It’s 40 years since the Aids epidemic was first identified leading to the terrifying “Tip of the iceberg” TV ad campaigns of the 1980s.
Now, against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, acclaimed TV writer Russell T Davies has penned a show exploring the impact the HIV crisis had on the gay community in London.
Russell, known for his work on ground-breaking 1990s drama Queer As Folk, cast Olly Alexander, the gay singer from pop group Years & Years, in the lead role of aspiring actor Ritchie.
Despite having no acting experience, Olly, 30, jumped at the chance to work with the iconic writer who he says helped him come to terms with his sexuality when he was a teenager.
He said: “Well, I remember being 14 years old and watching Queer As Folk with my friend at her house in secret, in her upstairs bedroom away from her parents.
“And I remember being so scandalised because I’d never seen men on television touching each other before, or with their clothes off, and it was very scandalous to me at that time, and it left a mark on me ever since.
“It wasn’t until later, when I was revisiting Queer As Folk, I felt like it had such an important part in shaping me as a gay guy and the culture and the community I’ve grown up in.”
The show follows a rag-tag bunch making their way in London. Ritchie’s clan includes sweet Welsh lad Colin (Callum Scott Howells), the fiercely defiant Roscoe (Omari Douglas), and the more sensitive Ash (Nathaniel Curtis). Tracy-Ann Oberman plays Ritchie’s agent and Keeley Hawes plays his mum.
Alexander has not ruled out more acting in future – if the right part comes along.
He said: “I think it’s going to be very hard to top this experience because it was a real dream come true.
“Everyone that was in front of the camera and the people behind the camera were amazing.
“But I do want to play someone with magic powers. So I’m definitely open to being like a sexy gay witch or something.”
Davies defended his right to cast an acting novice in the lead, saying it was more important to cast a gay man.
He said: “I feel strongly that if I cast someone in a story, I am casting them to act as a lover, or an enemy, or someone on drugs or a criminal or a saint…they are not there to ‘act gay’ because ‘acting gay’ is a bunch of codes for a performance. It’s about authenticity.
“You wouldn’t cast someone able-bodied and put them in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t black someone up. Authenticity is leading us to joyous places.”
It’s A Sin, Channel 4, Friday, 9pm
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