Doctor Who star Ncuti Gatwa's imposter syndrome struggle and moment he realised he was homeless

Ncuti Gatwa is the new star of Doctor Who
Ncuti Gatwa is the new star of Doctor Who -Credit:PA/BBC

Ncuti Gatwa's 15th Doctor was introduced to viewers at Christmas - and now he's back for eight new episodes in a brand new series of Doctor Who. And the first Black actor and first openly queer actor to lead the series has promised to be dressed to impress.

Over the decades, each Doctor has had their own distinct look, but in a nod to Gatwa's own passion for fashion, Fifteen will be dressed to impress in something new every week. The Sex Education star says: “Look out for a banging duffel coat and a Bobby hat in episode four. But yeah, fashion – the Doctor, he loves his fashion."

On Christmas Day 2023, in an episode titled The Church on Ruby Road, fans had their first proper introduction to the Doctor following his "bi-generation". It also saw him meet new companion Ruby Sunday – an orphan who was abandoned at a church on Ruby Road, hence her name.

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The 31-year-old Rwandan-Scottish actor. says his portrayal aims to honour the legacy of all those who have come before, sitting "on the shoulders of many an amazing actor that’s brought such cheekiness, eccentricity, compassion, curiosity as well", while still having a fresh edge. “Those are like the traits that I say my Doctor has, but then each of the Doctors has that," he adds.

Read on to find out more about the life and career of the Doctor Who star.

The Rwandan Scotsman who 'felt like an alien' growing up

The Rwandan-Scottish actor was born in Nyarugenge, a district of Kigali, Rwanda in 1992, during the country's civil war. He was born into a family of academics who fled to the UK when he was two and the first part of his Scottish childhood was spent in Edinburgh before a move to Dunfermline.

He grew up in Oxgangs attended the city's Boroughmuir High School in the city and later went to Dunfermline High School in Fife, where he has said he experienced racist bullying. He said he felt like "the only black person in the world", and pupils created a social media page targeting him with racist abuse.

He told The Guardian: "It wasn’t pleasant but it wasn’t actually horrendous. I was like, you can’t know me and not like me. I was actually quite confused! So I was like, okay, fine. I’m just going to carry on being myself and they’re going to fall in love with me sooner or later. And they did."

He expanded on the subject in an interview with the Independent, recalling: “I was quite an easy target in a state Scottish high school. I grew up in a working-class area, and I stood out – for my voice, my appearance. I did dance and things like that. But I always had faith in my charm. I always had faith in my charisma."

He has now firmly embraced his dual identity, telling BBC Scotland: "We came to UK because of the genocide that happened in Rwanda in 94. Landscape wise it [Rwanda] looks really similar to Scotland.” We were refugees, we were refugees coming to the UK and I definitely now view myself as a Rwandan Scotsman – yes there’s such a term and I’m giving it a name!"

And his childhood experiences mean he can relate to the part of the Doctor - an alien who is always out of place and time. He recently told the BBC: "Yes, I think at many times in my life I have felt like an alien. A kid like me growing up in Scotland - there's been many times I felt like an alien, and so I feel like I get it.

"It's always a joy to get a character like that in which you're able to draw on elements of your own life, your own upbringing, and deliver them through the character, because fundamentally it just comes out more truthfully."

First steps in acting and big break in Sex Education

Ncuti Gatwa as Eric Effiong in Sex Education Season 4. -Credit:© 2022 Netflix, Inc.
Ncuti Gatwa as Eric Effiong in Sex Education Season 4. -Credit:© 2022 Netflix, Inc.

Gatwa decided to become an actor when he was 17 after a passion for performing was sparked by his mum enrolling him in dance classes while growing up. He said his school drama teacher told him: "You need to think about doing this. You're very talented" - leading him to audition for drama school.

He moved to Glasgow after getting a place to study acting at the prestigious Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He got a job handing out flyers for LGBTQ+ club The Polo Lounge and became a shot boy and go-go dancer when it opened a sister club in its basement.

He was then accepted onto the graduate scheme at the Dundee Rep theatre and after appearing in several plays, his first television role was in Bob Servant in 2014. He was later cast in a supporting role in the miniseries Stonemouth.

He returned to the stage to play Demetrius in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Globe in 2016. The production saw Demetrius kissing Helenus, in a gender-swapped version of the play’s character Helena.

His big break came in Sex Education as Eric Effiong, a young gay British-Nigerian who is best friends with Otis, the show's lead character. His performance earned him the Best Television Actor award at the Scottish BAFTAs in 2020. He also won an Outstanding Supporting Role award at the National Comedy Awards.

Ncuti has spoken of how the fan favourite character "taught me the importance of representation". He told Elle: "He’s so fierce and unashamed. It was healing for me, and great for people to see themselves represented."

Tough times and overcoming imposter syndrome

Ncuti ended up homeless after running out of savings in the months before he landed his role in Sex Education and could not afford to eat properly. Following his experiences, he is now an advocate for youth homelessness charity Centrepoint.

He told the The Big Issue in May 2020 a friend offered to let him move into his spare room rent-free, but on move-in day, he changed his mind. He said: "As I was standing on the street with my suitcases, one thought came into my head: 'I'm homeless'."

And he was ready to quit acting before he was cast on Sex Education, telling Teen Vogue: "I was working constantly in the theatre and somehow still just couldn't afford to live in London. Just before I got Sex Ed, I was going to give up acting.

"Six years in and I'm already thinking: Flipping hell, I can’t do this. Then Sex Ed [happened] – and those auditions started coming through."

While his star is now on the rise, he has spoken of his struggles with confidence, admitting to Elle magazine: "I have so much imposter syndrome". He said it's something he hides by "making other people happy" and cracking jokes. He added: "It comes across as confidence, but at the heart of it, it’s not. Real confidence is something I have to work on daily."

Appearing in Barbie and 'drowning in Ryan Gosling's eyes'

Ncuti was cast as one of the Kens in the movie of summer 2023, Greta Gerwig's Barbie. He has recalled that he was so nervous he hardly spoke for the first month on set". And he added: "There was a time when I was talking to Greta and I turned around and Ryan Gosling was looking at me, and his eyes were so blue that I just… fell over. I just drowned in his eyes."

He described working on Barbie as ‘the most kind, empathetic set I’ve ever been on”, talking about cast trips to watch Magic Mike and London nightclub The Box.

Becoming The Doctor

Ncuti Gatwa as The Doctor
Ncuti Gatwa as The Doctor -Credit:BBC STUDIOS 2023, James Pardon

Ncuti says he will bring “my black and beautiful self” to his role as the Doctor. Asked at the world premiere of his first full episode, The Church On Ruby Road, how he plans to make his Doctor different from the 14 that have come before, the actor said: “It’s such a hard question to answer, because the role of The Doctor is everything anyway”.

“They’re an explorer that has been around for a billion years, so they have so many quirks and intricacies… so I guess just myself? My black and beautiful self."

The actor is joining a long list of esteemed actors in the role, and is entering a six-decade long franchise which has attracted an army of dedicated fans. He admits it adds up to "so much weight that is on your shoulders".

But he adds: “Beautiful, beautiful weight – which makes it more weighty, because we’re like: ‘People really like this show!’ We’ve gotta keep it likeable. But yeah, it’s a beautiful pressure. It’s a labour of love, this show."

Showrunner Russell T Davies said Ncuti's audition was "one of the most astonishing afternoons of my life": "I’ve gotta tell you, he did one audition. Normally there’s like 27 auditions… one! He just got it."

A passion for astrology, fashion and food

Gatwa - a Libran - is fascinated by astrology and assigns all of the characters he plays their own astrological chart to understand them more, according to an interview with GQ magazine. Gatwa decided that the Doctor - although hailing from a different galaxy - is likely to be an Aquarius sun, some sort of water moon and Sagittarius rising, “because he’s an adventurer."

The north London-based actor loves fashion - his GQ profile noting that he's drawn to sheer materials and skirts on red carpets and for photo shoots. He told Elle in November: "Clothes are to play with. I love seeing men in “women’s” clothing. There doesn’t need to be a label."

He has been embraced by the fashion industry, starring in an advertising campaign for Tiffany & Co's Tiffany Lock collection.

Ncuti is also passionate about food, telling Teen Vogue in 2020: "Food genuinely brings me so much joy. I get so happy when I have a nice meal that I'm about to tuck a nice Vietnamese or Ghanaian meal.

"Or if I'm going home, my mom's made [plantain dish] igitoki, which is a very traditional Rwandan meal."

His first Doctor Who series

The first two episodes of the new run are titled Space Babies and The Devil’s Chord. Space Babies will see the Doctor and Ruby Sunday on a baby farm being run by babies facing off against a Bogeyman, alongside Bridgerton star Golda Rosheuvel. The second episode of the series will see the Doctor and Ruby Sunday meet The Beatles, but discover that the all-powerful Maestro – played by US drag queen and actor Jinkx Monsoon – is changing history.

The first two episodes of the new season will premiere at midnight on May 11 on BBC iPlayer. Space Babies will later air at 6.20pm on BBC One, followed by The Devil’s Chord at 7.05pm.

Outside the UK, Doctor Who will begin streaming on May 10 on Disney+.

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