7 Questions with… Alistair Petrie: ‘I think Sex Education should be shown in schools!’ - Exclusive

Ahead of season 2 of the Netflix series, Petrie reveals what’s next for Mr Groff, what it’s like working with Gillian Anderson, and why he has no issue watching the show with his sons.

By Sophia Moir Published: 21 January 2020 - 4.21pm
David Reiss

Fans of Sex Education’s surly headmaster Mr Groff will be pleased to know he's back for season 2 of the Netflix hit, alongside the chocolate drawer of dreams.

Expertly played by Alistair Petrie (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Night Manager), above, the Cadburys-obsessed headmaster returns to Moordale and is immediately faced with a school-wide chlamydia outbreak.

Speaking exclusively to BT TV about of the launch of the second series, Petrie, 49, reveals what’s next for Mr Groff's relationship with Adam after sending him off to military school, what it’s like working with Gillian Anderson on set, and why he has no issue watching the show with his three teenage sons.

7 Questions with… Alistair Petrie

1. At the end of Sex Education season 1, Mr Groff sent Adam away to military school. How does that storyline develop in season 2? 

It’s sort of not a spoiler to say that Adam returns from military school. Their relationship has shifted a gear. We see more of Mrs Groff as well, played by Samantha Spiro. I think Mrs Groff slightly comes to the fore in terms of the family dynamic, and she finds a voice. 

There’s more layers to the onion between Adam and his father, because families are complicated, and dealing with teenagers is complicated, and that’s one of the things that the show explores. That’s lovely to play. 

I think Connor [Swindells, who plays Adam, below] is such a fine, young actor. I love working with him and the more I get to work with him, the happier I am really.

Sex Education Season 2 Adam Groff Netflix

2. Does Mr Groff discover what happened between Adam and Eric at the end of season 1?

*laughs* Yes… you have to wait a little while, but yeah, there is an amazing scene that Adam and Mr Groff have later on in the show and it’s… how do I say this, it’s examined! In the most brilliant way. 

When I read that scene, I sort of dropped my coffee because the one thing that the show can do is take you in weird, wonderful and magical directions, and I think the writers pulled that off. It’s all rooted in a real humanity too, so that part of the storyline will reflect that. 

The writers don’t go to those places to find cheap laughs, they go to reveal the truth of it, and that’s another magical element of this show.

3. There’s been some speculation online that Mr Groff himself is bisexual - what do you make of those rumours?

*laughs* I love all these kind of fan theories, that Mr Groff could be bisexual. Put it this way, I think Mr Groff has buried a lot of things. 

I think partly because he’s a man of control, and he is a control freak, and he is sort of terrified of losing some semblance of control. He’s sort of wound up so tight, that if he doesn’t keep control - or at least believing that he’s in control, which is a very different thing - then chaos will ruin everything and him. He’s clinging on for dear life. 

Sex Education Season 2 Mr Groff Netflix

As a direct response to that question, um, is Mr Groff bisexual? You’ll have to find out. That’s such a cr*p answer, I’m sorry. Genuinely wait and see. There’s all sorts of things going on buried in the dark recesses of Mr Groff’s physical and mental make up.

4. I love that Mr. Groff’s chocolate drawer is back - he just can’t get enough of that, can he?

The chocolate drawer is back! It’s so funny, normally when we’re in Mr Groff’s office [filming a scene], that drawer is not necessarily full of chocolate. But there are obviously the days when we are doing chocolate acting, and that drawer is full to the brim of chocolate. 

Normally if there’s anything edible on set, it’s for a specific piece of set, like a lunch scene or something, so I know it’s been out all day, and you’re not really tempted to tuck into it, especially during the summer and it’s relatively warm. 

Whereas when you’ve got a drawer of all the best processed chocolate you could conceivably dream of, it’s incredibly hard [to resist]. And there’s hundreds of chocolate bars in that drawer, so the Props team aren’t going to miss one or two. 

Also, I am a Cadburys nut - I love all forms of chocolate. Twirls are my current favourite! I can’t stop eating them, I love them. It’s a good day on set when chocolates are in the drawer. 

5. Mr Groff gets grilled by Gillian Anderson’s character Jean during the parents’ talk at school in the first episode of season 2. Was that scene fun to film?

It was really fun. The irony is Gillian and I never met in season 1, we had no scenes together, so our paths never crossed. Right at the beginning of season 2, Gillian and I met for the first time. 

She couldn’t make the first read through, and I couldn’t make the second read through, so our paths never crossed. It was kinda surreal. So we were wrapped up in this really massive, hit show, and as two of the few principal ‘grown ups’ [on the show], our first meeting was in the makeup trailer hilariously. We greeted each other like old friends, because we sort of did know each other but we hadn’t actually met. 

Sex Education Season 2 Jean Milburn Netflix

But it’s brilliant, I love working with Gillian [above as Jean Milburn in season 2 of Sex Education]. When I realised that our paths collide in season 2 I was delighted. She’s such a brilliant, talented and formidable presence. It’s fun to go toe-to-toe with people like that and Gillian is just fantastic.

6. Have you let your teenage sons watch any of Sex Education?

Oh completely, I think it should be shown in schools, to the right ages obviously. The later part of school perhaps. I really do think so. I think everyone identifies with the characters in the show and I think that’s the thing that makes it so successful in many ways. 

People who are teenagers identity with the teenage characters in the show, and those who are no longer teenagers also identify with them, because I look back and go ‘oh man that’s so much a part of my life’. But yeah, Sex Education in schools, find a way to use it, headteachers! Don’t be frightened of it too. They should sit and watch it, and find a way to use it.

Only yesterday I was saying to my kids ‘right, a week on Friday, don’t make any plans, because we are going to at least watch at least 2, 3, 4 [episodes] on Friday evening, together’. I think they’ll probably find it more uncomfortable than I would. 

I’m really excited to sit down with my boys and my wife and watch it as a family. I have no issue with it whatsoever, even the bits when they’ll be sitting with their head behind a cushion, I won’t be! 

Also I know what’s coming, so it’s not like any of it’s going to be a surprise, but they definitely will be [surprised], especially the first 3 minutes of the first episode. 

7. What’s the latest on season 3, and what would be your hopes for Mr Groff in a third season?

Of course I hope that we get to do more [seasons]. We hope the response to season 2 is as big as season 1 and Netflix in their wisdom will say that we can do more. Everyone would love to do it. 

I hope the God of Netflix will look down upon us a couple of weeks after the launch of season 2, and wave their magic wand in our direction. I think you get indications. You get positive responses from the powers that be at Netflix, but no-one’s categorically said ‘you’re going again’. 

For us, and more importantly for the writers, they’re constantly planning, because Laurie [Nunn, the show’s creator] has got huge amounts of material that she’d love to explore, and the other writers too. They plot and plan, but we’ve not had a firm indication yet.

[For Mr Groff], he starts season 2 at a sort of stress level 10 because of the chlamydia outbreak, and that sort of heightened anxiety for him runs basically throughout the entire season. Cracks start to appear in the man, which is a very interesting and fertile ground to explore. 

So when those cracks appear, and your true nature appears, it’s really interesting because we’re not all good, and we’re all not bad, it’s the grey area in the middle that’s interesting to explore. I’d be thrilled to examine that in season 3. The ideas are already starting to swirl.

Sex Education season 2is streaming on Netflix worldwide now.

7 Questions with… Alistair Petrie: ‘I think Sex Education should be shown in schools!’ - Exclusive