, but my top choice right now would be Loveless, which is my most recent YA novel. It's a coming-out story about being aromantic and asexual, and there's not much representation for those identities.
Note: Some answers were edited for length and/or clarity.