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Sex Education's Connor Swindells tackles toxic masculinity and his on-screen gay romance

The British rising star reflects on what the show has taught him in the Attitude October issue.

2021-09-09

Words: Thomas Stichbury; Photography: Dean Ryan McDaid

Sex Education star Connor Swindells delves into his on-screen gay romance and how his character is making amends for his “past abusive behaviour.”

Ahead of the acclaimed comedy drama’s third season, available on Netflix from 17 September, the British actor tells the Attitude October issue - out now to download and to order globally - what is in store for his alter-ego, the formerly closeted school bully Adam Groff, and boyfriend Eric Effiong (Ncuti Gatwa), who Adam used to target and mercilessly pick on.

Connor wears t-shirt by CDLP (jewellery throughout, Connor’s own) for the Attitude October issue. (Photography: Dean Ryan McDaid; Fashion: Joseph Kocharian; Grooming: Jason Goh at Gary Represents using Schwarzkopf; Professional fashion assistant: Sacha Dance)

“[Adam’s] trying with Eric to be the person that he wants him to be – whether that’s working or not is up for question. He’s more open to trying to be a better version of himself, and to make up for his past abusive behaviour that they both had with each other, and to turn that around,” Connor says.

“Like all relationships, you’ve got to deal with the stuff in the past, you can’t just move on and carry on without working through it, and that comes to light. You see them try with one another to make their relationship head in the right direction, which is what everyone wants to see.”

The 24-year-old up-and-comer – currently in deep water in hit BBC submarine murder mystery Vigil – adds that he identified a lot with Adam.

Connor wears leather jacket, tank top and denim, all by Dsquared2 (Photography: Dean Ryan McDaid)

“I see his arrogance and his ignorance as something that I have used as a way to keep myself safe in the past. To be ignorant to the things that are going on around me, the lives of others, means you can be far more self-sufficient than you might otherwise be,” he confides. “Maybe if I hadn’t had the fortunes I have, I might still be like that.”

Connor moves on to discuss what Sex Education, created and written by Laurie Nunn, has taught him about gender and gender stereotypes, bringing to the surface his own grapples with toxic masculinity.

“My mum’s side of the family is really working class. I was talking to a friend about this today, in that your masculinity was shown by your endurance level", he begins.

Connor wears jacket by Fiorucci, t-shirt by CDLP, jeans by Calvin Klein Jeans (Photography: Dean Ryan McDaid)

"As a labourer, if you could get through a full working day drinking half a bottle of water and [eating] one sandwich, that was considered masculine, which is probably something that not many people are aware of, because that stuff comes from working-class backgrounds, where they’re not wanting to speak about masculinity and the forms that it takes."

He continues: “[Then there is] the whole point-scoring system, which I really try to catch myself on and oftentimes fail, especially when speaking to people who are in the [acting] business as well, and not trying to turn conversation back to what I’ve been up to, which is so easily done.

"The nature of the industry breeds that anyway; everyone’s always wanting to gloat and then wanting to ask what you’ve been doing.

"So, I think, just trying to catch myself and be engaged and take interest in what other people are doing and disregard what my masculinity goes screaming out.” 

Read the full interview in the Attitude October issue, out now.

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