TV

Heartstopper star Yasmin Finney feels ‘blessed’ to be telling a ‘positive’ trans story

Patrick Kelleher April 21, 2022
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Yasmin Finney and William Gao in Heartstopper.

Yasmin Finney and William Gao in Heartstopper. (Netflix)

Heartstopper star Yasmin Finney feels “blessed” to have been chosen to play Elle, the show’s trans teenager who exudes joy.

Yasmin is just 18 years old, but she’s about to become one of the biggest trans actors working in the TV industry. In Heartstopper, which is based on the hugely popular webcomic of the same name, Yasmin plays a trans teenager who navigates love and friendship after moving to an all girls’ school.

“Oh my god, honestly, I truly am just so blessed to be chosen to be Elle,” Yasmin told PinkNews during a roundtable discussion.

“It really, really, really is such a rare story that we get a trans character that doesn’t delve into gender dysphoria, or depression, or bullying, but just the positive – the friendship, the chosen family, the moving from an all boys’ school to an all girls’ school. Just everything that is natural about being trans is highlighted, and I’m just so happy to be that positive representation that we’ve needed for so many years.”

Even a few years ago, it would have been hard to imagine a character like Elle appearing on television screens. For Kizzy Edgell, the non-binary actor who plays Darcy in the show, Elle being trans isn’t even the focus – and that’s exactly as it should be.

“It’s Elle, right, it’s not about a trans woman, it’s about Elle, and she is the most sweet, most lovely, most caring girl ever, and that’s the most important thing! The fact that she’s trans is just part of it, she’s allowed to be happy, she’s allowed a crush, and she’s allowed to be moany and teenage – whatever she wants.”

“Exactly,” Yasmin adds. “She’s just allowed to love herself with no society telling her what to do and how to act and how to look and who to love and how to be – she’s just her, and I think that’s what’s so beautiful about the trans story that we have in Heartstopper.

Authentic casting was crucial for Heartstopper 

Fans have been waiting with baited breath for the show to land on Netflix ever since it was announced that Heartstopper would be adapted into a television series. Finally, that moment is about to arrive. The cast, who are all close friends in real life, are excited to bring their queer joy to the masses.

William Gao, who plays Tao, says creator Alice Oseman told them to make the characters their own – she was eager to remind them that they didn’t have to base their performances solely off the way the characters appear in the comics.

“For me that was really liberating,” William says.

Because Darcy isn’t in the comics as much as she is in the show, Kizzy felt a certain freedom to explore the character in the way they saw fit.

“The drawings helped in the sense that you can see the humour a lot more than you would in a written book. You get good facial expressions, you get a sense of mischief you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise,” they say.

The cast were also delighted that Alice Oseman and other producers working on the show were determined to cast authentically.

“For Alice, I know that Elle had to be played by a trans person, and I’m really happy with that,” Yasmin says. “The fact that I get to be a part of the Oseman universe, being authentically myself and being openly trans, I think that’s amazing.”

William was shocked when he saw the casting call asking for a British East Asian actor – it was the first time he had seen such a thing.

“I talked to older East Asian actors and they were like, ‘We’ve never ever seen that,’ so that was the first time and it was a bit of a shock for me,” William says. “But it’s just indicative of how precise they were with this casting, to bring the diverse group that we have together. I think it’s just beautiful the way they did the casting process, and in the show it’s wonderfully diverse in every sense of the word.”

Kizzy echoes that. “Darcy the character isn’t trans, but I am – I’m non-binary. I think that’s made me feel really lucky that I can talk about it, I can speak to people about it, and the lesbian representation and queer female representation, it’s something that does get missed out on a lot of LGBT+ shows. I’m really happy to be part of that.”

Trans kids need to see characters like Elle on screen

The cast are also proud that their characters will serve as role models for young queer people watching Heartstopper at home.

“I definitely didn’t have an Elle growing up, and I think millions of trans children around the world didn’t have an Elle growing up,” Yasmin says. “I think it’ll be good to have that representation, seeing yourself represented in the media from a young age can really help you in the future.”

Kizzy Edgell and Corinna Brown in Heartstopper.
Kizzy Edgell and Corinna Brown in Heartstopper. (Netflix)

William agrees. “I think particularly in the media if you look for this community, growing up none of us had anything to look up to. This is the first time – within the last three years there’s been a big change – but for teenagers around the high-school bracket, there’s been nothing in the history of TV that has represented and celebrated and given young people who are struggling with their identity something to look up to.

This is a show I wish I had growing up.

“There was a friend of my dad’s who’s gay and he said, ‘This is a show I wish I had growing up. This is a show I never had, and the amount of pain that would have been relieved if I had had this show would have been immense.'”

Kizzy is proud to be playing a character who’s so confident in who she is – there’s no confusion for Darcy.

“Being able to feel that concretely and see someone that’s so confident in who they are, and so unconcerned with how the rest of the world sees her, is really great. And it’s good that she uses the word lesbian rather than ‘a girl who likes girls’ or anything else, the use of the word ‘lesbian’ in the show is really important to me because it’s seen a lot of the time as a dirty word.”

Yasmin, William and Kizzy came away from Heartstopper with greater empathy for the characters they’re playing and the communities they come from. They hope audiences have the same experience.

“I think the most important thing I’ve learned is empathy and solidarity with the rest of the community,” Kizzy says. “There are so many of us in so many different ways, so diverse, so complicated, and just because my queer experience is different doesn’t mean that we’re not all together, that they’re not one of us. We’re all together, we need each other.”

Yasmin agrees. “We’re all fighting for the same thing,” she says.

Heartstopper will be released on Netflix on Friday 22 April. 

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