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From the release of series two of our cover stars Edvin Ryding and Omar Rudberg’s hit Swedish queer drama Young Royals to the release of Billy Eichner’s historic rom-com Bros, as well as Andrew Ahn and Joel Kim Booster’s Fire Island, we know LGBTQ+ stories are worth watching and worth telling.

But who should we be watching out for next?

Meet this year’s rising stars of TV and film, as BAFTA announces its breakthrough talent for 2022. A total of 21 rising stars have been hand-picked in the UK as well as 12 names from the USA as talent to watch out for, both in-front of and behind the camera. With previous BAFTA Breakthrough alumni including Florence Pugh and Tom Holland, this year’s names are set for stardom. 

The 2022 BAFTA Breakthrough recipients are no stranger to immaculate storytelling, so we sat down with three of this year’s UK cohort to discuss how it feels to be part of such an influential list of talent.

Jack Rooke

Writer, creator and narrator of Channel 4 series Big Boys

How does it feel to be amongst such amazing talent in this year’s BAFTA Breakthrough list?

It’s amazing, BAFTA Breakthrough has really supported some standout queer pieces of work. I think what’s so interesting about queer television and film is that in the last five years, it’s constantly developed and is constantly changing. The premise of what it can be… Now, you’re ending up with shows like Hearstopper that are doing incredibly well. As well with Lydia West and It’s A Sin last year, it’s nice that BAFTA really do recognise when these queer shows have talent and are breaking through.

Talk to me about Big Boys, it had such a sensational reaction and such brilliant seminal moments of pop culture within it.

There is something about Big Boys and class and there’s an intersection there between class and queerness and the coming out experience. I never wanted to write a show that was just a coming out narrative because that experience is completely different for lots of people. I’m really chuffed people love all of those references. I was so proud to write an episode set in Harvester because I just thought, ‘This is what I know, and this is what loads of families know.’

What stories do you want to see more of – and less of – in 2023?

I’d like to see more stuff that’s simpler because that makes sense. Sometimes I’m watching stuff and I’m like, ‘Well, this has got way too much going on.’ I’ll be honest, I’ve not watched enough in the last year. I’ve watched Big Boys for so long and then I’ve just been partying all summer, so I actually need to start watching some film and TV!

What do you watch when you’re hungover?

Broad City. It was a huge influence behind Big Boys. That’s the thing I’ve really been watching over the summer, getting together for series two of Big Boys because I think it’s a brilliant portrayal of friendship and a brilliant portrayal of those characters playing with queerness and trying to figure out who they are.

Nell Barlow

Known for her role as AJ in coming-of-age film Sweetheart

This is such an amazing group to be a part of. What are you feeling, seeing yourself amongst this group of Breakthrough talent?

It’s so surreal, it feels like some kind of strange dream to be in a group of people whose work I know and I’m familiar with and I’ve never met before. I met the rest of artists a few weeks back, and I was just like, ‘This is so weirdly wonderful.’

How did you feel when you were working on Sweetheart? Was it a moment where you felt established and do you feel more confident in your space now as an actor?

No! [laughs]

I ask that, not to catch you out, but to show the reality behind what people may perceive. Would you agree?

Yes, it’s a great question… You can’t expect anything in this industry, as mysterious as that sounds. The lessons I’ve learnt, the things that I think are going to happen at certain points and then don’t… It’s just mad. I really think there’s a danger with social media, which is that you look at other people who do great work. You choose what to put on your page, and because Instagram can be so carefully crafted there’s a lot you have to be careful with when you’re looking at it all.

Speaking of social media, your character AJ in Sweetheart was so well received by the LGBTQ+ community, what was that experience like for you?

I feel like if I was going to put it into words, it really was just the best feeling ever. It was completely wonderful and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so good from work that I’ve done. I didn’t expect it. When you’re making a show, you just can’t imagine what’s going to happen. I’ve had young people come forward and say how much they enjoyed the film and that was just the best feeling in the world.

What would you say to those aspiring creatives who will supersede you next year as BAFTA Breakthrough talent?

Sometimes it can feel like, as creatives, that nothing is happening or when everything slows down you don’t know what your next move is going to be or, ‘Am I any good at this stuff?’ It sounds generic and corny, but you just have to persevere and work through the shit. Keep moving through it and nicer things are going to come.

Runyararo Mapfumo

Sex Education season 3 director

As a director, how exciting is it to be recognised for your work in this year’s BAFTA Breakthrough?

It’s really exciting. I’ve known about the BAFTA Breakthrough list for years and it’s something that I’ve really kept my eye on. To be in this year’s lineup is just really exciting and a huge honour. I got to meet some of the other breakthrough talents and they’re doing such brilliant work.

When you’re amongst actors, producers and a whole team of creatives, what do you take from that experience to enhance your storytelling?

I tend to have a very clear idea about what it is that I want in terms of collaboration and what it is that I want to make. I’m always quite purposeful to select a team or people that I’ve been keeping an eye on and who I know. With other directors and other creative talent, I just honestly love to find out about other people’s processes because it can be such an introspective thing to write and direct, and you can end up being in your own bubble.

How enriching was it for you as a director when you worked on Sex Education series three, because there were a lot of nuanced and beautiful stories being told?

Reading the new scripts before I was involved, it was really clear that the new direction was kind of breaking the mould of the characters that we’ve seen before. They did so well to kind of set up that high school experience with classic characters and archetypes. The theme of the season was growth and it was really exciting to be able to dig into the characters a lot more. There’s such a genuine atmosphere of generosity [on set]. There is always a kind of learning and constantly conversations happening off-camera and people sharing their real life experiences, and that’s quite rare.

For you, what’s the best way to genuinely tell stories from those who may be LGBTQ+ or those who are from the Black community?

To be honest with you, it’s just to listen to people who are part of that community and have that input and hear their stories. It’s something that [Sex Education] has done from its genesis, is to make sure that people aren’t being spoken for without any thought or knowledge or impact from relevant voices. It creates a more inclusive environment, but I think it also allows your work to just be inherently more authentic. And that’s the thing that we always striving towards, and that show is like, ‘How do you, as well as the comedy?’ For example with Eric, Ncuti Gatwa’s character’s scenes when he went to the Nigerian wedding. It was really important not to make assumptions based on just my experiences, but to also keep having conversations with people who are part of that specific culture and bringing in their voices and making sure that we’re respecting the cultural nuances as well.

The full BAFTA Breakthrough list includes:

UK Breakthroughs (20)

● Alex Thomas | Director – Yorkshire Cop: Police, Racism and Me (TV)
● Alyx Jones | Dialogue Editor – Elden Ring (Games)
● Ambika Mod | Performer – This is Going to Hurt (TV)
● Chloë Fairweather | Director – Dying to Divorce (Film)
● Diana Olifirova | Cinematographer – Heartstopper (TV)
● Emily Brown | Lead Designer – Alba: a Wildlife Adventure (Games)
● Jack Rooke | Writer/Executive Producer – Big Boys (TV)
● Jamal Green | Composer – TOEM (Games)
● Joanna Boateng | Producer – Uprising (TV)
● Leon Harrop | Performer – Ralph & Katie (TV)
● Marley Morrison | Writer/Director – Sweetheart (Film)
● Morag Taylor | Principal Technical Artist – Total War: Warhammer 3 (Games)
● Nell Barlow | Performer – Sweetheart (Film)
● Nicôle Lecky | Writer/Executive Producer/Actor – MOOD (TV)
● Paul Sng | Director – Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché (Film)
● Rose Ayling-Ellis | Performer – Eastenders (TV)
● Runyararo Mapfumo | Director – Sex Education (TV)
● Sophie Cunningham | Director – Look Away (TV)
● Theo Williams | Director – Terms & Conditions: Deeper than Drill (TV)
● Zachary Soares & Luciana Nascimento | Co-Founders, Creative Director & Artistic Director – Moonglow Bay (Games)

US Breakthroughs (12)

● Alex Pritz | Director – The Territory (Film, Documentary) #
● Amrit Kaur | Performer – The Sex Lives of College Girls (TV)
● Brandon Perea | Performer – NOPE (Film)
● Charlotte Hornsby | Cinematographer – MASTER (Film)
● Clare Knight | Director – Back to the Outback (Film)
● Daphne Qin Wu | Cinematographer – The Angry Black Girl and Her Monster (Film)
● Ellie Foumbi | Director/Writer – Our Father, the Devil (Film)
● Megan Fox | Founder/Games Programmer – SkateBIRD (Games)
● Melissa Adeyemo | Producer – Eyimofe (Film)
● Rebeca Huntt | Director – Beba (Film, Documentary)
● Robert Ouyang Rusli | Composer – Test Pattern (Film)
● So Yun Um | Director – Liquor Store Dreams (Film, Documentary)