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7 Questions With… It’s A Sin star Nathaniel Curtis: 80s trousers, nudity pep talks from Neil Patrick Harris and Section 28
Nathaniel Curtis talks to BT TV about his role in Channel 4’s vital and heartbreaking new drama about the impact of AIDS on a group of young friends in the 1980s.
It’s a little early to be talking about the best TV shows of the year, but even in January we can safely say that Channel 4’s It’s A Sin will feature somewhere near the top of everyone’s best-of lists for 2021.
Russell T Davies (writer of Queer as Folk, Doctor Who, Years and Years) has created his most personal TV series – and arguably his best ever - in this five-part drama about a group of young friends living through the 1980s and the AIDS crisis.
The show mixes a fizzing and energetic young cast, including Years & Years musician Olly Alexander and newcomers Omari Douglas, Callum Scott Howells and Nathanial Curtis, with established big hitters Keeley Hawes, Stephen Fry and Neil Patrick Harris.
It’s a show that remembers the heartbreak and pain of those whose lives were lost, but it’s also a celebration of the fight and the passion of the gay community and the friendships and battles they built when faced with rejection, prejudice and loss.
BT TV caught up with Nathanial Curtis, who plays Ash in the show, to find out a little more about the series.
1. Who is Ash in It’s a Sin?
Ash is very sensitive and very sweet. But when you first meet him, he likes being the sexy one.
He’s very quiet, but he likes being the one that turns heads.
He’s very loyal, very kind, very clever and out of the friendship group, he starts off as the charismatic one and as the series progresses he becomes a very kind young man.
2. Why do Russell T Davies shows always manage to capture the public's imagination?
Russell T Davies' top TV hits
- Queer as Folk – 1999
- Bob & Rose – 2001
- Casanova – 2005
- Doctor Who – 2005-2010
- Torchwood – 2006-2011
- Cucumber – 2015
- A Very English Scandal – 2018
- Years and Years - 2019
I think he’s just a wonderfully gifted man who knows how to write people.
The beautiful thing about this show is that there are different things in every character you can relate to. That includes bad things, when people drive you insane, when people are being selfish, when they don’t listen, that sucks and it’s inherently human.
Russell knows how to write people you just fall in love with. You want to be near them. It’s the sheer talent of him.
The beautiful thing about the script is that it was all there. You didn’t need to add anything to it. It’s so gorgeous and so thorough.
What he talked about was the feeling of how things were back then. He let us, not run wild, but he let us do our jobs to our best capability. He was always there to answer questions and help us, but he also let us discover the characters and the relationships.
3. Are you surprised it’s taken so long to tell this story on TV?
You’ve got things like Angels in America and you have the American point of view, but showing the devestatation that it caused Britain, I do find it strange that it hasn’t been approached before. But at the same time, I think Russell is the perfect person to write for it. He was there in the middle of it. He doesn’t shy away from how hard it was, but he also doesn’t make it self-indulgent.
It’s not that there was a shame to it, but I just think it’s not talked about all that much. When I was at school it was something I was aware of, but there was no real knowledge. I think now is the perfect time and Russell is the best person to do it.
4. Were you surprised by anything in the show?
Unfortunately I wasn’t particularly surprised. I did a lot of research before the show on not only AIDS, but also Section 28 and all these things they had to face. These characters were just so young. They’re too young to face what they faced.
I wasn’t surprised by the fact they were locking people away, but I loved the resilience that they showed when all these horrific things are happening to them. They keep fighting and not just for themselves, but for the whole community. It’s so beautiful and so important to show that as well.
It wasn’t just people who were scared of dying, it was people carrying on fighting because nobody else would.
5. How does Section 28 feature?
When Ash is a bit older he becomes a teacher and he’s asked by another senior member of staff to get rid of all the books that ‘aren’t appropriate’ because of Section 28. It’s so hard for Ash because he’s someone who very rarely speaks without thinking. He’s someone with so many things he can say and it’s all bubbling up inside of him and I think this is the final straw.
I’m the kind of person who, when I make a mistake, I hold my hands up and move on and I do my best to make up for what I’ve done. But I think that the fact that Section 28 is no longer talked about, I think is just really sad. It really ties in with everything else happening, it took years for people to acknowledge what was going on to the community all around the world. It was an out-of-sight, out-of-mind trick which cost so many lives and was so dangerous.
6. Did you get to hang out with Keeley Hawes and Neil Patrick Harris?
I have a scene with Keeley Hawes who is just amazing. It’s really weird when I talk about the cast. This is my first TV job and I really lucked out with the cast. Keeley Hawes, I just love her, I want to cuddle her all the time and she was such fun and so kind.
Neil Patrick Harris I don’t share scenes with, but he was in England for a few days before filming so I met up with him for a drink and he was really kind, really funny. In terms of the nudity in the show, I was a little bit nervous and he was really supportive.
It could have been intimidating, but he was so lovely. So kind. And he’s just the kind of person you want to go to the pub with for a drink. So it wasn’t intimidating at all. There are so many things you can learn from these people who have been in the industry for much longer, but it wasn’t like teacher and student, it was just like two friends meeting for a drink. It was so nice.
7. What did you think of Ash’s costumes?
Our costume designer Ian Fulcher, who is brilliant, gave me the most beautiful clothes. Most of the clothes, I would love to wear, but I normally wouldn’t be brave enough. The high-waisted trousers… I’m a very, very tall man and those high-waisted trousers, I’ll be honest, I was a little bit sceptical. But the moment I put them on, ooh! Ooh! They were comfortable, they looked incredible, I felt really, really powerful.
I loved the costumes, and it was just a great way to get into character. It changes the way you walk, the way you hold yourself and it helps you slip into character really quickly.
Those trousers did change my life. I was so gutted that I couldn’t take them with me. Ash’s costumes were a gift. I wish they were a gift!
Watch It’s A Sin on Channel 4 and All 4 from Friday, January 22 at 9pm