Rhea Norwood

We don’t know about you, but we’re still rewatching Heartstopper on a weekly basis. The heartwarming, queer romance show premiered on Netflix back in April, and since then has amassed a large fanbase. 1883 Magazine chatted with lead stars Kit Connor and Joe Locke about their characters, Nick and Charlie, as well as the show and its overnight success. 

Recently, 1883 hopped on a Zoom call with Rhea Norwood, who plays the spunky, brave, and hilarious, Imogen. Imogen is a determined and courageous school girl who has a hopeless crush on Nick Nelson, played by Kit Connor. She’s also the deliverer of one of the most iconic lines on the show — “I’m not, like, homophobic. I’m an ally.

1883 Magazine chats with Rhea Norwood about all things Heartstopper, her time at drama school, her love of theatre, and more. 


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Hi Rhea! Thank you for taking the time to chat. I’m a really big fan of Heartstopper. I read the graphic novels over the years, but I’ll be honest, I waited a while before watching the series, and now I can’t stop rewatching!

I get that! When you love a novel or something and then it’s made into a TV series, there’s always going to be that hesitation of whether or not they do a good job. I think we did a pretty good job because Alice Oseman was so massively involved in the filming process. 


Heartstopper is your debut on-screen role. How does it feel seeing the positive reception and being a part of a project that’s become so special to millions of people?

As an actor, you always want to do work that means something and that audiences will watch and connect to. And so I feel so, so lucky that my first job does exactly that. It was a great privilege to be involved in something that is so impactful. It means so much and it’s so necessary because I think, firstly, there are not enough LGBTQIA+ stories out there. When there are, they’re usually over-sexualized or they tackle more of the negative aspects of being in that marginalized community. This show doesn’t shy away from that, but it’s not about that. It’s a very wholesome, beautiful, lovely, PG show, and I think that’s really needed. So I feel so, so honored to be part of it. 


Have you read graphic novels? What did you think of them?

I hadn’t heard of Heartstopper before my first audition. Then once I did my tape, I read the first volume online for my recall. I was so instantly struck by the same things we just talked about, you know, how wholesome it was, how unsexualized it was, and how really relatable it was. It represented a very traditional English school experience as well because often I think, shows can be quite Americanized, which is great, but there is something different about the British and the American experience. I think that really struck me. After I got cast as Imogen, I decided not to read the rest of them. I didn’t want to because Imogen is so in her own world and so determined. She doesn’t really consider other people that much. I didn’t want to get my head in the whole Nick and Charlie story. I wanted to maintain this sort of tunnel vision that she has. For season two, it’s definitely on my list of things to do this summer, which isn’t even a chore because it’s so fun. 


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Imogen is a character that doesn’t exist in the novels, so while everyone had the chance to refer to the books to understand and know their character, you sort of had a blank canvas. Do you think that made it challenging or did you like that you got to figure out who she was?

When I was creating the character, I felt like there was potentially less pressure on me because the characters that already existed are so loved. There must have been pressure to live up to those expectations in people’s minds. Whereas with Imogen, I didn’t have that. But then I guess the flip side of that is the pressure of justifying Imogen’s existence in the world. When I read the script, I knew that she had a very dramatic function, which was to amplify the internal conflict that Nick feels. And so I was aware of her purpose as a character. I was able to build around what was required of her. To answer your question, I don’t think it would have been any easier or any harder potentially because it’s relatively rare to have something already pre-existing to work from.


As much as Imogen is meant to be an obstacle between Nick and Charlie, there is an innocence to her. She was obviously clueless about Nick, but she was also consumed by her crush on him. She wasn’t trying to be the villain or anything, she was shooting her shot and misunderstanding certain signs. I think you channeled that really well, especially after she and Nick have the conversation at the park. I also loved the scene in the last episode when she sees Nick and Charlie holding hands and this look of realization crossed her face. Like, yeah okay. I get it now and I’m happy for them. Can you tell me how you approached these scenes and what your thought process was as Imogen sort of grappled with the reality of her crush and moved on?

It’s fascinating to hear that. The reaction to Imogen was really mad. She’s blinded by certain things. She can be obnoxious. But ultimately, she’s a young girl who’s trying to figure things out. I think that was really key for me. I think on paper she could have easily been done with a classic Regina George kind of mean girl, but I feel like we’d seen that. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to channel a lot of girls that I went to school with. I would say to people that instantly just hate on her — if she was a guy, how would you feel? I feel like what is really admirable about Imogen is that she is the girl asking the guy out. I think that’s a really important thing that we see. In terms of dealing with the rejection and the look at the end, she does ultimately understand. I think that in conversation with Nick on the bench, she really recognizes a lot of what he’s saying in herself. And I think that was really key for me.

You know, he’s saying how he feels like he needs to fit in and I think ultimately, Imogen is exactly the same as Nick in that regard. That conversation with Nick made something click in her.  There’s a bravery in what he’s saying. You’re trying to fit in and be somebody that you’re not and you’re suppressing something. I think a lot of teenagers experience that. And I think having Nick say that so directly to her and then later on in Sports Day when he goes off with Charlie, to see him completely push away any of those expectations and just go with how he feels and what he wants to do. I think there’s something in her that really, really sees that and envies the bravery that Nick has. 


You’ve got one of the most iconic lines on the show – the one about being an ally. What has it been like to see people make TikToks with that audio? 

It’s crazy. We sort of knew it would take off. That line follows me around everywhere. Everyone’s always like, “you’re an ally!” “I’m an ally!” It’s cool it’s taken off in that way.


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One thing that really struck me about Imogen is her hair. The bleach blonde streaks. Was that all you, or did you do it for the role?

That was part of the role! It was my first day in rehearsals and then Patrick Walters, the exec, and Alice came up to me with a computer screen and a mood board with the look and asked me how do you feel about this? I was like, yes, absolutely. I was really pleased. For me, clothes, hair, and makeup really inform the way I feel. So it was really great to have a sort of statement hair that was like, I’m getting into character now. 


You had auditioned for the character of Darcy at first. Was there anything that drew you to that character in particular and if given the choice, would you stick with Imogen or would you have liked to play Darcy having seen how the show plays out?

Wow, that’s such a good question. I did the open casting call and Imogen wasn’t on the open casting call. Darcy was so that’s the main reason I auditioned for Darcy originally. What I do love about Darcy and what I’m really hungry for in future roles is there’s chaos in her, which Imogen has in a very different way. She masks it so much behind trying to fit in and be the It Girl. But Darcy doesn’t. She doesn’t care and I think that’s so freeing and I really admire that and I really try and include that in my life and the way that I approach things. That sort of like, freedom to express yourself.

But, if given the choice I definitely would play Imogen, a hundred percent. I’ve got to stay true to my girl. I love how Imogen has that inner chaos. Whether people see it or not, it comes out in a very different way. It’s a bit more obnoxious and she’s trying to fight her insecurities so hard. She’s barging her way through things because she’s thinking she has to fulfill these expectations. 


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As a viewer of the show, what do you think it is about this show that resonated with so many people?

It’s just really good, you know what I mean? I think what’s so beautiful is it was so many of our first jobs. I think there’s a real rawness to the acting. There’s a real vulnerability to it. I love to see the vulnerability in acting, And there’s a sense of escapism in it as well, but it’s not afraid to tackle reality. Alice does such an incredible job of bridging fantasy escapism with reality. There’s a Heartstopper rose-tinted spectacle over everything.


And as a viewer is there an episode or scene that you really liked?

Episode three I think might be my favorite. I love the party scenes. I do love the final scene as well. In the final scene of the whole show, just Nick and Charlie on the beach. Like how the comic intersperses with them on the screen, it’s just so beautiful. When we were at the screening, I was sitting next to Sebastian Croft, who plays Ben Hope, and we just held hands as we watched. It was so special. 


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What can we expect from Imogen in season two?

I can’t say much. I have had a conversation with Alice about where it might be going. I think what’s great about Imogen is that where we started in season one, there’s so much we can go forward with. There’s so much behind her facade and I’m excited to explore more of her obnoxious moments. 


I hope she has more of her quirky one-liners. Based on the novels, they’re headed to Paris next for a school trip. So that should be fun!

So do I! That’s my hope, but we don’t really know much at all. And yes, really fun! I’ve never been to Paris, so I’d love to go. 


I thought it was a staple for English people to go to Paris since it’s so close!

I’ve been to Disneyland Paris once, but that’s actually kind of outside of Paris and the Eiffel Tower and all that. I’ve been dreaming of it for years.


Well, this is your chance! I watched Tobie Donovan’s Heartstopper vlogs after watching the show and it was lovely to see how close you and the rest of the cast are. Do you see each other often?

Everyone’s such good friends. I’m so close to lots of them. It’s really lovely. I think it’s such a privilege, you know, as an actor to work with people who you get on so well with and who have become friends, especially in a job like this. It is so wonderful to have such a tight-knit group. And we’re all so supportive, I think because we’ve gone through this collective experience together that nobody else can relate to. There are other shows that have had similar traction, but nobody’s experiencing what we’re experiencing right now other than us. We do hang out as much as possible. Obviously, people live in different parts of the country, schedules, and everything, but I try and see people as much as possible because some of them have become my best friends, which is lovely.


It must have also been special since this was, as you mentioned, so many of your first acting jobs. 

A hundred percent! I am so lucky that I have such a good support network with them because it was most of our first jobs. We’ve been signing with agents, we’ve been auditioning and starting out in the industry. It’s been so great. Particularly with Tobie, we’re always messaging each other, always there supporting each other, always figuring things out about agents and contracts, and we’re always talking and have that support network with each other. It’s a really big world, you know, and it can be really isolating in the industry. So I think it’s so important to have these support networks in place and I’m so lucky that I really do. 


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I can definitely see that. Having a solid friend group to turn to for advice, guide you, and be a soundboard for when you’re feeling conflicted about something is so important and needed. 

I’m so grateful. With Heartstopper being my first on-screen job, I was experiencing this big set and I was still in my second year of drama school. It was great because most of my scenes were with Kit Connor, who is a seasoned pro. I learned a lot from him. 


Are you currently attending drama school? 

I actually just graduated!


Congratulations! What was your experience like there?

Thank you! Yeah, it’s been a really, really mixed experience because I started drama school in 2019 and then had two terms before COVID in 2020 hit, and that impacted my training massively. I was lucky enough to get cast on Heartstopper and have time off for that, and I just finished another job as well. I’ve not had that much time at drama school. It’s been a really weird experience for me. Very mixed experience. 


Did you always want to attend drama school?

Yeah, it was a massive, massive dream for me, and a goal of mine for a really, really long time. I was really heartbroken by COVID and how much it’s disrupted my training because as you can imagine, drama school on Zoom is just nothing at all like it could possibly be in person. There have been some funny moments like stage combat on Zoom, and doing restoration comedy projects on Zoom, but at the time we were all depressed and angry and frustrated and sad, but it was unprecedented times. I’m really fascinated by the craft of acting, the theories behind it, and the processes, collaborating, and being creative in rooms with people. I love theatre so much. That’s a massive passion.


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Can you tell me what you enjoy about theatre productions, and which you find more challenging as an actor — theatre or on-screen roles?

It’s really lovely as an actor to be able to play a whole journey through in one go. Whereas with filming, you do it scene by scene and then match up the continuity of your performance emotionally and track it over months, whereas with a theatre show, you get to go on every night and you get to do the whole journey and it’s really cathartic. It’s a process that’s over two and a half hours and it’s live. I love an audience. You have a relationship with the actors on stage, but there is a relationship with the audience, which is key. I love that and get energy from it, and it’s different every night. I love doing a run of the show because each time you try to keep playing around with it. You have new thoughts as the character.

With filming, I guess the challenge is you don’t get that emotional run-up into certain scenes. You have to be pumped into the middle of a storyline and you do a snapshot of that character and then you go home, or you go and have lunch in your trailer and then film the beginning of the film or the end. It’s a very different type of challenge. But I really am loving it. I think in England, the way that most actors train is through theatre. So you don’t have much experience with filming until you actually do it for your professional job and I’m really loving it.


Can you tell me about your latest project, Kill Them With Kindness, and the role you play?

Yeah, so it was a short film that I did back in Easter. I haven’t seen it yet. I’m going to see it soon, hopefully. It’s a lovely dark comedy and set in a diner. It was such great production and design. My character Amy is very sweet, very innocent, and very eager.  She works at the diner with another girl. The other girl is Taffy, who’s the lead character and writer of the show. She also produced it, which is really cool and inspiring. And her character gets really disgruntled by the rude customers, especially as a woman, and then some drastic measures are taken.


Heartstopper is streaming now on Netflix.


Interview Naureen Nashid

Photography Jemima Marriott

Styling Ruta Jane

Styling Assistant Medhawi Limbu

Makeup Charlotte Kraftman

Hair Diego Miranda using Balmain Hair and Dyson Hair

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