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Ncuti Gatwa from ‘Sex Education’: ‘All of us have had a plethora of dick pics’

The ‘Sex Education’ star on filming that banana blow job scene, being sent dick pics on Instagram and why he loves living in Tottenham

Sex Education, Netflix, Ncuti Gatwa
Sam Taylor/Netflix
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Turning up at a cool party dressed head-to-toe in luminous orange. Showing his classmates how to give a blow job using a banana (and then vomming on everyone). Defying the school haters and turning up at his prom in gold strappy heels and a bold, Ghanaian suit. These are just a few of the reasons we’ve all fallen in love with Eric Effiong, the standout character in Netflix’s latest hit show ‘Sex Education’. Played by Scottish-Rwandan actor Ncuti Gatwa, Eric is best friends with Otis (Asa Butterfield), the son of a sex therapist (played brilliantly by Gillian Anderson) who ends up running his own sex clinic for hormone-addled teenagers, despite the fact that – whisper it – he’s a virgin who’s afraid to touch his own penis. But Eric is way more than just the gay best friend. In fact, he steals the show (and he’s got more sexual credentials than Otis, having given two-and-a-half hand jobs over the summer). Chatting to the Tottenham-based, 26-year-old actor on the phone, he’s just as much fun as his character – he talks about being nervous about his minister dad watching his sex scenes, being sent dick pics on Instagram and whether he can ever eat a banana again.

Everyone is talking about ‘Sex Education’. What’s it like to be part of such a huge show?
‘It’s been amazing. The success of it has been really overwhelming. When we were shooting it we knew that we were making something special, because the script is so different, but we weren’t quite sure how it was going to manifest. Fortunately it’s turned into this beautiful thing that everyone’s gotten behind. I don’t think any of us could have anticipated its success.’

Why do you think it’s had such a great response?
‘I think it resonates with people because it’s got a fresh perspective, which I think is down to having a predominantly female-led writing room. I feel like a lot of different voices are being heard. You’ve got these classic high-school tropes but we’ve pushed them a bit further and tried to get to the root of all the characters. It’s a show of the time. We’re in an age where we’re talking about diversity and equality, rightly so, and everyone’s ready for a show that represents that.’

‘The love that Eric has gotten is so overwhelming’

It seems like Eric is everyone’s favourite character. Were you expecting that?
‘No. You can never prepare for that. The love that Eric has gotten is so overwhelming. I’ve had so many amazing DMs from people being like “You’ve inspired me to be who I am and who I want to be." It’s so nice to read. He’s a bit of a people’s champ. When I first watched the show I thought that he was annoying, but I think that’s more to do with the fact that it was me playing it. Watching yourself on screen for that amount of time is the most torturous thing. I was watching it thinking: Is that what I look like? Is that how I sound? I didn’t know my eyebrows were so thick! I found me so annoying when I first watched it. After a while I was like, okay, he’s kind of cool.’

Have you had lots of fans messaging you?
‘Yeah, my DMs have been going crazy. It’s quite emotional reading them, because people are sharing their struggles and why they feel Eric has helped them. I had this message from a girl the other day saying “I now feel more comfortable to start dressing in boys’ clothes. I was out with my mum the other day and I bought all boys’ clothes.” It’s so nice to see that people have found strength in him. He portrays strength in a way that we haven’t really seen before. I’m glad that people resonate with that and can feel like they’re not weird – or maybe they feel like they are weird but that it’s fine to be weird, it’s cool to be weird. Be whoever you want to be.’

Have you had any weird fan interactions in real life?
‘I live in Tottenham and a lot of people don’t really know who I am around here. I don’t think they care, people are just going about their normal lives. I try not to leave Tottenham – it’s my happy place. But I am getting a lot of dick pics, which I don’t condone. Don’t send me that? Why are people sending me that?! That’s the strangest thing that’s happened to me.’

Are people accompanying their dick pics with a message or…?
‘Sometimes it’s “Hey, how are you?” then a dick pic [laughs]. Me and Aimee Lou Wood, who plays Aimee in the show, were talking about the rise of that happening with all of us. All of us have had a plethora of dick pics on Instagram. It’s bizarre.’

‘We got through about 300 bananas that day’

You wear loads of amazing outfits in the show. Did you have a favourite?
‘The prom look was such a fun outfit. The costume was so beautiful. I had two suits made for me with kente cloth, which is a traditional Ghanaian fabric. The suits got made and tailored for me in Ghana and they just fit perfectly. It took me so long to decide which one to wear. I was really excited for that scene. It was nice to be on the set of a big Netflix show in traditional African clothing and just stand there, unashamedly African. That was a real moment for me.’

Did you get to keep the suits?
‘They actually offered it to me, but I was too stupid and I forgot to buy one. But I’m going to try and retrieve them. I need to get those back.’

Were there any funny moments on set?
‘Asa Butterfield is a big prankster. In the first couple of weeks we were filming the party scene and when we would wrap we’d walk back to base and it was pitch black as we’re out in the countryside, so Asa would hide out in the bushes and jump out at people. The screams would echo across the fields of sheep! But my funniest moment was the banana scene. We got through about 300 bananas that day and it got to a point where it was just normal, the fact that we were all there sucking off these bananas. No one was batting an eyelid. That’s the thing about “Sex Education”, the shooting situations are so bizarre that nothing is a surprise any more. It’s just another day at the office.’

Were you nervous about doing that scene?
‘Yes and no. I wasn’t nervous about the intimate scenes because we were so well taken care of by the production. But I was definitely thinking: What is my mum going to think about this scene? And my dad is a minister so there were many scenes where I was like: When this comes out… God help me. As you can imagine, there were a good few scenes where I was thinking: I could do with my mum not seeing this.’

Have your parents watched it?
‘Yeah, they watched it all meticulously. They’re very supportive.’

Did they just gloss over the sexy scenes?
‘Yeah, it was very much, good job, well done, and that’s it. There was no in-depth conversation about anything because how do you have a conversation about fellating a banana to your dad who’s a minister?’

Can you ever eat a banana again?
‘Um… I haven’t since then. Maybe I will one day. I literally got my fill of potassium for a lifetime on that one day.’

‘There were a good few scenes where I was like: I could do with my mum not seeing this’

Were there any embarrassing moments on set?
‘I honestly can’t think of any. I’d come in and see Asa and Emma [Mackey, who plays Maeve] and it would be: “What are you doing today?” “Oh, I’m sucking off a banana.” “Oh great, I’m having sex in the back of a car.” This stuff was so normal. Everyone just got on with it.’

So you guys are all friends? Do you have a WhatsApp group?
‘Yeah, we’ve got a WhatsApp group, we message each other every day. Everyone bigs each other up, like Emma was in Vogue the other day, so we’ll send that to the group chat. Everyone’s very supportive and protective of each other.’

Do you guys have any nicknames for each other?
‘Yeah, everyone’s got a nickname. I’m “Shoots MacGoots” because I’m Scottish so you’ve got to get the “mac” in there. Another one of my nicknames is “Uncle Ramsey” – don’t ask me why.’

Um, why?
‘The uncle part is because I’m Rwandan and in a lot of African cultures it’s a sign of respect to call your elder either uncle or aunty. And I happen to be a few years older than some of them. But the Ramsey part… This is really feeding into a bad narrative about my age, but I sometimes have bad hearing, I hear things completely wrong. I think somebody said something about fishing or something and I was like “Ramsey?!” And they said “Where did you get Ramsey from?” Then it joined up with the uncle thing. It’s a cute name, though – I’ll take it.’

‘I was so excited when I got my first troll! This means that I’ve made it.’

I saw you’d been defending Aimee Lou Wood (who plays Aimee) when someone trolled her on Instagram. Have you had to deal with any negativity on social media?
‘Me and Aimee Lou were actually talking about that today – how when you’re in the public eye, you become public property. People feel like they can just say whatever they want to you and they can demand whatever they want from you. I’m surprised I’ve not received that much hate or trolling. I was really worried, because of the character I play, that all the racists and homophobes would come out from under their rocks and attack me, but I’ve only really had love so far. I had one guy who called me a faggot in my DMs and I was so excited because I was like: It’s my first troll! This means that I’ve made it. I put it in the group WhatsApp and everyone congratulated me. Once people you haven’t met and don’t even know you hate you, that’s how you know you’ve made it.’

Do you make a point of defending the rest of the cast if they get attacked on social media?
‘I’m a bit of a mother hen with the rest of the cast, so I do feel very protective. Aimee’s one got to me. There’s been a lot of really sexualised comments because obviously she has a lot of sex scenes in the show. It’s so annoying – this is an intelligent, classically trained actor who has given you an amazing performance and the thing you’ve taken away from it is that she got her boobs out. How sad must you be that you have to occupy your time by writing negativity about someone you’ve never met?’

What were you like at school?
‘I was a bit of a hopper, I hopped around groups. It was a survival technique. I tried to be friends with everybody so that nobody would come for me. But I was definitely not as vulnerable as Eric. You couldn’t bully me in the way that Eric is bullied and get away with it – I’d find you and I’d get you!’

You made an excellent thirst trap tutorial video recently. What’s your top thirst trap tip?
‘Top thirst trap tip! [Laughs] Go in front of the mirror and learn your angles so that you’re able to pose in a way that looks natural. It needs to be: Oh I just stumbled into this position and I look insatiably hot. It can’t be like: I tried to look like this. I hate when people look like they’re literally about to break their back. If you look like your back is going to snap in half, it’s finished. It’s a mess.’

‘It’s fucking crazy, to turn on Netflix and see your face’

What would be your opening line on a dating app?
‘Oh! I’m really bad at that. I work better in person. You don’t know the person, so what do you say? I’m a fan of gifs, so I’d probably just send a funny gif so there’s at least something to talk about.’

Are you a big Netflix fan? Is it weird to be the star of a huge Netflix hit?
‘Yeah, I’m not gonna lie, it’s fucking crazy. To turn on Netflix and see your face there is bizarre. And then to see it on the tube and social media – the fact that Netflix is posting videos of me on its channel is crazy.’

So, you live in Tottenham – where do you hang out in London?
‘Mostly east – Shoreditch, Dalston. I’m a big fan of Vietnamese food and Shoreditch seems to have a street where every single restaurant is a Vietnamese restaurant.

Kingsland Road?
‘Yeah, Kingsland Road. It’s my goal to eat in all of them before I’m 30. I used to live in Hackney, so east and north-east feel very much like home to me.’

Have you got a favourite Vietnamese place?
‘Ooh... Tay Do, Mien Tay, BúnBúnBún – those are my favourites.’

What do you want to happen for Eric in season two?
‘I would like for Eric to continue embracing who he is. I’d like to see him be with somebody who treats him respectfully. Whether Adam fixes up or not, I don’t know. I’d like for him to find love because I feel he’s got a lot of love to give.’

‘Sex Education’ is on Netflix now.

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