Heartstopper’s Yasmin Finney: ‘I Don't Want To Be Perfect. I Just Want To Be Me, Authentically’

·5-min read
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Photo credit: .

‘Miss Julia Fox is a fashion icon,’ Yasmin Finney tells me, eyes wide, revealing that the night before our interview she ordered a sewing kit online after watching the actor’s now viral DIY low-rise jean tutorial on Instagram. ‘I'm obsessed with her. I’m really getting into that Hip Hop, 1980s style at the moment.’

We’re chatting in a hotel room in London a week before the release of the 18-year-old’s debut role in a television series, Heartstopper. The British coming-of-age romance, out now on Netflix, tells the story of Charlie Spring, a gay teenager who falls in love with his classmate Nick Nelson, and the lives of their friends: Tao, Elle and Isaac. Less than a week after it dropped on the streaming platform, the series earned a rare 100% score on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes and a flurry of positive reviews from fans. If you’re yet to see it, think of Heartstopper as having the heart of It’s A Sin and the humour of Sex Education.

‘I admire Elle so much,’ Finney says of her character – a trans teenager who moves to an all-girls school after leaving her friends at the boys’ school where they’ve spent the majority of their formative years. Being a trans woman of colour and having struggled with moving schools herself as a teenager, Finney felt an affinity for Elle after spotting a casting call for the part while studying Performing Arts at college. ‘I was bullied for being queer at my first high school. At the time I didn't know I was trans, but for Elle to know that she is and to move schools because of that is bravery on another level.’

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Contrary to the trans experience which has been explored in television shows like Transparent and Pose, Heartstopper is refreshing insofar as it doesn’t explicitly state that Elle is transgender. ‘You only know it because she’s moved from a boys’ school to a girls’ school,’ Finney explains. ‘It’s so beautiful to see a trans story on television that's normalised, rather than see a narrative focussed on gender dysphoria, bullying, or the dark parts that comes with being a trans person.’

To help promote LGBTQ+ positivity on set, LGBT rights charity Stonewall was brought on board by Netflix to help advise its cast and crew, providing talks about the history of the LGBTQ+ struggle and educating individuals on pronouns. ‘I already knew Heartstopper would be queer positive and celebrate chosen family, but I was so grateful of Stonewall’s involvement,’ Finney adds.

Like many of the show’s fans, Finney believes that what makes Heartstopper stand out from its fellow coming-of-age contemporaries such as HBO’s Euphoria and Gossip Girl is the fact that its protagonists are played by real teenagers – a rare feat in the world of television and make believe. ‘Euphoria is amazing, but we need to have shows that are true to nature,’ she says. ‘It’s important to have true representation on screen so we can inspire the younger generation to be confident in themselves. You don't have to have a Hollywood smile and perfect clear skin to be on television, you can just be yourself.

‘It would have meant so much to a younger Yasmin to see an Elle on screen who is living authentically and unapologetically as herself. It’s about time that we have young, black queer representation on screen. Hopefully, with the increase of queer-focussed projects over the years, the younger generation won’t feel pressured to fit a certain mould or live up to society’s expectations anymore.’

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Growing up in Manchester as a Black queer woman, Finney admits that for many years she doubted whether she’d be able to break into the entertainment industry. While she credits her single-parent mother for inspiring her to be ‘independent and strong’, she always dreamed of a clean slate in London as an actor. ‘Everybody knows me from before I transitioned,’ she says of home.

With an ambition to be in front of the camera from an early age, Finney began documenting her life and experience as a trans teen on TikTok, building up a following that now stands at over 650,000. One video in particular of Finney’s, in which she shares her experience of growing up as a trans woman in Manchester, has been watched more than 12 million times. ‘I started to realise that maybe there is somewhere for me in the entertainment industry,’ she says of her social media beginnings, giving thanks to the TikTok creator community for helping foster a space of support and creativity. ‘There’s so much young queer talent, especially on TikTok, who are finding a way to make it for themselves through the platform.’

Finney's breakthrough role in Heartstopper comes a year after she was nominated in GLAAD's second annual '20 Under 20 list', celebrating 20 young LGBTQ+ individuals who are shaping the future of media and activism. While the teenager is honoured to have received the prestigious title, she reminds me that she’s only 18 and is on a journey to finding her voice. ‘I’m still figuring it all out,’ she says of navigating the world. ‘The beauty of being a teenager is that you shouldn't want to be perfect. You should want to just have fun and do what you love.

‘During my teenage years I've been trying to figure out what I want to do and where I fit in in this world,’ she continues, noting that she views make-up as a form of armour which helps her feel confident moving in a mostly cis and heterosexual world. ‘Like everybody else I struggle with anxiety and I've not got the best skin because of puberty, but these things make me who I am.

'I'm never going to look like Ariana Grande, but I'm not longer at a place in my life of wanting to look like somebody else. I've started to embrace who I am. I don't want to be perfect. I just want to be me, authentically.’

Heartstopper is out now on Netflix.

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