Stephen Fry says It’s A Sin brought him to tears with memories of AIDS crisis
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Stephen Fry says he read the script to AIDS drama It's a Sin “through a wall of tears” as it brought back memories of the friends he lost to the killer virus in the 1980s.
The actor, 63, admits that his own insecurities were probably what kept him alive when he moved to London after university in 1981.
Stephen said: “I was so excited by work and acting, and maybe afraid of relationships or being rejected, that I never liked The Scene – the gay pubs and bars and clubs. I’m romantic, lyrical and sentimental. Plus, I was really bad at it! I thought people would take one look at me and think, no thanks. I was aware by the late 80s, that had probably saved my life.”
In the Channel 4 series, which starts next week, he plays a Tory MP who is in the closet and won't even admit he is gay to himself, despite having one of the main characters as his young, male lover.
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Fry says: “I read the script through walls of tears, I just saw all the faces of all these dead friends, the parents, the whole broken promise of it. It’s incredible bad luck that just at the time the gay community was beginning to find confidence and joy and freedom and pride, it should be dealt this staggeringly cruel blow.”
He said he was desperate to land a role in the series, written by Russell T Davies, about a group of friends who move in together and enjoy wild times before their lives are blighted.
“I would have played a butler in it or someone in the background – you’re proud to be a part of it, like a message to my dead friends that they’re not forgotten.,” Fry said.
“There’s so much to mourn and celebrate when you look back. A couple of friends of mine became HIV positive in 1989. As far as I knew they were going to die. One of them did, very quickly, the other one survived and is alive today and one of my closest friends.”
The series – which explores the HIV crisis in London in the 1980s – stars Years and Years singer Olly Alexander in the lead role as a promiscuous aspiring actor
(Image: Channel 4)
Olly Alexander and Lydia West in It's A Sin
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He added: “Watching this series had a deeply personal effect on me.”
Fry lived in London with his boyfriend from Cambridge who would go out to the type of clubs shown in the drama “most nights”.
He remembers having arguments with those at the time who thought AIDS had been trumped up in America “to close the venues down”.
Fry explained: “I said that I’d heard it really was serious, a genuine puzzle to the medical profession and you don’t recover from it. You want to go back in time and be even more vociferous, saying: face this.”
Callum Scott Howells and Omari Douglas in It's A Sin
(Image: Channel 4)
Nathaniel Curtis hugs Olly Alexander in It's A Sin
(Image: Channel 4)
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He remembers visiting his first dying friend in Marylebone Hospital: “Can you imagine where you’re sitting on a bed with a dear friend of yours, and his lover who is not HIV positive, and the parents are there, having found all this out at once? Their son had come out to them, introduced their partner and disclosed to them they were going to die of an incurable disease in the same sentence.
“It was such a moving and terrible experience, seeing these shadows of humans. An awful thing. It’s amazing how recent and yet how long ago all this was.”
He said Davies' skill in writing the series, which stars Years & Years singer Olly Alexander, is in conveying the huge fun of the time as well as the devastation.
Olly Alexander plays gay teen in It's A Sin on Channel 4 on January 22
(Image: Ben Blackall 2019)
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Stephen noted: “You’ve seen their hope, joy, friendship and silliness,they’re not presented as perfect but you understand and root for them. What happens to them, the inevitability of it and the knowledge we have that it’s coming – it’s like looking at a wonderful beach party and they’re not looking at the sea when there’s a tsunami coming. By the time they turn to see it, it’s too late.”
It's a Sin premieres on Channel 4 at 9pm on Friday, January 22, 2020.