Changing fortunes

Sex Education star reveals he was homeless before landing hit role

Ncuti Gatwa as Eric Effiong in Sex Education
Ncuti Gatwa as Eric Effiong in Sex Education (Photo: Sam Taylor | Netflix)

Actor Ncuti Gatwa, who plays gay teen Eric Effiong in hit Netflix show Sex Education, has talked about how the role helped change his life.

Gatwa, 27, who is originally from Scotland, gave an interview to British magazine The Big Issue. The publication is sold by homeless people and they can keep the money from sales to help them survive.

In the piece, Gatwa revealed that he had experience of being homeless before landing the part with Sex Education.

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“I was constantly working but I still found it impossible to survive in London. Because it was so expensive.

“I couldn’t seem to handle it all financially,” he said. “I was supposed to move into a new place and it fell through.

“So for five months before Sex Education, I was couch-surfing among all my friends. I didn’t have a home.

“I was homeless. The only thing stopping me from being on the streets was the fact I had friends.”

Sex Education promo photo from Netflix

He went on to say he got a temporary job at famous, high-end London store Harrods, where he would sell expensive fragrances to wealthy customers.

“I was thinking it was so mad, because if someone was to see me on the street – on my way to temping at Harrods in my trenchcoat and brogues – because you have to be so well-polished and look the part – they would never believe I was about to spend two hours on the phone to people trying to find where I could sleep that night.

“I got a sense of how lucky I had been. I was looking at people, thinking, ‘You are so lucky to be about to go home to your own bed.’ Then I was going to work to sell £7,000 perfumes.”

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He says he had to borrow money from a friend to top up his Oyster card (a pre-pay card used on London public transport) to get to the Sex Education audition.

His interview with the Big Issue is not the first time he has shown support for the homeless. His Instagram links through to a merchandise story for London charity Centrepoint.

Sex Education, which explores the sexual exploration of a group of teenagers a British school, proved a huge hit when it debuted on Netflix last year. It was streamed around 40million times in its first week.

The second season premiered last Friday. It stars actor Asa Butterfield as Otis, the son of a sex therapist (played by Gillian Anderson), who other teens turn to for advice. Gatwa plays Otis’ best friend, Eric.

Gatwa has received praise for his portrayal of Eric and was nominated for an MTV Movie Award for ‘Best Breakthrough Performance’ last year for his performance. He has not publicly labeled his sexuality.


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The actor, of Rwandan descent, told the Big Issue, “I get messages from LGBT people all around the world every day.”

“They say how the show has helped them, or the character has helped them because it is illegal to be gay where they are from. And there are kids who have run away, I get a lot of messages from underprivileged people who are struggling with their sexuality. I’m so glad the show is there to empower them.”

He recently told the Independent that he found the character of Eric refreshing for being non-stereotypical.

“He’s a black best friend, and he’s a gay best friend,” says Gatwa. “Those are two things that get stereotyped all the time, and he’s both of them in one, and there was just a complete lack of stereotypes.

“When we have gay characters on TV, they’re just, kind of, gay for the sake of being gay,” he continues. “That’s their personality. That’s their whole backstory, that’s their future story, that’s their present story – it’s just gay.

“Nobody’s just gay. People are people, and we all fall onto the spectrum. I liked that he had his own story, and his own journey, and his own beginning, middle and end.”

H/T: The Big Issue