After an 'Amazing and Strange' 2 Years, Heartstopper's Joe Locke Says 'Hi' to Broadway | Playbill

Special Features After an 'Amazing and Strange' 2 Years, Heartstopper's Joe Locke Says 'Hi' to Broadway

The U.K. native is currently starring as Tobias opposite Sutton Foster and Aaron Tveit in the hit revival of Sweeney Todd.

Joe Locke in Sweeney Todd Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

A few short years ago, Joe Locke was a typical high school student in the U.K., dreaming of a showbiz life beyond his hometown of Isle of Man.

The 20-year-old actor, however, didn't think a career as an actor would be possible. "I mean, I always wanted it to be my career," Locke recently told Playbill by phone. "I just wasn't sure I'd ever be able to do it as a career. Where I'm from, not many people are able to make a career [of acting], so I feel very lucky to have been able to do it as a job now."

Locke, who is currently making his Broadway debut as Tobias Ragg in the Tony-nominated revival of Sweeney Todd at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, explains that he has been on stage for as long as he can remember. "I used to do lots of amateur stuff when I was a kid," he says. "I actually auditioned for The Wizard of Oz when I was about six and ran out of the audition crying because I was too scared. But then a year later [began performing]."

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Several productions followed, and a career-making opportunity arrived when the charming actor bested thousands of other young hopefuls in an open call for the role of Charlie Spring in the queer, coming-of-age Netflix series Heartstopper. Based on Alice Oseman's webcomic and graphic novel of the same name, the series follows the budding romance between Charlie and fellow high school student Nick Nelson (Kit Connor). Heartstopper was an instant hit for the streamer in April 2022, so much so that Netflix ordered two additional seasons of the series a month after its premiere. The second season debuted this past August, and a third season has already been filmed.

Joe Locke and Kit Connor in Heartstopper Teddy Cavendish/Netflix

The soft-spoken Locke says he realized the enormity of the series' success the day of its release. "I went from like 20,000 Instagram followers to 2 million," he says, adding, "It's been a very strange few years. It's been very amazing and overwhelming at times, but an amazing and strange two years." When asked how fame has been different from what he might have imagined, Locke answers, "I actually didn't know. I didn't know what I ever expected it to be. I think I had this idea that like when you're famous, you don’t have to pay for anything, but that's not true," he laughs.

Much of the series' success can be attributed to the charms of Locke, who won over a legion of fans with a series of gentle "hi"s that sparked what may be the most endearing on-screen courtship in recent memory. Locke possesses a similar warmth on stage, one that he is exuding nightly at the Lunt-Fontanne as the naïve Toby, who is looking for motherly affection from Mrs. Lovett, who, unfortunately, has very little to give.

Locke believes the long-and-short-haired Toby is "very street smart. I think people can think he’s quite unassuming, but I think he's way smarter than he looks. I think you can play him to be quite a simple character, but he's very complex. I think he has the most amazing arc of any of the characters. You meet him as this comedic foil to Pirelli, where he's choosing this horrible life with this horrible man who beats him, which means that it must be better than what he was experiencing if he's choosing to live that life. And then he finds Mrs. Lovett and sees a mother figure in her and really loves her and cares about her. And then by the end, he obviously feels betrayed and [is delivered] the final blow, as you say."

Joe Locke, Taya Tower, and Rue Millwood in The Trials Helen Murray

Locke, whose favorite childhood musicals included Oliver!, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and the "underrated" Shrek the Musical, actually made his professional stage debut in London in 2022 in a limited engagement of Dawn King’s The Trials at the Donmar Warehouse. "It was so much fun," Locke says. "It was like a really nice summer project. We rehearsed for two weeks and then did the show for two-and-a-half weeks. I loved the Donmar. It’s like a really nice family at that theatre. And I made lots of great friends." He also subsequently won the Best Professional Debut Award at the WhatsOnStage Awards for his performance.

It was seeing another Donmar production, however, that ignited his desire to appear in a musical: the West End-bound London premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal starring Caissie Levy. "I went in not knowing anything about it," Locke remembers, "and then I didn't stop crying the whole time." Afterwards, he told his agent, "I really want to do [a musical]." As fate would have it, Locke relates, "the Sweeney Todd casting people had emailed my agent asking if I'd be interested in auditioning."

Flash-forward a few months, and Locke gave his first performance on a Broadway stage January 31 to an adoring crowd. "I don't actually really remember much about the day," Locke explains. "I remember feeling like I was gonna vomit the whole time. But as soon as I got onstage, I was just having the best time. And it was just the most nice, amazing company of people.

"I wish I could tell you anything about it, but I don't remember any of it," he adds with a laugh. "It was very much a whirlwind."

Prior to the arrival of current Sweeney Todd stars Sutton Foster and Aaron Tveit, Locke had the opportunity to perform opposite several different actors, who rotated in the leading roles. "It's been great to explore how my Toby is different with [various] Mrs. Lovetts, and the different nuances that are in different people's portrayals of her."

Joe Locke and Sutton Foster in Sweeney Todd Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman

And, now, he's getting the chance to share the stage with two-time Tony winner Foster, an artist he has long admired, eight times a week. "Oh, it's amazing," he gushes. "She's just a legend. And I had a moment [during] her first show, where I was like, 'I'm singing 'Not While I'm Around' to Sutton Foster on Broadway. This is the coolest thing ever!’” Locke, it should be noted, delivers a heartfelt, touching version of the Sondheim ballad in his pure, textured tenor.

It's another song with Foster, however, that is Locke's favorite in the show. "I love 'God That's Good,'" he says. "It's my favorite part of the show. It's just so much fun to do—yeah, a really fun number!"

Locke also recently had the chance to work alongside another childhood idol, three-time Tony winner Patti LuPone, in Disney+/Marvel’s forthcoming Agatha: Darkhold Diaries, based on the Marvel Comics character Agatha Harkness. He now considers the Broadway favorite a friend, and LuPone recently caught his performance in the Sondheim classic. Fans went wild when the former Mrs. Lovett joined him at the stage door following the show.

Does Locke—who says he misses "family and friends and the British healthcare system as well"—have any dream stage roles?

"I would like to play Jamie in The Last Five Years," he answers.

Sutton, Patti, are you listening?

Photos: Aaron Tveit, Sutton Foster, and Joe Locke in Sweeney Todd On Broadway

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