IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.
Joe Locke stars in Netflix's "Heartstopper" and now "Sweeney Todd" on Broadway.Francois Durand / Getty Images

How Joe Locke deals with nerves tied to his Broadway debut: ‘I don’t’

Locke chats with about starring in “Sweeney Todd,” the impact of “Heartstopper” and his dream co-stars.

/ Source: TODAY

What would it be like if Tanya McQuoid had a teaching position at Truham Grammar School?

Joe Locke, who stopped by TODAY Feb. 12 to talk about his new role in Broadway’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” says Jennifer Coolidge is first among his list of dream guest stars for “Heartstopper,” the teen Netflix drama that marked his acting debut. 

“Jennifer Coolidge would be great to have, I think she’s amazing. “Ayo Edebiri, I think she’s incredible,” he tells when asked about his dream guest stars.

It’s fun to imagine actors from the seemingly opposite shows “Heartstopper,” “The White Lotus” and “The Bear” in the same universe. The Netflix romance was renewed for two future seasons back in 2022 after it premiered, so the possibilities for new guest stars is seemingly endless. 

The show’s second season, which dropped in August 2023 proved just as successful as the first. Now, 20-year-old Joe Locke, in the starring role of Charlie Spring, is preparing to tell more of the teen’s story in “Heartstopper” Season Three while juggling newfound fame on the stage and screen. 

“Two years ago, I was just a normal high school student in the Isle of Man, where I’m from,” Locke told Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager on TODAY. “With hopes and dreams, but no career, and now…I feel very lucky.”

In April 2022, audiences worldwide were delighted by Netflix’s adorable adaptation of Oseman’s webcomic-turned graphic novel series “Heartstopper,” about a group of queer friends. Its focus is the relationship between Locke’s Charlie and his seemingly unrequited-crush-turned-boyfriend Nick Nelson, played by Kit Connor. The show’s popularity, combined with fans’ adoration for the cast, sent Locke into the spotlight nearly overnight. 

“It’s weird, because it feels like it was so long ago now, even though it was only two and a half years ago,” he tells “I think you get used to it, but it was definitely a very strange, strange, strange thing to experience when it happened.”

The show and its storylines, which center experiences of first love and coming out, proved meaningful to viewers. 

“I think sometimes it can be very overwhelming, in a positive way," Locke says. "But I just am very grateful to have been part of a show that actually means something to people."

In the first season, we see Nick come to terms with his sexuality and later share a heartwarming scene with his mom, Sarah, played by Olivia Colman, that some have cited as the reason they felt comfortable coming out to their own parents. Following a viral tweet in 2022, Esme Grace opened up about this experience in an essay for, citing Colman’s line, “I’m sorry if I ever made you think that you couldn’t tell me that,” as “so impactful.”

“Watching the scene, I thought, ‘I want to do that.’ I was ready. It had been seven years. It’s scary to share something like that, but I couldn’t keep pretending that I was straight,” Grace wrote. “A few hours later, when I was done with the 10-episode show, I sent my parents a text that changed my life.”

“I just am very grateful to have been part of a show that actually means something to people.”

joe locke

Much of the beauty of “Heartstopper” lies in the strength of its relationships. Charlie and Nick experience the purest of love stories and are met with unwavering support from their friends — Tao (William Gao), Elle (Yasmin Finney) Isaac (Tobie Donovan), Tara (Corinna Brown) and Darcy (Kizzy Edgell). 

These relationships are just as prominent off-screen as they are on. 

“Spending so much time with my best friends is always fun,” Locke says “And getting to call it work also makes it better.”

Season Three of the show, which filmed from October to December 2023, does not have a release date, yet. While the cast was hard at work on the latest installment in the show, “every day was fun,” Locke says. 

Just weeks after filming wrapped, Locke was off to New York for his latest adventure — his Broadway debut. Locke first took the stage for the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” on Jan. 31.

Some of his friends have already seen him perform in the new role.

“Yas, who plays Elle (in “Heartstopper”), came to watch me,” he says. “It was a great show. It’s really nice to see her and have her watch the show. But I think some of the others are planning on coming.”

Transitioning from screen to stage, Locke credits the cast of “Sweeney Todd” with making him feel welcome. Though the murderous musical and “Heartstopper” are quite literally night and day, Locke felt prepared.

“It’s been amazing,” he says. “The team at ‘Sweeney’ have been so supportive, and the company of everyone in the show is so incredible. It’s made me feel so welcome.”

Joe Locke
Joe Locke on TODAY Feb. 12.Nathan Congleton / TODAY

Singing was notably one of his “first loves,” he said on TODAY. 

“I’ve always loved singing as a kid, I had the most amazing singing teacher," he said. "But I was always too nervous or I thought I wasn’t good enough to do it. So it’s nice to be able to do it now, as a job.”

It’s jarring to imagine Charlie Spring sitting down to have a conversation with Locke’s latest character, Tobias Ragg, a barber’s apprentice who later helps out baker Mrs. Lovett and the titular demon barber in their meat pie shop. 

“I’m not sure they’d have much to talk about,” Locke jokes. “I think Charlie would be a little bit intimidated by Toby. But I’m sure they’d be nice to each other.”

But would any character from the bright, teen romantic comedy that is “Heartstopper” survive in the world of “Sweeney Todd”?

“Maybe Tao,” he says, “because he likes a film noir, and could get in with the grittiness of it.”

The “grittiness” of the musical is one of its hallmarks, and the intensity of the live performance has challenged Locke, he says. 

“The last month I’ve been the most nervous I’ve ever been in my whole life, which has been great, now that I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone,” he says.

As to how he deals with those nerves?

“I don’t,” Locke says, with a laugh. “I should, but I don’t. I just live with that horrible sick feeling in your stomach until it goes away. I wish I was better at dealing with them. But unfortunately, I’m not.”

Playing Toby has proved rewarding because of his character arc, Locke says.

“Toby is such a diverse character, in that he starts the show quite comedically, but then ends the show in a very different place. It’s a really great character arc to play and to deal with,” he says.

The only way to go about acting out such an emotional arc is to dive right in, he says.

“Just do it,” he says. “Just do them. Do the words. As true as they can be.”