Ncuti Gatwa: From homelessness to Netflix stardom and now Doctor Who

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From struggles with depression and homelessness to Netflix stardom and now Doctor Who, the path to fame has been a long and winding one for Ncuti Gatwa.

The Sex Education star is set to take on the role of the Time Lord previously filled by Matt Smith, David Tennant and Jodie Whittaker.

It is the role of a lifetime and a dream for thousands of young actors.

Born in Rwanda before moving to Scotland, where he was raised, Gatwa began his career as an extra on the 2014 sitcom Bob Servant.

In 2016, he played Demetrius in a production of A Midsummer’s Nights Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe.

His big break came when he was cast in Sex Education as Eric Effiong, a young gay British-Nigerian who is best friends with Otis, the show’s lead character.

The Netflix show’s three series document Eric’s growth as he deals with his family’s acceptance of his sexuality while he embraces his Nigerian heritage.

He also falls in love with Adam, who bullied him in the first series.

Despite 29-year-old Gatwa’s seemingly meteoric rise, his life has been far from plain sailing.

Writing in The Big Issue in May 2020, he said he ended up homeless after running out of savings in the months before he landed his role in Sex Education.

“Being a 25-year-old man with no money or job affected my sense of self-worth,” he wrote.

“Rejection became unbearable. Auditions weren’t just acting jobs, they were lifelines.”

He continued: “One friend gave me money towards paying off the prior month’s rent and offered to let me move into their spare room rent free for a while.

“Great, I thought. An opportunity to get back on my feet and start paying people back.

“On moving-in day, he changed his mind. As I was standing on the street with my suitcases, one thought came into my head: ‘I’m homeless.’”

While everything appeared fine to the outside world, Gatwa was losing weight because he could not afford to eat properly.

“To the outside world everything seemed fine. I was temping at Harrods,” he wrote.

“I’d wake up from the double bed I shared with my best friend, leave the house without a hair out of place in a slick-looking trench coat and polished brogues.

“I would get compliments for looking so presentable. When I lost weight due to eating only one meal a day, people told me how lean and healthy I looked.”

In reality, Gatwa had developed depression, though he kept it from his friends out of fear of being a “burden”.

He was able to turn his life around and has since shot to stardom.

He joins Doctor Who during a state of flux for the show.

Showrunner Chris Chibnall is leaving to be replaced by Russell T Davies, who was behind the programme’s 2005 revival.

Davies has since had success with Channel Four’s It’s A Sin, which charts the lives of a group of gay friends during the Aids epidemic.

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