Ncuti Gatwa on His Unapologetically Queer Character in Netflix’s “Sex Education”

"I think the lessons you can get from this show is that everyone’s sexual journey is different."

The high school sex comedy gets a fresh, woke, and LGBTQ-inclusive twist in Netflix’s new eight-episode series, Sex Education.

Set in a fictitious U.K. town, the show stars Asa Butterfield as Otis, the awkward son of a sex and relationship therapist (Gillian Anderson). At the behest of friend and secret crush Maeve (Emma Mackey), and despite being virginal, Otis starts his own informal practice counseling fellow students on their sexual dysfunctions and predicaments.

Premiering on January 11, one of the series’ standouts (besides a 1980s retro production design and costuming a la Stranger Things) is newcomer Ncuti Gatwa as Eric, Otis’ best friend. The pair host an annual Hedwig and the Angry Inch dress-up screening night, and there’s a subplot involving the headmaster’s sexy bad boy son, Adam (Connor Swindells), who relentlessly bullies Eric.

Sam Taylor/Netflix

Via email, Ncuti answered some pressing questions about the show, Eric, sex, and the climactic episode’s must-catch “spitting” scene between Eric and Adam.

How would you describe Eric? He’s especially optimistic and bright-eyed in the first episode, even showing joy when the only other openly gay kid at school throws shade his way.

I would describe Eric as very strong and very resilient. Eric represents a lot of different intersections: openly gay, from a religious family, black with a West African background, and throughout the series, we see him trying to combine and understand everything and who he is. Because he’s such a diverse individual, in high school in middle England it makes him a [bullying] target, but fortunately, it’s made him very resilient. I think that’s where his optimism comes from, and we see him change in mood and character a lot through the series.

How are you and Eric most alike?

We have a few similarities. We both come from African backgrounds and grew up in the U.K. My dad’s always worked in churches, so I have a religious background. I also grew up in Scotland, which wasn’t the most multicultural of places so I had a semi-tough time at school. We’re also both very loud! People often say they can hear me before they see me.

How are you most different?

I would say I’m most different from Eric in terms of vulnerability. I don’t think I could ever allow someone to slap my face and call me “shit biscuit.”

You have quite a few juicy scenes in the final episode—literally! Not to give everything away, but Eric and Adam have an intense physical confrontation that involves spitting in each other’s faces. How many takes did you and Connor do, and how does one even prepare for that sort of thing?

Sam Taylor/Netflix

We had an intimacy director on Sex Education, Ita O’Brien, who ran an intimacy workshop for the cast before filming. We emulated mating lions, dogs, cats and snails. It was very surreal and strange, but actually a great bonding experience and we established a language of physical touch with one another. Ita was also on set during intimate scenes, and we would choreograph everything so we would know exactly what was going to happen in the scene and what to expect. Connor and I get on really well, actually, he’s kinda like a little brother to me. But he’s very brooding and also very tough in real life, so I can imagine him being very intimidating to people, but to me he’s just my bro.

Eric rocks blue eyeliner and nails, and other fab getups during some episodes. Is blue your color?

I loved the blue eyeliner and nails. Waking up every morning and seeing whatever Eric was wearing that day was a constant source of excitement for me. My favorite look was prom look, however. It’s iconic if I do say so myself.

What are the lessons of Sex Education in your opinion?

I think the lessons you can get from this show is that everyone’s sexual journey is different, and to stick to whatever path is truest for you. We live in a time where everyone is comparing themselves to everyone else, and social media definitely plays a major part in that, but mostly the people you’re seeing on social media are only showing you a glossed, filtered, manicured version of their life.

What’s the craziest sexual dysfunction or fetish you’ve heard about so far?

Men who like to have their balls crushed by women in stiletto heels. Personally, I cannot even begin to understand how that could be pleasurable, but hey, you do you, gentlemen.

Sex Education is out on Netflix January 11.

Lawrence is a New York-based travel and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Time Out New York and The New York Post.