‘Heartstopper’ EP Patrick Walters on How He Turned the Queer Graphic Novel Into a Netflix Show

Originating as a Tumblr webcomic by U.K. writer and illustrator Alice Oseman, upcoming Netflix series “Heatstopper” tells the story of two British teenagers, Nick and Charlie, who navigate their friendship as their feelings turn romantic.

Patrick Walters, head of development at production company See-Saw, first came across the queer comic in 2018 when Oseman launched a Kickstarter campaign from her bedroom to turn the series into a graphic novel, and immediately knew it was crying out for an on-screen adaptation.

Four years and one pandemic later, “Heartstopper” will drop on Netflix on Friday, April 22. Walters sat down with Variety ahead of the launch to talk about the process of bringing the series from page to screen.

Congratulations on the imminent launch! How are you feeling about it?

I’m really excited. We did a content day with the cast last week so I saw them all again and I spent time with Alice and everyone’s just so excited. And because they’re so young, it’s really nice being around that energy, where it’s like, the rest of their lives are about to begin. It’s very sweet.

How did you come across “Heartstopper?”

I read the first volume of the graphic novel at the tail end of 2018, just before it was about to be launched by Hachette as a published graphic novel, it was a webcomic. I remember I bought a copy via that Kickstarter campaign and I didn’t realise but Alice was actually sending those copies out from her bedroom. It was completely self-funded and much smaller than it is now in scale. And so I read that and fell in love with it. And then just through her agent asked for a meeting and when we met up, and I pitched her See-Saw as the home for it.

And did everyone at See-Saw get on board pretty quickly?

I remember being so excited. I told everyone in an internal meeting that I’ve read this beautiful queer graphic novel that was unlike anything I’d read before and that it would really plug a gap in the market, which was like a sort of uplifting, joyful slice of queer representation for younger viewers. And [See-Saw co-founder] Iain [Canning], and everyone at See-Saw was just super excited.

How did the show end up at Netflix?

You know, it was really specific with “Heartstopper.” When I met Alice we talked about the sort of home that we wanted for the show and because we really wanted to appeal to this young teen audience, it felt that Netflix was high on the list of targets, because it’s [in] 190 countries globally, it just is beamed into the younger generations’ devices. And once we got in front of Netflix and they met Alice and we pitched them the vision, they were so positive that actually there was no time to think about anywhere else.

Patrick Walters Courtesy of See-Saw

As well as the queer representation, what was it about the graphic novel that gripped you so quickly?

I think there was a kind of magic in it, where Alice has the power to draw characters’ faces, and the emotions that are going through them in a very expressive and beautiful way. So I immediately identified with the lead character, Charlie, because his anxieties are writ large on his face in the drawings. So you can absolutely imagine how an actor might bring that to life and tell that story and make you feel something really extraordinary and give you goosebumps.

Is it nerve-wracking to take on something that has so many passionate fans?

It sort of is but I think it was more nerve-wracking for me before we started filming, when we were developing it and when we came to that point of pre-production, and we were going through all of the things that we wanted to make sure we had on screen. But I think once we were shooting and on day one, having this amazing collaboration with our director, Euros [Lyn], and Alice as the creator, it felt like the magic was there and at that point I kind of breathed out in relief.

What was the biggest challenge with making “Heartstopper?”

There were lots of individual challenges that felt really important to conquer. I think, overall, it was finding the cast because I truly believed from very early on that if we didn’t find the kind of magical essence to the cast, the whole thing would fall apart. And so when we were doing our casting process, which was like a massive, open casting call, we got 10,000 applications, and it was all incredibly pressurized because we were just waiting for those actors to walk in. And through luck and serendipity, we love every actor in it. Kit [Connor, who plays Nick] and Joe [Locke, who plays Charlie] are just fantastic in the lead roles. I think if we hadn’t found those actors, the show would not have worked at all.

And can we look forward to season two?

I mean, Alice has got so much source material, of course, we’re looking to the future now and seeing what else might be out there. I think we’ve got such an amazing partner with Netflix, and they’re being so brilliant for season one and so we’re just getting that out there first and seeing how that does and then we’ll [look] to pastures new.

This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.

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