Very few shows like Sex Education can present sex in such fresh and honest perspectives that it feels comfortably familiar, and not some kind of taboo. Actor Ncuti Gatwa is lucky to play one of the most important characters from the show- Eric Effiong, an openly gay character from a Ghanaian/ Nigerian household who delivers his own brand of masculinity and strength in spirit.
Sex Education is TV’s much needed revolutionary show that encourages discourse. The fun, horny, dramedy hosts a brilliant ensemble of characters that portrays human sexuality in the most endearing, raw, and honest way.
In this exclusive interview, discover how Ncuti’s twerk that got him the role of Eric Effiong, his desire to be a Bond Villain, working with Lupita Nyong’O and being a part of the groundbreaking show Sex Education.
What’s your story? Who is Ncuti in a nutshell?
My name is Ncuti Gatwa. I am Rwanda and was born in Kigali, Rwanda but I was raised in Scotland. In both Edinburgh and Dunfermline. I am an actor and have mostly worked in classical theatre and physical theatre however most people know me for playing Eric in Sex Education on Netflix.
What inspired you to pursue acting?
I took drama as a subject at school and loved it. I took it every year of high school and all of the teachers I had were very inspirational and encouraging. It was at my last high school, Dunfermline High School, that my teacher said to me I should seriously consider training to be an actor at drama school.
What’s your most memorable audition story?
My most memorable audition story is probably my last audition for Eric in Sex Education. The director and all the producers were there including the casting director. I was reading opposite an actor reading for Otis. I don’t know how it happened but somehow I ended up getting him to squat with me and yelling at him to “pop it” whilst twerking.
Afterwards I looked up and saw the look on the producers face and I thought to myself “I’ve booked this job”.
What do you like the most about being an actor?
I feel like I’m constantly learning about people and humans and myself. Acting can sometimes be a really good mirror for what’s going on inside you. And I love being able to be creative and bring different elements of myself or things that I’ve learned or people that I’ve seen to a role. It’s a really exciting job to have but also unstable, which I think I must slightly enjoy as well.
Tell us about your character Eric Effiong in Sex Education?
Eric Effiong is a student at Moordale High. His best friend is Otis Milburn. He comes from a traditional and religious Ghanaian/ Nigerian household and he is openly gay. He is really into Jazz music and plays the French horn but he is terrible at it. He has a huge heart however he is also strong and I think portrays masculinity in a way that we don’t usually get to see.
How did you effectively play Otis’ character and made him dynamic and complex?
The writing is the real star of the show I think. I feel really blessed that I can be a part of a show with such fresh perspectives and that is telling stories from a real and honest point of view from voices he haven’t heard a lot of before. Eric is such a fully fleshed-out character and represents so many people and there were definitely elements of him I could relate to. Because we have similar backgrounds and heritage i was definitely excited by the fact that his character strayed away from any stereotypes and that I would get the chance to portray that story.
How much Eric are you? How do you relate yourself to his character?
Me and Eric are quite different people but there are elements that I can definitely relate to with him. I think playing a sixteen year old, all of us on set were transported back to that adolescent world. And we were all instantly reminded of the insecurities and the emotions you go through as a teenager. It’s a tricky time. I admire Eric’s resilience and that is something I feel I can relate to.
How important do you think is Eric as one of the two out gay students in the school?
I think Eric’s story is incredibly important, I think he represents masculinity and strength in a way we haven’t really seen before. And I think it’s a great thing that young boys and girls that may identify with Eric see that there isn’t just one way to be. I think it’s important that people feel represented and hopefully Eric has done that for people who have not felt that before.
Tell us about the intimacy director and intimacy workshop that you have prior to filming scenes. How did it contribute to the overall process and tone of filming?
Our intimacy director was a lady called Ita O Brian and she was incredible. She led a workshop with the majority of actors who would have an intimate scene in the series and also the directors and producers. We spoke about our experience with intimate scenes and lack thereof. We had really good conversations about feeling comfortable on set and consent and agreeing where and when to be touched when doing an intimate scene, and then we had a very physical and sweaty afternoon emulating animal mating rhythms. It was great. We broke down a lot of barriers that day and we were all really comfortable with each other after that. Thereafter, Ita was always present on set before and during an intimate scene. We would choreograph the scene before it took place, with counts and timings on when to touch, kiss etc. It was very technical and then she would stay around just to provide extra support. Those scenes are still really awkward to shoot though but it was great to have the support.
What do you think is the show’s secret to its success?
I think the show just resonated with so many people. Young and old, different backgrounds- everyone. I think a lot of the older generations that watched said that they wish they had a show like that when they were younger. It opened up discussions I think on topics that have been stupidly made taboo and I think that was exciting. We have a great writing room which is predominantly female and I feel like that made the project very fresh, exciting and real.
Do you have any favorite episode from the show?
I have two favourite episodes which are 3 and 5. In episode 3, I think Maeve’s storyline with the abortion is so beautiful and touching and Emma Mackey’s performance was stunning. Also Eric and Lily’s makeover scene is really sweet and endearing. Episode 5 because seeing Asa in a wig is hilarious and seeing the untouchables come out of their elusive shells was such a treat.
I would love to play a Bond villain.
Which actor/s would you like to work with in a movie or in TV?
I think Lupita Nyong’o is incredible and we haven’t even seen half of her potential. I would love to work with her. Olivia Colman also.
Did you and your cast mates ever expect the favorable response that the show received from
the audience and the critics?
Definitely not. We knew we were filming something special but we had no idea that it would take off this far. It’s really amazing.
If you’re not acting, what else keeps you busy?
If I’m not acting then I’m probably in the gym. Or at my best friends hair salon pretending to help out.
What’s the last book that you’ve read?
Last 3 songs in your playlist.
If you were a book, what book would you be and why?
I would be The Great Gatsby by F. Scott. Fitzgerald for no other reason than it’s my favourite novel!