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Flowers in the Attic: The Origin star Luke Fetherston was ‘very recently’ told to hide his sexuality

Exclusive: The British actor and model chats to Attitude about the drama-thriller series and LGBTQ representation.

By Alastair James

Words: Alastair James; pictures: David Reiss and Lifetime; Styling: Sarah Rose Harrison; Grooming: Sven Bayerbach

“100 percent. I’m a big thriller fan,” Luke Fetherston says of his upcoming series, Flowers in the Attic: The Origin. The four-parter acts as a prequel and will set the scene for VC Andrews’ book, Flowers in the Attic which received the film treatment in 1987 and 2014.

In the series, which has yet to find a home in the UK but began airing in the US on 9 July, Luke plays Joel Foxworth, the youngest child of Olivia Winfield (Jemima Rooper) and Malcolm Foxworth (Max Irons). 

Photo: David Reiss; Styling: Sarah Rose Harrison; Grooming: Sven Bayerbach

Luke explains the show: “It’s a gothic, dark mysterious thriller-drama revolving around the Foxworth family in Virginia, America. They’re really a powerful family that has a lot of money. And with that, obviously, lots of drama unfolds.”

The show follows Rooper and Irons’ characters from their first initial encounter to a seemingly happy wedding before we see the characters from Andrews’ original source material emerge. Each episode, I’m told, will be between one and a half to two hours along – effectively four movies – that will end where the book begins. 

During our Zoom call Luke is able to let slip a few details about Joel and what fans can expect but understandably is keen to remain tight-lipped about some details. 

Luke Fetherston and Hannah Dodds in Flowers in the Attic: The Origin (Photo: Lifetime)

“His secret is that he’s discovering that he’s a gay man, and he falls in love with one of the housekeepers, Harry (Jordan Peters). His journey is trying to keep that secret from his brother and sister who he absolutely adores. So that relationship between the siblings is really beautiful.

“But then his parents find out. So then he has to suffer the consequences of what that meant in the 1920s and 30s: ‘conversion therapy’. This isn’t a spoiler by any means. The trailer shows Luke’s character undergoing some extreme ‘treatment’.

It’s also timely. In April, it was revealed that the UK Government, while other countries around the world were successfully passing legislation banning the debunked and abhorrent practice, had decided to drop plans for a ban.

Within hours of the news breaking and the subsequent backlash, the government shamelessly recommitted itself to a ban, but one that would exclude trans people saying it would carry out “separate work” on a ‘conversion therapy’ ban for trans people. 

Asked about what’s going on, Luke sighs heavily. “It’s just baffling to me. It’s heartbreaking. It’s baffling. It’s unfathomable. I don’t know what else to say on it other than I can’t believe that it still is seen as an option.”

In preparing for the ‘conversion therapy’ scenes the British actor took the time to look into the horrendous practices of decades past, which thankfully since the time this series has set, have been consigned to the history books.

Photo: David Reiss; Styling: Sarah Rose Harrison; Grooming: Sven Bayerbach

While he relished the opportunity to sink his teeth into the topic, there was also a consideration as to what was going on.

“It carried a lot of weight. And I didn’t realise how much I didn’t know about what people were put through, and what people still are being put through. So, I had this juxtaposition of, this is really amazing as a career moment, but also heart-breaking for those that had to suffer it.

“I did as much research as I could. And I wanted to give that moment in the series as much weight as I believe that it deserves,” he says.

The sense of duty weighed on the young actor, who appreciates the freedom he has as an out gay man in 2022. “It has stayed with me, definitely. But I’m so thrilled that it has. Because I should know what people have been put through. I’m very lucky to be able to express myself the way I do.

“When I watch series like Flowers in the AtticIt’s A Sin, or Queer as Folk I’m always grateful to be enlightened.”

Away from the heaviness of the show, Luke was drawn specifically to the role of Joel because he could relate to the character as a gay man, which he admits is “rare”. He also describes the relationship between Joel and Harry as “the most authentic, natural, genuine portrayal of love in the series”.

Luke Fetherston and Jordan Peters in Flowers in the Attic: The Origin (Photo: Lifetime)

He adds, “I absolutely fell in love with him and specifically with his relationship with Harry, how beautiful it was. It was evident to me that someone who had a similar experience to me had written the storyline. And that was the most important thing to me.”

It’s a sad reality that even in 2022 there are still not a lot of gay or queer roles available in Hollywood. Films like Fire Island and Bros are leading the way in the rom-com genre, and there are occasionally good dramatic roles such as in Dallas Buyers Club, Brokeback Mountain, and Milk.

But so often those roles have been played by straight men. 

Photo: David Reiss; Styling: Sarah Rose Harrison; Grooming: Sven Bayerbach

As we enter the ongoing discussion about who should play what roles in Hollywood, Luke refreshingly admits that he still hasn’t made up his mind on where he stands.

“I don’t feel like anyone’s sexuality is anyone else’s business. I would love for that to be the case. However, at the moment, if we can encourage gay actors to play gay roles and to talk about it, I think it is important to do so for the younger generation, and for the industry, the networks, the casting directors, and directors to see that it doesn’t matter.

“Regardless of who you cast, the show will still be just as popular and will still make you just as much money.”

He continues: “I wouldn’t like to say that I think every gay role should be played by a gay person. Because also, we all have our own journeys. And I was lucky to feel comfortable enough to come out as a gay man, some people aren’t. I feel like until everyone is in the same boat, then I think it’s good to encourage gay people to play gay roles and to talk about it.”

Photo: David Reiss; Styling: Sarah Rose Harrison; Grooming: Sven Bayerbach

It’s a thoughtful take and one that places the reason for queer actors to play queer roles on providing much-needed representation for young people. 

Luke agrees that, for the time being, the debate needs to be about establishing an even playing field for all. 

“Straight privilege is a thing in this industry. 100 percent. And I think a rebalance is the goal. That’s why gay actors are talking about playing gay roles, because we’re trying to rebalance.”

Shockingly, Luke also reveals that even in 2022 actors are still being told to keep their sexuality private for fear of having a negative impact on their careers. He’s one of them.

“I’m sure the majority of us have been told to hide our sexuality. I can’t imagine meeting a gay actor that hasn’t been told that. Yeah, it’s crazy. So, until we don’t have to do that, then, yes, I believe it’s important that gay people are cast as gay characters. It’s the most authentic option. So surely, that’s the best option,” he lucidly reasons. 

Photo: David Reiss; Styling: Sarah Rose Harrison; Grooming: Sven Bayerbach

Luke shares that he was told “very recently” by a previous cast member from before Flowers in the Attic not to be open about being gay.

“Admittedly, she grew up in a different time. So perhaps her views are now maybe slightly archaic. But no, there was a very serious conversation prior to Flowers in the Attic coming out, and you know, I’m playing a gay role in it. So, it just felt very bizarre to me.

“But, you know, it’s her opinion, and I appreciate everyone’s opinion. Have I ever worried? Yes, I have worried about announcing it. As I said, it’s not something I think anyone needs to scream and shout about because what does it matter? I’m playing a gay role. And I’m a gay man. Why wouldn’t I say that?”

Luke assures me that this cast member’s advice “came from love” and was meant protectively. “I hope that me saying I’m a gay man doesn’t affect my career. I guess time will tell.”

It certainly doesn’t seem to be having a detrimental impact right now, that’s for sure. 

Photo: David Reiss; Styling: Sarah Rose Harrison; Grooming: Sven Bayerbach

Luke’s interest in acting started out the same as it will have for many a thespian. He was often taken to the theatre growing up and enjoyed movies such as Grease! Calamity Jane and Singin’ in the Rain. After auditioning at a local drama group where he grew up in Hertfordshire and studying theatre at school he headed off to drama school at 18.

The actor, who’s also modelled for Burberry and with Kate Moss, worked consistently on the West End with starring roles in The Menier Chocolate Factory’s 2016 production of the Bob Merrill and Jule Styne musical, Funny Girl, as well as shows like Fiddler on the Roof and 42nd Street.

It’s a background for which the actor is proud and credits shaping his now formative career. But a transition into film and TV purely beckoned based, Luke explains, on the wider variety of roles. 

“In theatre, there’s a stereotype for leading men and for the sidekicks. And if you literally don’t fit the person’s costumes who played the role before, it’s on to the next person.”

Luke also found the relentless auditions for the same long-running shows tedious and uninteresting. 

“I’m an artist, and I want to create,” he professes enthusiastically. “And obviously, more recently, in the past 10-15 years, there is so much TV being made with a plethora of amazing new roles. And obviously, there are more gay roles being written. And that’s amazing.”

Photo: David Reiss; Styling: Sarah Rose Harrison; Grooming: Sven Bayerbach

But Luke is very clear: he doesn’t just want to play queer roles. “We’re all actors, and we like to challenge ourselves.”

Confirming the need for queer actors to play queer roles so young people have someone to look up to Luke is slightly stumped when I ask about what role models he had growing up, especially as a young gay man. 

“I remember Wentworth Miller,” he then says. “I remember being impressed and grateful when he did that because I had seen him in a lot of shows, Prison Break namely. And I thought he was fantastic. And I thought that choice was really brave. So that meant a lot to me.”

Aside from that Luke lists off the late Robin Williams as a role model as well as Jim Carrey and Matthew McConaughey. Luke, who worked with Oscar-winner Renée Zellweger on her tour de force role in Judy, describes her as providing “an absolute masterclass” in acting as well as several other commendations.

He also still gets texts from the American actress periodically. 

Photo: David Reiss; Styling: Sarah Rose Harrison; Grooming: Sven Bayerbach

“I guess I was looking for a role model,” Luke concedes. “There are now far more, which is amazing. So, I’m absolutely acknowledging that the industry is changing, and has changed. And I think it’s amazing that actors are able to talk about it. And to say it doesn’t matter.”

I put it to him that he might even be providing someone with a role model as a successful gay actor himself. Judging by his reaction, this seems to have been something he hasn’t considered yet.

“That would be incredible. I mean, that’s the dream, isn’t it really? To be able to be that representation on screen, and to help. If it does in any way help anyone then… my gosh, yeah. That would just be incredible.”

The Attitude July/August issue is out now.