1st February 2023
Bradley Riches is one to watch. He started his career on the stage with roles in Footloose at the Southwark Playhouse, Monstersongs at The Other Palace, and Disaster! at the Charing Cross Theatre, before landing a leading role in the upcoming second season of Netflix’s smash series, Heartstopper. He also has autism, and feels passionately about autistic representation in the media. He’s this month’s cover star, and we were lucky enough to interview him about the journey of his career so far, navigating the industry as a person with autism, and what his aspirations are for the future.
What were you like as a child? Have you always loved acting?
When I was nine years old, I struggled with my confidence. I didn’t actually speak, which was an interesting thing obviously [in terms of] my family understanding what [was happening]. I was then told I was autistic when I was nine years old, and that’s when my family were like we need to find his thing. But then I went to a drama group, and I just found becoming someone else that wasn’t close to me . . . I found I had this voice. I just felt like I had more power in who I was and who I could be. And [I developed] confidence, I think, especially with communicating with new people. Then I started having speech therapy and then I did find my voice, which was exciting. Being able to speak, as well as physically communicate better just helped me as a person, as well as finding a love and joy for something that I wanna do forever.
How did you get your start in the industry?
Heartstopper is my first TV gig, which is very exciting, but growing up I did a lot of amateur musicals. I was at my little stage school which was local to me and there was this open casting for Annie Jr on the West End, and I thought I should go for it. It was like a summer thing and [I thought it sounded] pretty cool. So I did that and I got Rooster in Annie Jr and that was fun.
What happened after that?
From that I got an agency type thing when I was younger. I did lots of little shows - I did Disaster! at the Charing Cross Theatre and Monstersongs at the Other Palace. So yeah, most of the things I’ve done before are musicals.
What’s the differences and challenges between performing on a TV show or a musical?
I think the difference is that being on set for the first time I learned so much and I experienced so much. Before that I didn’t think I would go into TV - I thought I was very set on being in musicals forever because I love to dance, I love to sing, I love to act. The adrenaline it gives you, as well - you can’t describe it. It’s just amazing. But being on set it’s just a whole different experience. It feels more relaxed which is nice sometimes. I feel like sometimes when you’re on TV, you’re more there with what you’re saying and what your character’s emotions are. So I think [musicals and TV] are different but both exciting in their own way, I think.
What would you like to focus on in the future?
I definitely want to do musicals as well as TV, but ultimately would love to be in a movie musical. That would be the absolute dream. My dream role is Seymour in Little Shop Of Horrors. If they make a movie of that then I will be going for it. The movie is quite old now so we need a modernised version.
What’s your favourite musical at the moment?
My favourite musical at the moment - oh god, there’s too many. My favourite musical at the moment is probably . . . I do love Heathers. I love the soundtrack of Heathers. But a musical that I do enjoy would probably have to be Little Shop Of Horrors. I’m very obsessed. I’m trying to think of a musical that isn’t Little Shop Of Horrors but it keeps coming back!
What’s your favourite type of song to sing?
My karaoke song is probably one of my favourite songs - She’s Always A Woman by Billy Joel. My favourite musical theatre song to sing is - well, there’s two. There’s one called Role Of A Lift from Bare: A Pop Opera, and then there’s a song called The Games I Play from Falsettos.
In previous interviews, you’ve been a vocal advocate for improving representation in the media for people with autism. What are your thoughts? Are things improving?
I think everything’s stepping in the right direction, but I feel like, for example, I’ve seen stuff like non-autistic people playing autistic roles and it's portrayed in an offensive way. They can't sit in the experiences that an autistic person has had. They have a stereotype in their head and they’re playing the stereotype. I feel like we are heading in the right direction with something like Heartbreak High. Chloe Hayden is a phenomenal person and a phenomenal actress and the way they represent the character of Quinni is so beautiful. It put my faith back into the representation of autistic people playing autistic characters. They do an amazing job and they’re doing it so well. It’s very inspiring. So we are stepping in the right direction, but also every autistic person is different and I feel like there’s so many stories to tell and no ones been given the room to tell their stories. That’s where I stand with it.
What’s the message that you’d like people with autism to take away from reading this interview?
I think just keep being you and don’t change yourself. Don’t try to fit into society. Sometimes you’re meant to stand out and it is a beautiful thing. It’s very magical. Don’t try to fit yourself in when you were born to stand out. That kinda vibe.
Can you see yourself stepping behind the camera to tell these stories yourself?
I’d a hundred percent love to do that. I actually am writing a play at the moment which is very exciting and hopefully that will go somewhere and if not it was fun to write it. It’s a one person play and it’s basically about me - I’m very self obsessed. It wouldn’t feel authentic otherwise.
What's the story about?
[It’s about] me growing up and my family. With autistic stories they usuall focus on the obstacles that being autistic has. In some cases it is frowned upon due to non authentic portrayals.
But I think my play that I’ve been writing has been finding the positives, because there are a lot of positives to being autistic. As well as exploring the bad days and experiences, but not due to being autistic but how a neurotypical society reacts to a neurodivergent person.
The play is really authentic and beautiful. It’s just a story basically about him finding himself, I think. And he just happens to be autistic.
I think that’s the right way to put it.
Whose career is inspirational to you? Whose career would you like to emulate?
I personally don’t believe I could dream for someone’s career as we are all different and are better at different things. But if I really had to choose one, it would be Samantha Barks’ vibe - someone who’s done a bit of everything. A musical a movie a movie musical and has been successful. That’s the dream.
Thank you so much for the interview Bradley, and good luck with the second season of Heartstopper!