1st August 2023
Corinna Brown is an actor and artist who has captured the internet’s heart with her performance as Tara in Netflix’s megahit series Heartstopper. As season two prepares to launch, we talk about the success of the show, her journey to the role, and much more.
Hi Corinna, welcome to ReVamp! 2022 was a big year for you, the reception to Heartstopper has been massive. What’s it been like to be part of such a huge show?
Being part of Heartstopper has been incredible. Life-changing, even. If you’d asked me three years ago, I would never have guessed this would happen. It’s been such an honour to tell such an important story and to be a part of the Heartstopper universe. Alice [Oseman] is amazing, as are the whole cast and crew, so it’s really nice for that to be my first big job and then for it to be received so well.
Did you have any sense when working on the show that it was going to turn into this behemoth?
Do you know what, I didn’t? A lot of us were so new to this, and even though I’d been on sets before, it wasn’t a Netflix set…
Obviously, we had this amazing script – I mean the scripts are incredible – which I knew people would love. But in between being on the set, which was so new and exciting, during filming the show was just our baby and we loved it so much by ourselves.
I wasn’t really thinking about how other people would receive it. I hoped it would do well, because it’s a great story and each and every character is brought to life so wonderfully by the cast, but I never expected it. I thought it would just go out and hopefully do well, but nothing like on the scale it has.
And it’s just a nice story to have out there!
I’ve heard sets sometimes compared to summer camps – in that you go away from home with this group of people, all work on this thing and share this experience, which is just yours. For season two though, you’re going back with the whole world now in on it. Did that change the dynamic at all?
It was nerve-wracking. I was very nervous to do season two just because of how much everyone loved Tara the first time.
There’s also that big break in between filming seasons, and I had a bit of ‘oh my god, am I going to be able to get back into this character again?’ That’s the part I’d never done before; going back to explore a character’s journey for a second time. But as soon as I was back on set with everyone, back in costume with everyone around, it all sort of floods back.
Euros [Lyn] is an amazing director who gives you time and will explain things, and Alice is there to answer questions. Then of course you have the rest of the cast - Kit, Joe, Kizzy, Yaz, Will - and when you see everyone and you’re all in costume, it clicks. And because the writing is so great, you just find the characters again so easily. I had to remind myself that actually, before everyone knew about the show, we had to create these characters the first time around. We found them from within ourselves, we did hot-seating, played improvisation games and built up that confidence in our relationships with our characters.
It’s nice to have the support of everyone around too because we all just care so much about the story. So, yes, I was nervous for about a week before – but then we got back to it and I was like ‘oh yeah, this is great. We’re back.’
Fans love the relationship between your character, Tara, and her girlfriend Darcy – will we be seeing more of them in season two?
Well, I can definitely say you will see more of Tara and Darcy. Their journey carries on into season two. I don’t want to say too much, don’t want to ruin it, but you’re in for a treat. It’s so lovely to get to work with Kizzy – they’re amazing – and I’m so excited for everyone to see the next chapter.
Taking it back a step, can you tell us a little bit about how you got into acting? What inspired you, and what was your journey towards landing the Heartstopper role?
I was put into performing when I was little – because I was quite clumsy. My mum signed me up for dance first, which I loved, and then from there she saw there was this Saturday school in Hackney for musical theatre and asked if I wanted to go in for that too. Of course I did, so I started there and we’d do variety shows at the Hackney Empire. Then I joined their agency books and I did things like adverts, I did a show called My Murder, I did Even More Evermoor on Disney Channel - that was cool. I just fell into it from there.
My mum was very strict (and is very strict) and still wanted me to focus on getting my school work done. I wanted to go to BRIT School and she was just like ‘you’re not going to BRIT School; you’re going to get some A Levels!’
My compromise was that I would do A Levels in drama and dance, but I’d have to move college to do it. She told me, ‘You write me a letter and convince me.’ So, I had to write down and justify all the reasons why she should let me move from my secondary school to do these A Levels and keep performing.
She always allowed me to pursue what I wanted, but it had to be with that base of qualifications behind it. And I really appreciate her for that.
After that, I was told I had to go to uni – great, but I said it’s going to be drama school… I applied to RADA, Central, and East 15. RADA didn’t accept me right away--
Right?! I did their youth company which was really cool, but from that I wasn’t entirely sure it felt like me. I really liked Central for musical theatre, but they advised me to take a year out and audition again. East 15 seemed like a good fit in the meantime – I thought maybe I’d go there for a year and switch to Central. But I went to East 15 and got into their stage combat course and within two weeks I was on the phone to my mum like ‘I love it here, I’m staying!’
East 15 was great, I trained there for three years. Learned all different combat systems for stage and screen alongside traditional acting. We had our showcase, luckily ours was before COVID, and I met John from MacFarlane Chard who now represents me.
Then Heartstopper came along. They actually sent me Tara’s monologue from episode six, where she’s with Darcy in the music room, for me to read in my self-tape audition. I was moving at the time and had absolutely no room in my house, but I read that and the emotion just came straight away. Got it taped, and the rest is history.
And with all the combat skills you’ve learned, maybe we could see Tara take on the bullies with her mad skills…
Ha, well that would be a different kind of story… Maybe in an alternative universe.
We’ve talked about how the reception to Heartstopper has been so much bigger than anyone could have predicted. But were you aware of the cult following the comics already had going into production?
Going into production yes, I had by that point because I’d bought them all and realised how amazing they are. I’d been online and seen how much people loved them but even then, I still didn’t quite grasp the scale. So that made going into season one even more exciting, seeing how lovely the fans of the comic were. But initially it was just a cool script with a character I felt a connection to.
Adapting a character from one medium to another can be difficult, especially when they’re already so beloved. Did you feel any pressure around that?
The beauty of having Alice on set and so involved in the show as the creator means the fans could be assured that what they love from the comic would be adapted faithfully. At the time I wasn’t really feeling a lot of pressure on this specifically, but looking back, it’s obvious having Alice there was so important.
You can actually watch the show and have the comic in front of you and flip between the two things and they’re both so clearly Heartstopper and so clearly Alice.
The popularity and impact of the show has been immense, with creator Alice Oseman named Attitude magazine’s person of the year --
Yes! So deserved!
-- BAFTAs, and more. This increased spotlight can also bring some challenges, especially for young actors like yourselves. How have you found coping with that side of the success?
For me, I have such a great support system around me in my friends and family. Even in the cast and crew, I feel like I can talk to anyone and everyone – and we do talk to each other. Sharing experiences, learning from each other, and being there to listen.
It’s also remembering that a lot of it online is just keyboard warriors, as soon as I turn my phone off or turn off notifications, they’re gone. It sounds weird to say, but to me, if it’s just in my phone it’s not real life. It’s like, those things are happening in that space, but that doesn’t have to affect me in my space here in the real world. Though I’ve got to say that for the most part our fandom is very nice and supportive.
With things like Twitter, I sometimes wonder if people think about how they would feel if someone was writing the kinds of things about them that they write about others… We’re all human. But switching it off – that works for me.
That seems like a very sensible approach – for actors and anyone else!
I admit I’m on my phone as much as the next person, and at the start I would occasionally look to see what people were saying about my performances, but then I started to think ‘I don’t need this, and I actually do I need to care?’ I’m an actor, doing my job. We love it so much, but maybe sometimes people forget it is a job and it doesn’t make sense to pry into people’s private lives. If we worked in an office, no one would care!
I like to end by asking every actor I talk to; what kind of dream project would you love to be involved in the future? Sky’s the limit, anything is possible!
I think it would be something with a really gritty character storyline. I’m very interested in exploring important issues like mental health abstractly and creatively, involving differing mediums like ariel and stunts and music and dance. I don’t know if that would be on stage or on the screen, maybe I need to write it – who knows. I just love telling stories that have depth and layers and I’d love to have a career that lets me do that always. I’d never say no to a Marvel job, that would be incredible! I’d love to do a lot of the stunts myself, choreograph some fights… Young Storm, anyone?
OMG, yes! And you’d get to hang out with Scarlett Witch all the time because they’re buddies in the comic…
Exactly! It’s perfect!
For me, the arts are about variety and having each day at work be different. So as long as I get to keep doing that, I’m happy!
You can catch Corinna in season two of Heartstopper on Netflix, August 3rd.
This conversation took place prior to writer's strike.