Dan Levy Once Slid Into Asa Butterfield's DMs, And 24 Other Things We Learned On Zoom With The "Sex Education" Cast
When I say I want to listen to Ncuti Gatwa's Eric-inspired playlist!
Sex Education is one of those rare TV shows that does it all – not only is it eminently watchable, it pushes boundaries and represents people we don't often get to see on TV.
So to celebrate the release of season three of the show, BuzzFeed UK sat down with several members of the cast – specifically Asa Butterfield (Otis), Ncuti Gatwa (Eric), Aimee Lou Wood (Aimee), Connor Swindells (Adam), Mimi Keene (Ruby), Tanya Reynolds (Lily), Patricia "Trish" Allison (Ola), and Alistair Petrie (Mr. Groff) – to chat about what they've learned by being a part of the show, what it's like behind the scenes, and what they'd like to see on the show in future.
WARNING: There are some minor spoilers ahead for season three!
1. Firstly, the iconic line and meme of 2020 "wash your hands, you dirty pig" was improvised, in part, by Ncuti.
Ncuti: I guess "dirty pig" was improvised. Ben [Taylor], I think, had heard me call Asa a dirty pig, and so he was like you need to call this guy a dirty pig and then it just became its in own thing.
2. In fact, the cast of Sex Education are often encouraged to improvise, and a lot of what they do and say makes it into the final edit of the show!
Aimee: Ben Taylor, our director, will sometimes come over and whisper an idea into your ear. One example is something that actually kicks off the [season three] trailer. Maeve asks, "Aims who's this?" and Aimee says, "Maeve, that’s Steve", then Maeve replies, "I mean the goat". That was Ben! He said, when she asks who it is, don't go straight into the explanation of the goat say, "Maeve, that’s Steve."
Asa: A lot of things, particularly in scenes between me and Ncuti, are improvised – usually at either the beginning or the end of a scene, we’ll add in little words.
3. Asa's favourite improvised line came when he had to act drunk at a party in season one.
Asa: A lot of my drunk acting was somewhat improvised! Possibly my favourite line was about there being sick in my cup. I say something like, "I'm gonna get another drink cos there’s sick in this one". That was fun!
4. Connor came up with the moment where Adam "stickers" his own face on a whim to make the crew laugh!
Connor: Season two with the sticker gun, that was a move that I pulled when I was in the shop that I thought would make people laugh... A lot of the time it's me trying to make Ben the director laugh, and then he puts it in the show.
5. Some of the scene where Ola and Otis are hooking up, and Jean and Jakob are hooking up and they all collide into each other, was also spontaneous.
Trish: They set the scene, and then just let us play it out and caught our initial reactions... I was genuinely screaming because me and Mikael [Persbrandt] have become really close, and I see him as my on-set dad, and he had his pants down [which] I was not expecting it!
6. The cast had to watch videos of different animals having intercourse as part of their intimacy training.
Trish: Ita O’Brien, who's a fantastic intimacy coordinator, did this workshop with us in the beginning where we had to watch different animals making love. The weirdest thing that I saw was slugs – I was like – I’d just never thought about slugs... procreating, as it were. It was just so interesting to see them – it’s quite sensual actually!
7. Alistair once spent an entire lunch break inspecting Jean Milburn's office.
Alistair: The weirdest thing I’ve learned [on set] is quite a lot to do with anatomy, and all you need to do to learn any of that is walk on to set and into Jean Milburn's office! I think we broke for lunch while I was shooting in her office, and I stayed in there for a little while and learned quite a lot about the human anatomy thanks to the brilliant set design – and you all know exactly what I’m talking about!
8. Asa loves to go around set greeting people every day.
Aimee: Asa, even if we’ve seen each other the day before, always greets everyone like he’s not seen them for weeks. It’s so cute! He’ll walk on to the makeup truck and he’ll say hi to every single person on there. He might’ve wrapped like 12 hours before, and he’ll be coming and saying hi to everyone. And when he leaves, he says goodbye to everyone individually like he’s not gonna see them for a year [but] he’s in in a few hours, which is just the sweetest thing!
9. Ncuti makes a playlist for each season to inform how he plays Eric.
Ncuti: I give each of Eric's scenes a song and then he also has a song for the season that wraps up his journey. "Don’t Judge Me" by FKA Twigs [featuring Headie One and Fred again..] – that song came in handy during a scene, I’m sure you can guess which one it was! And then whatever character I play, I give them a star sign. Eric is a Leo in my head. I guess that's kind of helped me to characterise him a little bit.
10. Asa's characterisation of Otis was inspired by Mr. Bean.
Asa: I took some inspiration from Rowan Atkinson, in the sort of physicality [of the character] and Otis's sort of bumbling-ness. I think there’s sort of shades of Mr. Bean in Otis, especially when he dances.
11. Trish got her inspiration for Ola from Janelle Monáe.
Trish: I had loads of fittings for Ola with the suit, and I mean, Janelle Monáe is stunning and I love her look. I’ve always thought she's very current and [she] goes above-and-beyond. I really enjoy her work and her posters and everything she’s done, so yeah. For the first season, I was definitely channelling those vibes. She really helped me hone in on what it’s like to be a strong powerful woman in a suit, you know?
12. And Tanya got her inspiration for Lily from robots and aliens!
Tanya: I kind of like the idea that Lily herself is a bit of an alien... when she’s looking at people she’s not looking in a way that humans look, she’s evaluating in a cyborg kind of way. Before I started the job in season one, I binge-watched the whole of Battlestar Galactica because I felt like that was her vibe.
13. Tanya struggled with Lily’s character arc this season, as the whole thing felt very real to her.
Tanya: This year, I found it quite horribly relatable, really. [Lily’s] not really been self-conscious in the first two seasons at all, which is something I couldn’t relate to because I’m a very self-conscious person. This year, however, she suddenly becomes quite aware of everybody finding her weird and looking at her differently. She thinks the things she’s into, she shouldn’t be into, and she should be more like everyone else.
I feel like I can really relate to that feeling of, "I shouldn’t be this person, I should be someone else." She has everything kind of stripped away from her; she can’t wear her hair how she usually does and she’s in this uniform. She feels very alien, ironically, and I found it hard when we were filming scenes where she gets shamed by Hope (played by Jemima Kirke) and has to walk around with this sign on. The point is to humiliate her, and it felt like I was back at school, especially with everyone having to look at me and laugh at me. I found that I couldn’t even look people in the eye, I felt so insecure and self-conscious!
14. There is a scene in season three on a coach, which proved difficult to do for several members of the cast and crew.
Alistair: Let’s just say it involved astounding special effects that you won’t even see... After the show’s out we’ll be able to talk about them, but watching our director and team spend two weeks piecing together that narrative was phenomenal.
Aimee: There was this one scene that we did and it was so simple – it was just, Aimee, walk from the back of the bus, kneel down, and speak to Maeve. Now you’ll be watching out for it! It took so long, I just had this mental block over being able to sit down and start talking to Maeve and I got so frustrated with myself! Ben calls me Woody – he was like, "Woody, calm down, take a breath, all you need to do is kneel down on the floor and speak to Maeve, that’s it". But for some reason I couldn’t, and I got so overly emotional about it.
Everyone was very supportive, obviously, but they were also like – "Jesus, Aims, you don’t need to cry over not being able to kneel on the carpet of a bus".
15. A lot was cut from a scene in season two where Mr. Groff reprimands Maeve over her allegedly bringing drugs into school.
Alistair: I really went for that! We did a really really big and bold version, and then when it came out, it was quite rightly just squeezed. It does exist somewhere, so maybe on an extras or something one day it’ll appear and I’ll be thrilled because it was mad!
16. Alistair would love his on-screen parents to be played by Meryl Streep and the late Alan Rickman.
Alistair: I’ll tell you who I would’ve loved to have been in the show, sadly impossible, is Alan Rickman. I would’ve loved him to play my dad, I think probably because that would be an amazing choice of casting, and also because he was truly one of the greats. And if not Alan Rickman, maybe Meryl Streep could play my mum? That might be a bit rude to Meryl because she’s probably not that much older than me!
17. Mimi really likes Sandra Bullock and would love to work with her on the show.
Mimi: She’s my fave in a borderline weird way... I love her! I hope she’s really good and that she sees this and knows that I love her. I’d like her to be [on set] and I’d like to act beside her, it would be a dream of mine! And preferably in the same scene, [I'd like] David Attenborough, cos I need to meet him.
18. Trish thinks Madonna would make a really great substitute teacher on the show.
Trish: I just wonder what it would be like if Madonna was in the show – I just wonder! As a teacher... but with an incredible outfit or something.
19. Ncuti would like to see a Rihanna cameo in future episodes of the show.
Ncuti: I think you have to aim high! I think she would be the coolest substitute teacher, or like, one of Eric’s aunties who comes over and takes him on a night out. That would be wicked.
20. Sex Education has some pretty famous fans – Love Actually director Richard Curtis once asked Trish for a selfie at an event.
Trish: A couple of years ago when the show first came out, I did this Red Nose Day thing and Richard Curtis came up to me and was like, "can I take a selfie with you?" I was like what the fuck... are you fucking kidding me right now? [He said] you’re so famous in my house. And I was like, I grew up watching your movies – I was listening to your director’s cut of Love Actually when I was 14! So that was a bit of a moment for me – him coming up to me and asking for a selfie then saying thank you!
21. And Dan Levy once DM'ed Asa on Instagram to say he loved the show and wanted to cameo in it.
Mimi: From what I remember correctly, Dan Levy spoke to [Asa] and said how much he liked the show and that he would like to be a substitute teacher. Him playing David in Schitt’s Creek is like one of my favourite things ever – it got me through some tough times, seriously. I’m pretty sure he’s a fan of the show. [So] I was really vibing that, and I hope we go ahead with another season and it happens.
22. Indeed, this whole cast seems to love Dan Levy!
Connor: I would love Dan Levy to come on and play a substitute teacher. I’m a massive fan, I think he’s tremendous and a wonderful person and I think that he would be an amazing addition to the Sex Education cast if the stars were to align.
24. Aimee would love to see Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, or Rosamund Pike join the cast of Sex Education.
Aimee: I heard that Rosamund Pike really wants to be in Sex Ed – she spoke about it in an interview, so that would be amazing. [Also,] I don’t how this would happen, but Frances McDormand. Imagine her just rocking up... or Sam Rockwell! Ooh, Aimee has an older brother that gets mentioned in season one, and we’ve never met this brother, so maybe if there’s another season Aimee’s brother comes on the scene and that could be someone really cool.
25. And finally, we should all be ready to cry our eyes out whilst watching season three!
Connor: I think something people are gonna take from [season three] is peeling back the layers and seeing the sensitivity of a lot of other characters that haven’t been shown so far. Expect to be a little more heartbroken!
Note: Some answers were edited for length and/or clarity.