Joe Locke talks about the second installment of the series that changed the world.
Growing up Heartstopper
The first time Heartstopper viewers glimpse Charlie Spring, played with charming, jittery openness by British actor Joe Locke, Baby Queen’s “Want Me” plays over the scene. “I wish I thought that I was pretty so that I could turn you on,” she sings. “I had a dream you called me pretty and I told you you were wrong.”
Baby Queen’s vulnerable lyrics hint at what Season 1 of the queer coming-of-age series has in store for its protagonist. Charlie is fresh off the hardest year of his life and battling painful insecurity. A crush on popular boy Nick Nelson (Kit Connor) lights up his life — but he assumes someone like seemingly-straight golden boy Nick would never return his affections.
In Heartstopper Season 2, premiering August 3, that self-doubt is gone. As Locke told Netflix in June, we’re about to see a very different side of Charlie. The character’s evolution has inspired the actor.
“The most obvious thing that’s bigger in Charlie’s story this season is an outward confidence in both himself and his relationship,” Locke said. While the 19-year-old believes that Charlie’s always had “guts” (see: his Season 1 flirtation with Nick), Locke promised we’ll “see more of feisty Charlie” this time around. Season 2 Charlie is ready to stand up for his beliefs.
“Charlie is probably the most confident character in the show. I’ve learned a lot about confidence from him,” he said. “About the different types of confidence, and how you don’t always need to be an outwardly extra confident person to be confident in who you are, and believe in staying true to your morals.”
A large part of Charlie’s maturation is thanks to his connection with Nick, who realizes he is bisexual. Though the pair enjoyed a more “schoolboy romance” in Season 1, they’re all-in on a “proper relationship” this time around. “They can’t keep their hands off each other,” Locke said, teasing a lengthy kissing montage in the Season 2 premiere.
After all, many of the Heartstopper teens are settling into the agony and ecstasy of young love this season. Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell) are months into coupledom come Season 2, and Elle (Yasmin Finney) and Tao (William Gao) will continue to circle each other with heart eyes. Locke hopes that Nick and Charlie’s journey can help advance the perception of high school romance.
“They’re very much getting more comfortable with each other, [being] in each other’s space ... I’m excited for people to see that teenage relationships can be mature and open and communicative,” he said. “There’s often this idea that teenage relationships aren’t those things.”
With so much l’amour in the air, it’s no surprise that Heartstopper Season 2 leaves the rolling hills of England behind to spend a few episodes in Paris. The cast filmed at the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre museum, and the Pont des Arts bridge. Lock lovingly recalled “late nights, early mornings, and stressful days” with his Heartstopper family.
“Paris is such an important part of the story for Charlie,” he said. “All of the other characters have very integral moments in Paris too because obviously, it’s the City of Love.”
As Charlie’s horizons broaden, new challenges await. In Season 2, Charlie “struggles with being out as a couple and the pressures that come along with that,” Locke reflected. “Charlie cares so much about everyone else in his life that if anything, Nick’s coming out probably stresses him out more than it stresses Nick out.” As Heartstopper viewers know — “that’s just Charlie.”
When Locke talks about Charlie, his admiration for the Truham student is evident. “It’s really nice to carry on getting to know Charlie, growing with him, and using the things that I learned from the craziness of last year to put into Charlie as a character,” he said.
Filming of Heartstopper began in 2021 and the series premiered in 2022, skyrocketing Locke to teen dramedy fame. Two years on, he’s had time to take stock of how much he’s grown since he first slipped on Charlie’s school uniform. “My day-to-day life has changed. My habits have changed. How I see the world and how I act, it’s all changed,” he said.
While filming Season 1, the Heartstopper cast was learning on the fly. For many of them, including Locke, the YA romance was their first major on-camera role. Although Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper graphic novels (which inspire the series) were fan favorites, the live-action adaptation — which the author writes and executive produces — came with “no pressure,” Locke recalled, “because there were no expectations. Now it’s a success story that has run away with the hearts of millions of fans. Locke is struck by just how big that group is.
“I think the secret to the show’s success, which none of us were expecting, was how much Heartstopper resonates with older generations,” he said. “Quite selfishly, that’s something I hadn’t even thought of until the show came out. It was really great to see that it meant a lot to so many people.”
One of those individuals approached Locke and co-star Connor during a recent trip to Washington, D.C. “He was 56, I think, and he’d come out the year before because he’d watched Heartstopper,” Locke said. “Now has a boyfriend and is the happiest he’s ever been. Reactions like that make you realize this is a show that really matters to people.”
Locke is humbled and empowered by the response to the show. He’s particularly pleased that Heartstopper has been able to depict so many versions of queerness over two seasons. The series follows Nick’s path from a “full-on gay crisis” to comfort with his bisexuality, Elle’s joy as a trans girl, and many, many other perspectives on the queer spectrum (with more coming in Season 2).
“Especially at the moment with the huge anti-trans movement that’s pushing forward, it’s so important that we show trans people aren’t dangerous,” Locke said. “They’re just living and their existence doesn’t stop you existing.”
For Locke, Heartstopper is simply doing its part to change the narrative about young people like himself and his cast members. “There’s this idea that teenagers don’t care,” he said. “But actually, I think that our generation is the most aware generation in a long time when it comes to caring about the issues of the world . . . because we’re the ones who are going to be cleaning up all the mess.”
Styling by David Moore.
Set Design by Alice Kirkpatrick.
Grooming by Petra Sellge.