Heartstopper author Alice Oseman talks adapting the graphic novel for Netflix (Q&A)

Heartstopper /

Alice Oseman is the author of the Heartstopper graphic novels and also the creator and writer of Netflix’s new television show of the same name.

They started writing and publishing webcomics of Heartstopper online in 2016 and amassed over 50 million views online. In 2019, Hachette Children’s Group published the first Heartstopper graphic novel, which was followed by three sequels. The series has received international praise and gained popularity all over the world, quickly growing to be one of the most beloved in the genre.

On the eve of the show’s release, we got to chat with Alice about all things Heartstopper, the challenges of adapting the comics for television, and fun moments on set.

Spoilers from the series ahead!

Hearstopper interview with Alice Oseman

Netflix Life: You’re already a very versatile artist. How did it feel to work for a completely different medium like television?

Alice Oseman: There were some things that were easy and some things that were hard. First thing, the format of a screenplay came quite quickly to me because that’s exactly how I write a graphic novel anyway: it’s all dialogue and scene directions, so learning how to write a screenplay – technically – was quite easy. The thing I found really hard was plotting for TV ’cause the story in the comics is quite low-stakes, like there isn’t a huge amount of conflict and problems that come up are resolved pretty quickly, and that’s not how things work in TV. You need drama, you need angst, so trying to get that in there and make it a gripping TV show while also keeping the tone of Heartstopper, which is so joyful, and characters communicate with each other, stuff like that… that was a challenge to find a balance.

Netflix Life: What was something that you loved about this new medium?

Alice Oseman: I think it was the fact that I could expand the stories of the supporting characters like Tao and Elle and Tara and Darcy, ’cause in the comics, there’s just not a lot of room for their stories. But in the show, we have so much more room and we can focus a lot more and just find out more about their lives.

Netflix Life: As the creator of the source material, how did you choose what to change, what to drop, what to add in the TV show?

Alice Oseman: The first priority was writing the core story of Heartstopper, getting as much as I could from the comics into the show and then hopefully just expand it outwards and add more subplots around it. Obviously, there were things that had to change, for example… Oliver is no more, it’s really sad. I decided to cut Oliver because of space, mainly. Oliver doesn’t really contribute anything to the story, if I take him out, I have more space to do plot things and more interesting things in the show. And also having a child actor on set is really hard, that was something I learned from the director, Euros [Lyn]. I was talking to him about the decision and he was telling me that it’s quite hard to direct a young child, so I’m happy with the decision.

One of the biggest changes was Nick’s journey to self-acceptance is slowed down quite a lot. In the comics, after he and Charlie kiss for the first time, Nick is kind of all-in. He wants to be with Charlie, he doesn’t have much conflict going on, but in the show obviously he has a lot more to work out.

Netflix Life: How exciting was it to have [SPOILER ALERT!] Olivia Colman play Nick’s mom, and how did that come about?

Alice Oseman: When we were casting the show, we kind of came up with the idea to reach out to a famous person to play Nick’s mom, and it wasn’t really my idea. I thought there was no way that any famous actor would want to be in this show, but basically we all came up with a list of potential actors, and Olivia was top choice, so we reached out to her and we sent her some of the script and some of the comic and… she wanted to do it? I was absolutely blown away, I did not think there was any chance. It’s amazing.

 Netflix Life: The entire cast is incredibly talented, even though for some of them this may be one of their first acting credits. How was it working with them?

Alice Oseman: So much fun. They are all so talented and they are all so passionate about the story, they just really care about Heartstopper. Before we started shooting, we had two first weeks of rehearsals where everyone would just get together every day, and we’d just talk about the characters and do little improv exercises and read the scripts together and everyone getting to know each other and the characters, and I think that really helped for when we were shooting and everyone felt comfortable about what we were doing. The cast also became really good friends, and I think it’s so important because this is their first credit for so many of them and it’s a huge thing to be on a Netflix show, but they’re all supporting each other through that… they’re going to be okay.

Netflix Life: Do you have any fun anecdotes from shooting the first season that you want to share?

Alice Oseman: I don’t know how fun this is, but we had a location that was cursed. The stadium where we filmed the rugby match… everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. The weather was really bad, ’cause in the scene it was supposed to be raining but it was boiling, so sunny. Then we had several COVID situations and it was chaos. We had actors who were unwell… everyone hated that location because it was cursed, things just went very wrong there. But one of my favorite memories from the shoot was at that location during a lunch break. Me and loads of the cast were just sitting there, we had a couple of hours so we were just chilling and playing games and just chatting about stuff, so despite all the drama, there were good memories.

Netflix Life: Favorite time throughout the entire production?

Alice Oseman: One of my favorite days on set was the snow day. That was the first time that I really saw the magic of filmmaking, I had no idea how this snow thing was going to work, but it was so cool to see… It was 18 degrees that day [Celsius, around 64 Fahrenheit] so it was warm and yet they just transformed this park into a snowy field and that just blew my mind.

Netflix Life: We are all hoping that Netflix will renew Heartstopper for a second season. What would you be looking forward to exploring in season 2 the most?

Alice Oseman: I’m not really supposed to say anything about season 2. Obviously, we’ve got more Heartstopper books, like there’s more story, but for now, we’re just focusing on season 1 and hope that it does well, hoping lots of people watch it, and we’ll see what happens in the future.

And that is certainly our hope as well! There is enough source material for multiple seasons, and Heartstopper deserves more time to show us what’s next for Charlie and Nick and their friends.

As we wait, you can watch Heartstopper on Netflix and read the graphic novels by Alice Oseman!

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