Olly stars in TV drama after scooping honour

By Saul Cooke-Black   |   BBC local democracy reporter   |
Thursday 14th January 2021 11:45 am
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Olly performing live on stage - before lockdown restrictions were in place

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POP star and actor Olly Alexander is set to light up our TV screens this month, as he stars in a hard-hitting new drama set among the LGBTQ community in the shadow of the HIV/Aids epidemic.

The former Monmouth Comprehensive School pupil has just landed a top gay icon award alongside Sir Elton John.

And the 30-year-old frontman of synth pop chart-toppers Years and Years is looking forward to being seen in new five-part TV drama It’s A Sin created by award-winning TV writer Russell T Davies.

Olly plays Ritchie Tozer in the new show, which references the Pet Shop Boys’ song.

And he says he drew on his own experience of leaving his Forest home in Coleford, where he also attended St John’s Primary as a young boy, to play the character, who immerses himself in the LGBTQ community after heading for a new life in the city, only for his social and political views to ruffle feathers.

He told Gay Times: “When I read the script, that’s what really blew me away about Ritchie’s character. I was so excited to try and get into his headspace.

“Ritchie makes a lot of questionable choices… But playing him was so much fun because I really felt like I could understand where he was coming from.

“It’s really important to have a character that makes questionable choices. I really empathise with Ritchie going from a small town to London. That’s what I did.”

In the Gay Times interview, Olly describes his character as “so ambitious, and I related to that straight away”.

And he says “if I’d grown up a little differently, and I didn’t have a liberal mum” he could have perhaps turned out with views more like Ritchie.

Mum Vicky Thornton, who has shared the Celebrity Gogglebox sofa with Olly on TV and appeared in his much-praised BBC3 Growing Up Gay documentary last year, is a co-founder of the Coleford Music festival.

And with a background in singing and educational theatre, she encouraged the young Olly in his dreams of making it as an actor and musician.

Olly added: “Russell’s work helped shape my identity as a gay person so I’m absolutely over the moon we’re working together.

“The script was amazing to read, I laughed and I cried a lot. It’s a privilege to be helping to tell this story and I’m so excited.”

Also in It’s A Sin, which is being screened on Channel 4, are Omari Douglas, Lydia West, Nathaniel Curtis, Callum Scott Howells, Neil Patrick Harris, Keeley Hawes, Stephen Fry, Tracy Ann Oberman and Shaun Dooley.

Olly celebrated his new role by receiving the ‘Celebrity of the Year’ honour at the end-of-year 2020 British LGBT Awards, as Sir Elton picked up the ‘Global Award’.

Former GQ Man of the Year Olly paid tribute to his superstar co-winner by saying he wouldn’t be an ‘out’ pop star without ‘visible heroes’ paving the way for him.

The 30-year-old joked: “I want to continue being very gay in whatever situation I find myself in.

“I am very touched and grateful to everyone who voted for me, thank you. I love you guys and I just want to make you all proud.”

And Olly made a plea for people to look out for their mental wellbeing.

“I want to ask everybody watching to please prioritise their mental health,” he said.

“I know this has been a really difficult year for many people and it’s impacted their mental health, myself included, so if you’re going through a tough time I hope you feel better soon… please look after yourselves.”

Olly launched his performing career at Monmouth Comprehensive, starring in productions of Guys and Dolls and The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

His professional career began in the film Summerhill released in 2008, and his next film Bright Star was nominated for an Academy Award.

His next big acting break came in 2013, when he starred alongside Ben Whishaw and Judi Dench in the West End play Peter and Alice.

Meanwhile, he had launched Years and Years with Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Turkmen, who took the pop world by storm in 2015 with No 1 single King and chart-topping album Communion.

In 2019, they realised a dream by playing the Glastonbury Festival, where Olly’s call for equality and gay rights was widely praised.

It’s A Sin starts screening on Channel 4 this month.

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