Tobie Donovan

In Netflix’s new series Heartstopper, Tobie Donovan plays his first screen role as Isaac Henderson, working closely with his co-stars Joe Locke (Charlie), William Gao (Tao) and Yasmin Finney (Elle), with the series proving a huge success. Based on Alice Oseman’s graphic novels (who also wrote and created the series), Heartstopper has recently been renewed for Series 2 and 3, and it’s been nominated at award ceremonies including at this year’s Dorian Awards for Best LGBTQ Show and Best TV Drama. Tobie has been working with Netflix on his own YouTube channel, where he vlogs behind the scenes about his journey with Heartstopper so far, with his subscribers nearing 200k, and he also has a successful TikTok account. Speaking with Tobie, he answered our questions about booking his first screen role in Heartstopper, playing Isaac Henderson in the Netflix series and filming for his YouTube.

You play Isaac Henderson in the new Netflix series Heartstopper, can you tell us about your character?

Isaac is a teenager in an all boys grammar school in England. He is usually very quiet but tends to open up more around his best friends Charlie, Tao and Elle. He is a huge bookworm and has a book in his hand in almost every shot in Season 1! Because he is so quiet he does a lot of watching and listening and so tends to know what is happening way before anyone else, especially when it comes to Charlie’s crushes…

What is Isaac like to play and what was it like having him as your first on screen role?

Isaac is an absolute joy to play! I had so much fun finding the moments where Isaac is listening to the conversation and pulls a knowing face or flashes a sarcastic look. I always enjoy reading the script and picking the moments that are right for a cheeky Isaac reaction! But I also really love the moments where Isaac is kind and nurturing and supportive of his friends, I think he is a real protector in the friendship group and is always looking out for everyone else, so I like finding those moments too and leaning into his selflessness. I just think he’s great!

Also, I think Isaac is usually the smartest person in a room at any time, but what makes him the kindest too is that he doesn’t act on it. He always knows the answer to the question but would rarely put his hand up in class. So I think having that quiet confidence in himself is another thing I love about him and a joy to play!

And all of those qualities make him the perfect first on screen role! I worked really hard with Alice Oseman (our incredible writer/creator) on creating a three-dimensional character, so whilst Isaac could’ve very easily been the typical, glasses wearing, book reading “nerd” you see on TV, we felt it was very important that this character had more to him. And although he isn’t a crucial part of the first season, I think fans have connected with Isaac and being the more introvert friend, and so it gives us a great opportunity to dive into his story more in future seasons!

How have you found the experience working on set of Heartstopper and what is it like working with the rest of the cast?

Being on the Heartstopper set was one of the best experiences of my life so far. I know that sounds dramatic but I mean it!

I just felt like a kid in a candy store the whole time, it was just the most exciting thing I’d ever done! I have wanted to be an actor all my life and as a kid you see these movie stars and watch all the behind the scenes so when I was actually on a set, like the ones I’d been watching since I was a kid, I was just in constant awe. TV sets are such well-oiled machines and everyone is working hard and being very professional, but we were there, a bunch of teenagers, just messing around every time they yelled cut! It was so much fun!

And working with the rest of the cast was an absolute dream! Every single one of them is a top class, incredible actor, but put that aside they are all just such lovely people. I made some real friendships for life on that set. I think because, for me at least, it felt like a bit of a baptism by fire, just being thrust into principal cast on a massive Netflix show was all very exciting and new and scary. But then being able to go through all of that with a group of other young people in the exact same position just made us all connect and bond so much more and so quickly. We could all confide in each other about how crazy this experience was which therefore made it feel way less scary.

How much did you know about Alice Oseman’s graphic novels before booking the role and was there anything that drew you to the series?

I hadn’t heard of Heartstopper or any of Alice’s books before my audition, but when I saw the casting call and was asked to tape for it I read all the graphic novels and just fell in love. I remember just feeling so overwhelmed by the cuteness of it all! But also how poignant and relevant it was, and how similar the stories of these characters were to events in my own life. I remember just feeling so grateful that this project was being made regardless of whether I was in it or not because I knew it would help so many people.

So I guess that’s what drew me to the series, knowing how important it would be for queer people, young and old, and equally how important it would be for not queer people, to see our stories being told on a massive platform and in such a positive, beautiful way. You can’t argue with that.

But also, it was just the most incredible script and character. I had never played anyone like Isaac before, and so it was such an exciting challenge!

What are some of your favourite memories from working on Heartstopper Series 1?

Oh my gosh, there are just so many to choose from!

I think my favourite times were when we were all on set together, the full company. It was just so much fun to chat and play games and run races and just be silly when the cameras weren’t rolling. So my favourite memories have got to be sports day and the rugby match, because we were all together, in the sunshine, having a blast!

I also have very fond memories of sitting in the makeup chair every morning with my lovely MUA Mel, and putting the world to rights at stupid o’clock in the morning! And I will never forget shooting the scenes at the bowling alley in Episode 5! I remember just walking through town to this bowling alley that had been completely shut off for us to use! I think that’s when it first sunk in for me, the scale of what we were doing and that Netflix had the power to just shut down a business for a few days to film our show! It was crazy! Although I did feel bad for the kids that were turned away from their after-school bowling match because there was a massive film crew in the way!

How has it been seeing the huge fan response and success to the release and how was it having the show be renewed for Series 2 and 3?

The response to the show has been completely overwhelming in such a great way! I think I knew when we were shooting it that we had something special, but I could’ve never ever imagined the success and acclaim it’s received. I guess I thought the show would stay quite niche and for the queer community with a team of die-hard fans, but I never imagined it breaking out in the way it has and being seen by as many people as it has been! It’s mad! But such a privilege to see, I’m so grateful that people are loving it and it’s such an honour to be a part of it.

When I found out we were renewed for Seasons 2 and 3, I was so shocked! I think we’d all hoped that we would be able to come back for another season and dive into more of the story, but to be picked up for two more seasons was such a shock! I never see shows being picked up for two seasons at once! It was amazing and I feel so grateful. It felt like a weight off my shoulders to be out of the awkward waiting faze after the show was out, and to have that confirmation we would all get to go on this amazing journey again was such a relief and such exciting news!

What are you looking forward to for continuing telling the Heartstopper story and returning to set?

I am mostly just looking forward to seeing my friends again every day! And to be back on the set and working with our amazing team, it is going to be so much fun!

In terms of the story I am really looking forward to diving into Isaac more! I would love to explore Isaac’s identity and his queerness and see him going on his own journey of coming to terms with that. And I would also love to maybe see a bit more of Isaac’s home life, I would be really interested in learning more about his family and maybe even exploring where his love of books comes from. But I trust that Alice will come up with a beautiful story arc for him and I can’t wait to see what it is!

In Volume 3 of the comics, the whole gang go on a school trip to Paris, so I would be very excited to possibly see that play out in the show and see all the chaos and drama that might ensue…

Is there anything you enjoy most about working on a Netflix series?

It has been an incredible experience working with Netflix. Everyone that I’ve worked with has just been so lovely and so considerate of how new to this industry I still am.

But I think the best part of being in a Netflix show is how large the platform is and how far their reach is. I think it’s something silly like 190 countries on the planet that have access to Netflix, and for our little queer show to be in all of those places is incredible. For all the young LGBTQIA+ people around the world to be able to see themselves and their stories being told in our show is so cool.

Also, just the incredible calibre of work Netflix produce. All of my favourite programmes are on Netflix and so to be sharing a platform with them is such an honour. Shows like Stranger Things and Sex Education that are just such massive successes, it is such a joy to be even in the same space as them.

Can you tell us about your YouTube channel and was there anything that encouraged you to start it?

Yes! So I have created a YouTube channel where I have been posting behind the scenes vlogs from my time on the Heartstopper set. It is a series of sort of “Day in the Life” style videos that document my Heartstopper journey from the moment I got the job, to my final day on set. I really wanted to document the experience for myself, to be honest. I wanted to make sure I had as much footage on set of what it was like for me, so I can look back on it when I’m old and remember my first ever job. But once I had edited the first few videos I realised that this was something that other people might be interested in as well. So I took it to Netflix and we have been working together very closely to make these vlogs happen!

I remember just being utterly fascinated by behind the scenes documentaries and YouTube videos when I was younger, and so it felt like a really cool, full circle moment to be able to put out my own behind the scenes content. I feel like I’m paying something back to the universe, and hopefully there is another little Tobie out there somewhere who has watched my vlogs and gets inspired to chase a career in the arts! That would be really cool!

Where does your love of acting come from and is it something you always wanted to do?

I have wanted to be a performer for as long as I can remember. As a child, I would always put on shows in my living room and in my back garden or really anywhere with a slightly raised platform I could make into a stage!

I would always leave the theatre and the cinema as a kid with this burning desire to do what they were doing, and to tell stories like that. So I guess I always just knew that was what I wanted to do. It is so embedded into who I am that I would sometimes clash with teachers that would try and lead me into a more stable job. People would always tell me to “have a back up plan” and to “have another plan B to fall back on in case acting doesn’t work”, because it is admittedly a really cut-throat industry. But my advice to people who want to go into this is always stick to your plan A. If you invest all your time and energy into making that dream a reality, I promise you it will one day come into fruition.

How was your time attending Bath Theatre Academy and can you tell us about your time there?

I had an amazing time at Bath Theatre Academy. I learnt so much about the craft and about different methods and practitioners, but then I also learnt to chuck that all away when I’m on stage and try to live in the moment. I think by training in the theatre first, I had the base skills I needed to transfer into TV work. When I first started Heartstopper, I remember feeling a bit lost, it was the middle of a pandemic so I hadn’t been on stage in a while, and then being put in front of a camera and in a whole new environment and skill set, I think I sort of forgot how to act! It took me a little while to warm up, but because I had the theatre training to fall back on, I was able to approach learning the new skill of acting for camera with a bit more confidence, so I will always be grateful to BTA for that.

Do you have any favourite films and TV shows to watch?

Yes, I have lots! But I think the one I HAVE to put you guys onto is Pose! It is the most incredible TV show about the ballroom scene in New York in the 80s. MJ Rodriguez gives the most beautiful, gentle but powerful performance as the mother of the house Blanca, and of course, Billy Porter is always a star! But I think what I love the most about it is how unapologetically queer it is. These people are serving LOOKS and turning the balls, but also breaking down in their relationships and struggling with addiction and it makes the whole programme so human and real, despite its extraness! I remember it being the first time I had ever seen queerness like that on TV before and feeling so seen. I am not a beautiful black trans mother in 80s New York, but I saw so much of myself in Blanca and in her fight for justice. It was so powerful for me and helped me embrace my queerness, which meant when it came time to make Heartstopper, I was able to bring my whole self to the table.

How do you like to spend your time away from your career?

To be honest, I don’t really like to spend time away! I love my job so much! Acting and telling stories is the thing that makes my heart sing and the thing that brings me the most joy. I think that’s the challenge when your “hobby” becomes your job, you have to find other hobbies so you don’t feel like you’re working all the time! And I’m still on that journey of finding other hobbies! But I love spending time with my friends and family, I am someone who really feeds off being around other people so that is always really important for me to be with the ones I love. And I also really love music, so I spend a lot of time tinkering away at my piano or learning something new on the guitar.

Have you been given any career advice that has stuck with you and what advice would you give a new actor starting out?

The best advice I’ve been given, that has stuck with me is to always be you. If you bring all of you to everything you do, that is when brilliant art is made. Particularly in my career, I think the more you know yourself, the easier it is to step out of that and become someone else. Or to draw on the things you know about yourself and make them into a character. So that is what I always strive to do, to learn more about myself every day and to live as authentically me as I can, because everyone else is already taken! Why try be someone else when you can be you!

And I think that is the advice I would give an actor starting out as well. Even if you don’t see anyone like you in movies or on stage or on TV, if you continue to do you and be authentic, you will make extraordinary art. And eventually the industry will catch on and tell your stories, but until they do, don’t change to fit their standards, try to stay strong in who you are and the power you have as an artist. Take up space in the world, know your worth and bring all of you to the table and the work will come. You are brilliant and perfect exactly the way you are!

Follow Tobie on:





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s