Plucked from school in Manchester aged just 11 to train at the Billy Elliot Academy after responding to a newspaper advert on a whim, Brian Layton went on to fulfil every aspiring theatre fan’s childhood dream as the West End musical’s longest-serving young lead.
From Billy, he landed his first TV role on BBC Two’s comedy series Beautiful People
in 2008, about two fey little boys growing up in 90s Reading who dream of a life with the ‘beautiful people’ of the big city. From there, he made a splash in Jack Whitehall’s smash hit BBC Three comedy Bad Education
, in his scene-stealing role as camp-as-tits student Stephen.
With the much-hyped Bad Education
movie already in the bag and a return to the London stage in The Car Man
and soon-to-be Hairspray
, Layton’s star is firmly on the ascent: what better time for us to chat with the magnetic 20-year-old performer...
Your character Stephen is one of the highlights of Bad Education, and it’s a really positive representation of a flamboyant gay character who’s totally accepted in the classroom…
I get lads on the street come up to me and I think, ‘Oh my god, I’m about to get beaten up’ and then they’re like ‘Loved you in Bad Education man’. Literally the amount of times I think I’m about to get shanked and then it turns out they love it, I’m like ‘What?!’ [laughs] Obviously if you’re the Stephen of the classroom, maybe you can be a bit more comfortable being yourself. It’s quite nice to represent that, because I was that guy at school as well. And there are people out there struggling and if we can slap some comedy on it and make it fun to be that person and portay them not being bullied, then why not?
And when did you really come to terms with your own sexuality?
I think I always knew. I’m not sure everybody does, but I always did — dating back to like, the PE teacher at primary school! But I think it was when I moved to London to do Billy and I was surrounded by more gay men in the show and stuff, I was like, ‘Oh right, so that’s what I am’. And doing Billy, there were so many of us boys that were all curious. We were all kind of coming to terms with our sexuality, so all together we realised ‘Oh my God we’re all the same’. There were quite a few [love] triangles. We were in such a good place to just really explore and be who we wanted to be — compared to my school at home, where there was maybe one person who was out. I actually envy not coming out properly at school though because I think I should have just been proud to be me, but obviously it wasn’t the time.
Did the fact you were playing such camp characters in the public eye at that age cause any problems or did it make it easier to be yourself in some ways?
Yeah there was a time in between the first and second season of Beautiful People where I had to go back to normal school and I was like, ‘Ugh, this is not cute’. I didn’t really think about the fact that everyone was going to see it, even people back home where I wasn’t comfortable being myself, because I was like ‘Well I’m going to be on the TV’. So I’d go back home and just shrink and not be that person. Obviously, everyone was like ‘You big gay boy, I’ve seen you on TV being a gay boy’, there was no getting away from it. It was by the second series when I started at Italia Conti that I said, ‘You know what, I’m gay’. There was never that sit down conversation. To be honest I think that’s awful. Straight people don’t have to come out do they? So to my mum I was like, ‘By the way, I’m gay’ and she was like, ‘By the way, I know!’ But my dad did have a sit down conversation with me telling me to be careful in Jamaica.
Is that where his side of the family’s from?
Yeah, my grandparents are from Jamaica and my dad was born here, but it’s such a taboo there. It’s a part of me but I’m not proud of that part of Jamaican culture because I can’t get over how awfully homophobic it can be. I went to visit the Jamaican side of my family but I couldn’t go there for pleasure, not if I can’t walk down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand. I was still rocking my pink short shorts, I wasn’t reining it in! But I definitely wasn’t discussing all that with the Jamaican end of the family.
You can read our full interview with Layton in the current Attitude Pride Awards issue of the magazine. It's in shops now or you can download a digital copy from Pocketmags.com/Attitude or order a print copy from newsstand.co.uk/attitude.