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Gay Hollyoaks star Nathan Sussex on why straight men can play gay roles (and vice versa)

Gay Hollyoaks star Nathan Sussex on why straight men can play gay roles (and vice versa)

Nathan Sussex headshot

He plays one of the darkest characters Hollyoaks has even seen. And while friendly Welshman Nathan Sussex admits the part of football coach Buster Smith (whose explosive child grooming and sex abuse storyline came to a head last week) has been a challenge, it’s one he faced head on.

‘When I auditioned for the part, I knew very little about the character because they couldn’t leak too much,’ Nathan tells GSN . ‘But my understanding was that he was a successful sportsman who was coming back to find his family, but had this dark secret.’

‘It wasn’t until I was told I had the job that I had my first workshop with the producers and writers,’ he adds. ‘Then I found out in depth where the storyline was going; I found out he was there to groom one of the young boys in the show. To some actors that might be quite daunting, but I embraced the challenge.’

Nathan and producers of the show worked with Survivors Manchester, a voluntary organization set up to help male victims of sexual abuse and rape, to ensure the story was told sensitively and accurately.

‘They’ve been key to the whole success of the storyline,’ says Nathan, who’s also appeared on Coronation Street and Emmerdale in the past. ‘Duncan Craig, who runs Survivors Manchester, oversees all the scripts, to make sure the actual dialogue is true, natural. We’ve had many workshops with them.’

‘There’s a big LGBT presence at Hollyoaks’

Despite a ‘tough year’ getting to grips with a difficult character, Nathan admits his Hollyoaks experience has been ‘incredible’ – not least because of the LGBTI people he’s gotten to work with.

‘They’re very big on equality and diversity,’ explains the openly gay actor. ‘There’s a big LGBT presence within the organization. It’s something I think they’re very proud of. And you know, you’ve got Annie Wallace, the trans actress, who plays Sally the headteacher. You’ve got all different representations, which is fantastic. For a show at half past six to highlight all these different communities is a great thing.’

I ask Nathan for his view on the debate around straight actors playing gay roles – recently reignited by news that the reportedly straight Jack Whitehall will play Disney’s first openly gay character in 2019’s Jungle Cruise.

‘At first I was a bit disappointed’ says Nathan. ‘I thought, “why are they casting a straight character in a gay role?” But then I had to look at myself. I’m a gay man playing heterosexual [characters]. I thought, “hang on, I can’t really join in this debate.”

‘At the end of the day, when people were saying “he’s an actor playing a part”, that’s exactly it – it doesn’t matter about your sexuality. It doesn’t dictate the roles we should play. It would be nice as a representation that a gay man could’ve played that role. But then, possibly lots of gay actors auditioned for that role – I don’t know.’

‘Felicity Huffman was incredible in Transamerica’

The debate around cisgendered actors playing trans roles, Nathan admits, is trickier. He harks back to 2015’s Oscar-nominated Transamerica, about a trans women reunited with the son she didn’t know she had.

‘Felicity Huffman played the role incredibly,’ he remembers. ‘But the trans community – now, there’s a lot more awareness. It’s all about representation. If there’s a trans role being cast, should it be played by somebody who’s trans? Sometimes, I think yes. If you want to play something truthfully and honestly, then it makes sense to have somebody who’s trans, because they’ve gone through that.’

Has Nathan, whose Hollyoaks character will return to the soap for his comeuppance in 2019, experienced any prejudice himself in the acting industry?

‘No, none at all,’ says Nathan. ‘I came out very late in life. I was 37. Until that point, I was a straight man. But since coming out, within my industry, I’ve never experienced any prejudice or homophobia. I work in the creative sector. Particularly within the acting community, I don’t know what the percentage is, but there are gay performers. It’s an industry and a world that doesn’t tolerate any kind of prejudice anyway.’

Hollyoaks airs on Channel 4 in the UK Monday-Friday at 6.30pm. You can also catch Nathan in BAFTA-winning 2017 short Nadger and 2018 feature film Last Summer