Heartstopper Breakout Kit Connor Aims For Authenticity

by Michel Ghanem

A close-up portrait of Kit Connor
Photograph by Jemima Marriott. Grooming by Nadia Altinbas. Styled by Ruta Jane. Kit wears a Carlota Barrera shirt and Toga Virilis cardigan.

At just 18 years old, Kit Connor has amassed the kind of online attention that one could only gain from starring in an explosively popular Netflix series. Heartstopper, which places 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 cuts to the core of queer connection in optimistic and surprisingly delightful ways. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly juvenile setting of the show, though—Heartstopper may take place in a high school at sweaty rugby matches and after-school parties, but its central relationships can warm the iciest of hearts.

Joining the cast of promising young actors, Connor plays Nick Nelson, a high school jock who begins to unearth his true feelings for protagonist Charlie Spring (Joe Locke), and with it, a reckoning of his friendships and sexuality. On a Zoom call from his home in the U.K., Connor tells W he is in the midst of studying for his Advanced Level qualifications, while sitting in front of a bright pink poster scribed with the words “Gonna Be Okay.” He shares a sense of immense gratitude for his Heartstopper role, adding that after originally auditioning for the part of Charlie, landing Nick turned out to be “a match made in heaven.”

Wearing a short-sleeved, beige button-up, Connor is 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 him that Heartstopper made me feel very single as an elder Millennial, he jokes that this was the plan all along, for everyone to “feel very, very sad and jealous of Nick and Charlie”—and that it must be “bittersweet” for older queer viewers to experience Heartstopper when they were more limited in their options of queer-centric television growing up.

With the encouragement of his parents, who wanted their shy child to break out of his shell, acting was originally just a hobby for Connor. He booked his first role at eight years old, appearing initially in commercials and then film and television. In 2019, the actor gained some recognition for appearing as a young Elton John in the biopic Rocketman, while also starting to do some voiceover work. He admits that few may know he currently voices Pan on His Dark Materials, the shapeshifting mouse companion of protagonist Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen). “It always surprises them when they hear it, and then they can’t unhear it,” he jokes. (His 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 on Heartstopper, and one he was able to connect with on a personal level while preparing for the role. “On a wider scale, he goes through this mental turmoil and this internal struggle about his place in school and in society, his sexuality and the people he surrounds himself with,” Connor explains. “I can relate to Nick in so many ways, and so many experiences he has in the show I’ve literally experienced exactly that.”

As the series progresses, Nick gets closer not only to Charlie, but to an uplifting group of friends who identify as straight and queer, embracing him as one of their own. “The characters are so pure and it’s such a refreshing, positive, and optimistic take on life and queerness,” Connor notes. “I think that’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 recruited to play Nick’s caring mother, and the two actors share some of the most tender scenes in the season. “She’s such an effortlessly talented actor,” he gushes. “She’s so professional, yet also so calm and puts you at ease immediately, and knows exactly when to crack a joke.” While Connor says crying on cue doesn’t come to him easily, he was in awe of Colman’s mastery over her emotions and her ability to shift between them in a seemingly effortless way. That said, a scene in which Nick frantically Googles “Am I gay?” did yield a real tear from Connor, an experience viscerally realistic to the queer coming-of-age experience.

Heartstopper provides an example of positive queer representation for its youthful audience, and Connor says he wants the show to benefit both straight and queer viewers alike. He wants the series to be “a safe space for queer teens and adults, for the LGBTQIA+ community to feel safe and feel represented and feel loved,” he says, adding, “I hope we’ve done queerness justice.” 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 lead the tone in queer storytelling.

The series has been embraced so intensely by fans that Connor is still adjusting to the experience of being recognized on the street. In a recent Tweet, the actor also felt he needed to address the fans who have speculated about his sexuality online. On 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 therefore ideally would like to know the sexuality of who’s playing the role,” he explains. “I completely agree that authenticity is something that should be strived for.”

On the other hand, though, boundaries are rarely respected online. “People can get a bit too comfortable on social media,” he says. “To speculate about a person’s sexuality is so dangerous, especially for someone at my age of 18, it’s a bit strange for me to see. If I haven’t said anything, you shouldn’t assume anything, but you also shouldn’t pressure me to tell people. It’s a very personal journey that people have to go on.”

To stay centered, Connor has found a sense of peace by unplugging at the gym for two-hour workouts, a habit he has maintained after bulking up for his Heartstopper role. He also watches “whatever I can, whenever I can,” unwinding lately to Bridgerton, Top Boy, and catching up on Euphoria. And although he’d love to someday play a character polar opposite to 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 playing Nick for at least two more seasons of Heartstopper, a renewal announcement that came just in time for Pride month. “I try not to have many dream roles or goals or anything like that,” he says. “I just try and see what happens.”