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Sex Education stars hope show breaks stigmas, sparks conversations

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Sex Education stars hope show breaks stigmas, sparks conversations
Ncuti Gatwa as Eric Effiong and Asa Butterfield as Otis Milburn in Episode 7 of Sex Education Season 3.

MANILA, Philippines — Sex Education has been officially confirmed for a fourth season. The announcement was made during Netflix’s first global fan event Tudum, which featured its top and upcoming titles, last Sept. 25.

The young adult comedy-drama delves into the personal lives, as well as issues connected to sexuality and sexual behavior, of students, teachers and parents in a fictitious British secondary school named Moordale. The third season just premiered this month.

In the press notes, series creator, writer and executive producer Laurie Nunn said that in Season 3, they continue to explore the “reality of how bad Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) curriculums can be on certain campuses, even now. It still really differs depending on which school students go to across the UK, and obviously across the world. It’s not a guarantee that young people are going to be taught proper, inclusive SRE.

“Through continuing to explore that issue, the main theme that came up was how damaging shame can be, and how everybody has been made to feel different or like they don’t fit in, particularly in their teenage years, and how that shame can then affect you throughout your adult life.

Aimee Lou Wood as Aimee Gibbs and Emma Mackey as Maeve Wiley in Episode 7.

“I think the themes are a little bit darker in tone this year, but hopefully, we’ve been able to explore them in a very irreverent, fun way. It’s just great seeing the gang back together, pushing their stories forward, and making sure that we don’t repeat old patterns.”

The show is one of the hit series on the international streaming platform. If you ask the stars, Sex Education’s success and the fame that came with being attached to the show have been “so, so bizarre” and “unexpected.”

The STAR recently had exclusive interviews with the lead cast members Asa Butterfield, 24, as Otis Milburn; Ncuti Gatwa, 28, as Eric Effiong; Aimee Lou Wood, 26, as Aimee Gibbs; and Mimi Keene, 23, as Ruby Matthews.Aimee said that after being part of the show for three seasons, she could say her life has completely changed.

“My life is unrecognizable from before. After Season 1, where we were kind of expected to just know how to deal with it. Because it kind of happened overnight, it dropped on Netflix and then the next day or the same day, people are recognizing you,” she shared.

“I think we were all pretending for a while that we were like, yeah this is okay. But then, it’s only now that I go, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, this is huge! It’s probably going to take us a really long time to actually, properly accept and adjust to this new life because it’s so, so, so bizarre. Like, every now and then, I’ll just be hit with a moment where I’m like, this is utterly mad.”

Ncuti said that when the show was received in the way that it was, he found the reception quite overwhelming “because it was like, oh wow, we’re on a very fast-moving train here. And each season seems to just get bigger and better, and the writers include more stories and more people. There’s more like the inclusion extends each season, which is very exciting.”

To illustrate his point, he recalled a recent taxi ride where he had a conversation with the driver, and “he was like, oh what do you do, and I was like I’m an actor. He asked what show I was on, I told him, and he was like, oh, that’s quite a long-running series, isn’t it?

“I was like well, I guess. I mean, we’re just about to release the third, I guess it’s not that long-running. But it feels like, to the fans or to people, it’s been around for a lot longer because of the impact it has made. But actually, it’s only been around since 2019, when the first one was released,” he added.

“Because we’re in it, you can’t really gauge what the reaction is like or the impact it is having because you’ve done it and then you want to forget. You want to forget everything about it and you want to put it to bed. I feel like we’re still playing catch up to everyone else.”

As for Asa, coming into the third season, he definitely was aware of how much of a success the show has become. “We knew we had a good formula,” he said, although the challenge there was in “trying to figure out how we could improve it, how we could change it, how we could talk about different issues, exploiting characters in different worlds, keeping (the story) fresh and keeping it authentic to what the show was like (in the previous seasons).”

Asa as Otis and Mimi Keene as Ruby Matthews in Episode 3.
Photos Courtesy Of Netflix

Meanwhile, speaking of the issues mined in the series, the stars were also cognizant of how sex education continues to be a contentious if not taboo topic in other parts of the world.

They hope though that the show helps break down stigmas and spark conversations on the subject.

Mimi said, “I think the message for anyone, anywhere is just to be able to be comfortable being who you are, and to try and take the stigma out of things, and open conversations about things that aren’t probably typically spoken about or shied away from.

“I feel like it’s just kind of encouraging people to not feel ashamed of who they are and be comfortable in who they are.”

Asa agreed with Mimi, “I mean, there are different countries, in some places, it’s easier to be yourself, in some places... there are cultural differences. And the thing this show does is really give you confidence as (Mimi) said to be yourself, to trust yourself and to be open to have these conversations. So the more people do that, the better I think.”

Now, in case you haven’t seen it yet, Season 3 is all about growth.

Aimee who plays Aimee Gibbs, whose sexual assault storyline became one of the most-talked about moments from Season 2, said that her character in Season 3 is “just growing and growing into her full self, and still kind of trying to figure out who she wants to be and what she wants to stand for.”

“This season is about her going, ‘Who am I when I’m by myself, what do I actually believe in and what kind of person do I want to be?’ It’s pretty amazing actually that she feels a lot more grown-up, like she really grows up this season,” she added.

Ncuti, who plays the outgoing and openly gay Eric, said one of the interesting things that happened to his character in the new season, is when he returns to Nigeria for a cousin’s wedding. “I guess there, he further learns how to incorporate all the intersections that he sits in with his race, his culture, his religion, his sexuality. He’s learning how to combine all these elements which is quite a tricky part, because the onus is on him to be able to make the world understand it.”

Another surprise this season is the “secret affair” between the polar opposites Otis, the awkward teen son of sex therapists, and Ruby, the mean girl/campus crush. “We saw a bit of Otis and Ruby in Season 2 and how that might play out. I think people were surprised at how well they seem to work together because they are pretty fundamentally different. But they really bring out, I think, an interesting side to each other and they get the other person to open up or sort of gain confidence, or just discover new sides of themselves, and that’s always nice to see,” said Asa.

Mimi said of the “unexpected” pairing of Otis and Ruby: “They’re very different characters, very different personalities, which could either clash or go quite well. And luckily, it happens to sort of, they bounce off each other quite nicely and it makes the scenes quite funny. But then also, in this season specifically, you get to see more of an emotional side to Ruby and I think, Otis becomes a lot more confident through their relationship... You get to see a bit more of who the characters are. I’m just overall excited to see if (the viewers) like it.”

(Tudum can still be viewed via Netflix Philippines’ YouTube channel.)

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