Olly Alexander on How Fronting Years & Years Prepared Him for ‘It’s a Sin’

Video Source: Youtube

The following interview for Backstage’s on-camera series The Slate was compiled in part by Backstage readers just like you! Follow us on Twitter (@Backstage) and Instagram (@backstagecast) to stay in the loop on upcoming interviews and to submit your questions.

Russell T Davies’ “It’s a Sin’’ highlights the lives of LGBTQ+ characters living in London during the height of the AIDS epidemic. The five-part miniseries premieres on HBO Max Thursday, February 18 following a hit run overseas. Taking on the starring role of Ritchie Tozer is British actor and musician Olly Alexander, who chatted with Backstage on Instagram about his performance, his advice for fellow performers, and how frontmanning his band Years & Years made him a better actor.

Alexander relates to his character on many levels.  
“I related to Ritchie because [he’s] 18 years old, he moves to London, he told his family he’s studying law but he instantly changes to drama. He has these big, big dreams of being a famous actor, of being someone, you know? I instantly related because that was me at 18 years old. I moved to London, I was like, ‘I’m gonna be a star.’ So I really got that determination. And also, you see in the story, Ritchie’s really driven by fear and shame in many ways. He’s always hiding something from himself or from the people around him; he’s not able to be fully honest with people, and it takes him a long time to get to a space where he’s fully honest. I understood what it’s like when you can’t really come to terms with your own sexuality; it creates this whole shame-drama that I think is what drives Ritchie’s actions. I just thought it was such a beautiful portrayal in the show, and that’s exciting as an actor, to be someone that’s quite complicated.”

Acting on-camera and performing as a musician became a “weird blend of identities.” 
“I really felt like I was trying to use all the kind of stuff I had learned from being in Years & Years, because there’s a confidence I had learned from being on the stage and fronting a band, and just applying that to different situations. That’s a character, too, you know? Like, that’s obviously a performance. Ritchie needed a lot of confidence, and I’m not like the most natural, confident performer. It’s taken me a long time to get here. So I was like, OK, I understand this character, I know how to pull off someone that wants to be confident, at least, and I have the vulnerability I think for free because that’s Olly. So I have all of that in my head and the rest of it is just like: know your lines and say the words and just listen and be present in the situation.” 

He is extremely grateful to have intimacy coordinators for Ritchie’s sex scenes. 
“It was a revelation for me…. The intimacy coordinator’s just there to facilitate that whole process, make everybody feel good, make everyone know that they know what they’re doing. So that was amazing, because I was just like, ‘How on earth do you do a sex scene?’ and then there are actual people who guide you through it, who show you how to do it, [and] choreograph it like [a] dance. It took away all the anxiety and all the fear that I had. They’re there on set to just make sure it’s all good.”

“I’ve never had a Plan B, let me put it that way,” he says. 
“I always was like, ‘This is what I’m gonna be.’ I was gonna be a musician, a singer, or an actor, or some combo of all those things. I really was that kid that was writing in a diary, ‘I’m gonna be a famous musician. I’m gonna be a famous actor.’ And I’m not saying that that’s what you need to have, because it’s not. But I think when I’m looking back, that definitely helped. I got to 16 and 17 and I wanted to leave school because I didn’t like being in school. It’s not like I was a bad student, I think I was smart, but I just didn’t like it. And so I went to a performing arts college for a year, and I was in theater clubs and stuff—I was always doing stuff, I was always trying to take opportunities where I could. And I think you have to do that, really, to get anywhere.”

He didn’t think twice about getting back to acting when he learned about “It’s a Sin.” 
“I loved acting. Acting is so fun, but obviously, there’s so much around it that is not fun when you’re trying to be an actor. But I would think [over the last five years of Years & Years], Oh gosh, it would be really fun to do that again. And I would make music videos I was acting in the music videos a bit. But I didn’t really think about it until honestly I heard about this show that Russell was making. I couldn’t think of a more perfect opportunity or a more exciting show to be involved with. I was like, ‘That’s a no-brainer. I have to do it.’ ”

Alexander encourages others to embrace the things that set them apart as people and performers.
“I gave myself a very hard time, wishing I was different because I felt like I stood out in a way that I didn’t like. Like, people could tell I was different somehow because I was gay. I wasn’t comfortable enough with myself at that point. The stuff that you really feel ashamed of or you wish was different, hold onto that, ’cause that really is what makes you special.”

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