We Talked To ‘Sex Education’ Stars Ncuti And Asa About The Magic Of Eric And Otis’s Friendship

“Otis and Eric are quite different, and me and Ncuti are quite different -- but I think, because of that, we actually bring parts of each other out that would not have otherwise been there.”

Sex Education interview

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It is the end of a long day, and maybe because of the intoxication caused by the “amazing sunset” he just witnessed, Rwandan-Scottish actor Ncuti Gatwa is standing on a table. Well, that’s what he and Sex Education co-star Asa Butterfield tell me.

“I’m gonna play ‘The Ground is Made of Lava!’” Ncuti yells, laughter booming through the phone connection. “I’m just like, standing on a tabletop.”

“He’s not even joking, he is.” Asa, a ‘former child-star’ so to speak, known for his early roles in The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas and Hugo, chimes in.

The pair star as best friends in Netflix teen sex dramedy Sex Education, which recently premiered its second season.

Asa plays awkward, bumbling teen Otis, who, in season one starts a sex-clinic at school with his crush, and fellow social outcast Maeve Wiley. With the knowledge one gains from having a sex and relationship therapist as a mother, Otis helps his fellow students with all their sex and relationship-based fears and problems one toilet-cubicle therapy session at a time.

Ncuti plays Eric, a bold and energetic young man who is terrible at the French horn, but excellent at enthusiasm for life, dealing with his own demons in the form of school bully Adam Groff and finding the strength to fully be himself.

It’s a bit hard to tell during the aforementioned spontaneous game of floor-lava if I was even talking to Asa and Ncuti at all, or instead their characters. Ncuti perfectly embodying Eric: bombastic and larger than life, Asa more like Otis: subdued yet nonetheless basking in his friend’s antics.

But one of the best things is dynamic friendship between Otis and Eric. And let me tell you, the energy and connection is real.

Got Your Back, Bruh

“Otis and Eric are quite different, and me and Ncuti are quite different,” Asa says. “But I think, because of that, we actually bring parts of each other out that would not have otherwise been there.”

Otis thinks through things logically, and with thorough research, unlikely to be impulsive whereas Eric rules with passion and heart, keen to seize each moment (even when this means demonstrating how to give a blow job with a banana at a party).

“Some of my favourite scenes are ones where we like, get excited for each other” Asa reveals. “The scene where Eric tells Otis that he and [new season two male love interest] Rahim kissed, and we kind of both get really excited, or vice versa when we’re talking about [Otis’ girlfriend] Ola, then Eric is like trying to get in and get the information.”

Otis and Eric don’t always see eye to eye (a lot of the time Otis can be very self-involved) yet they always have each other’s backs.

“[A favourite scene in season two is] our hotel scene, where we confront each other.” Ncuti tells me. In the scene, Otis lets Eric know that he doesn’t think it’s a good idea for Eric to be having a clandestine relationship with former-bully Adam.

“I felt like he really cares. They care about each other a lot, and they care about each other’s wellbeing. When you’re best friends with someone, you are able to just tell them—”

“Be honest” Asa chimes in.

“Be honest,” Ncuti echoes. “You’re able to just be real with them, and I think that was one of the honest, real moments between them.”

Big You Up

This realness lends itself off-screen, too. When talking to Ncuti and Asa together, their energy as Otis and Eric is pretty much the same IRL: great friends with a lot of love and awe for each other.

“Asa, you’re gonna have to cover your ears, because I’m gonna big you up a little bit,” Ncuti cackles when I ask about playing opposite each other.

Asa laughs a little nervously as Ncuti dives in. Asa has been working since he was like, eight, which Ncuti was well aware of before meeting him. This made Ncuti a little nervous, especially since they didn’t do any chemistry reads, but once he met the guy who was to be his new best friend, they clicked instantly.

“Asa is like, so chilled. He’s such a chilled-out guy, and he’s very, very lovely. The chemistry we have I think definitely comes from you [Asa], because like, you were just so awkward with all of us, and just chilled. Like, normal, you were normal. You’re just Asa from Hackney to me, you know what I mean?”

“I think me and Ncuti both bring a lot of ourselves to these characters, and very quickly we both realised how much fun we were gonna have,” Asa says. “We’re happy to mess around, we’re happy to kind of jump on each other and push each other’s buttons. At this point we know each other pretty well, we know how to get the best out of each other.”

Otis and Eric’s friendship is very tactile, jumping on top of each other, holding onto the other’s arms while trying to get information out of the other. They also ride their bikes to school together every morning.

“Although those scenes are quite hard physically, the banter and all the conversations all feel very natural and fun,” says Asa. “We’re free to kind of bring what we want into it and inject some—” (and this part was said in unison with Ncuti, because they are that in tune with each other) “ — Otis and Eric magic.”

Let’s Talk About Sex

Ncuti and Asa have changed a lot since filming season one.

Working on a TV show that works so inherently towards opening up so many dialogues and conversations about sex, identity and emotions, it seems only natural. It also makes sense that the ways they have changed are so closely aligned to who their characters are.

“Since doing season one, I think I’ve definitely become more open and more confident when it comes to talking about sex, and sexuality and all the elements that come with [it],” Asa reveals, in a sort of compassionate and authoritative tone we know so well from Otis.

“It’s made me realise just how normal it is, how there’s nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. I think it’s healthy because if we don’t, that’s when stigma arises, when misinformation can be spread.”

“For me, a lot of the characters in the show, and certainly Eric, are quite an unapologetic character,” says Ncuti. “We see him find strength within himself in season one, and then in season two he’s kind of not apologising for who he is. It helped inform me of trying not to be too people pleasing, and just to be unapologetic. The show is unapologetic, and it’s taught me to be unapologetic.”

It is rare to see such an open and frank discussion of sexuality and relationships in a TV show about teenagers. It’s also rare to see such an open and close friendship between two young guys, which is filled with genuine care and excitement for one another.

In a world where the media is so quick to tear others down, it’s kind of wholesome.

Sex Education season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.

Claire White is a writer/bookseller from Melbourne, Victoria. Sex Education’s 80s flair stole her look. Follow her @theclairencew.