Words: Will Stroude
Russell T Davies says that his upcoming Channel 4 drama Boys will not shy away from portraying the true horrors of the Aids crisis.
The Queer as Folk creator, 56, is set to chart the early years of the epidemic in the '80s-set series, which stars Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander and is currently in production ahead of an expected premiere in late 2020.
Speaking in the Attitude Awards issue - out now to download and to order globally - Davies sheds more light on the "dark" new show, which charts the lives of three teenagers after they move to London in 1981.
“It’s enormously entertaining and funny but fucking hell it gets dark… They walk into a plague," he says.
“We’re now at an age where the parents are dying, and [the victims of Aids] didn’t have children themselves, gay men did not have children much back then, as a rule.
“So they’re being forgotten now as their parents die.”
Davies, who was honoured with the Culture Award at the Virgin Atlantic Attitude Awards, powered by Jaguar earlier this month, adds that it was "about time" he wrote a series which fully explores the Aids crisis, which emerged while he was studying at Oxford as a student during the early '80s.
“I look and think, ‘Why didn’t I write this in 1998?’ It’s much closer to my life. I’m not HIV positive, but these characters are all 18 in 1981, they leave home and go to university in the big city, they follow my life exactly," he explains.
“In many ways, I’m glad I didn’t write this first because it had to take me 20 to 30 years to come around and look at it, and look at those people I knew who died.
“Friends who cared for them and their families. By the end, I think it has new things to say about the psychology of those people.
Davies continues: “It does crop up in my work, sex leading to death, and if you were 18 in 1981 it would.
“I thought it would be much more a history of AIDS – thank God it’s shaken that off, thank God it’s become the story of these characters: Ritchie, Colin and Roscoe, and their friend Jill.”
BAFTA winner Russell is also full of praise for Olly Alexander, who will play the lead role of Ritchie in Boys (and was recently pictured on set rocking some very '80s triple denim).
“In many ways it was obvious,” Davies says. “You look around going, ‘Who’s a young, gay, out star?’ There aren’t many people who fit that category. Olly does.
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OLLY ALEXANDER stars as Ritchie in BOYS, Channel 4, 2020. Also starring KEELEY HAWES as Ritchie’s mum, Valerie, NEIL PATRICK HARRIS as Henry Coltrane and STEPHEN FRY as Arthur Garrison, plus TRACY ANN OBERMAN as Carol Carter, with SHAUN DOOLEY as Clive. The story of three young boys arriving in London in 1981, just as a new virus appears, @ollyyears stars alongside blazing new talent: LYDIA WEST (from Years and Years) as Jill, OMARI DOUGLAS as Roscoe, NATHANIEL CURTIS as Ash, CALLUM HOWELLS as Colin 🏴 Cast by Andy Pryor Casting, Directed by Peter Hoar, produced by Phil Collinson. . . . @channel4 @redproductionco @ollyyears #boys @misskeeleyhawes @nathaniel.curtis @callumhowells_c @marsdoug @carlyle_david @tracyanno @stephenfryactually @nph @nathanieljhall @davidgajones @shaun_dooley_ @philcollinson @pjuk @nicolanshindler @andypryorcasting @realandypryor @meccleston Yes, I’ve gone from Years and Years to Years & Years, I know 😉
“I knew he’d done acting but you think, like Kylie on Doctor Who, that it’ll never happen. He wouldn’t be free, he’s not going to be interested…
“It’s possibly the subject matter because he’s very politically aware. He knows the history of the HIV story. So you’re starting off with this enormous advantage, but then he did this reading and it was perfect. I was delighted. He’s going to be amazing.
“Then I had the joy of writing episodes knowing it was him and that was just electrifying. Knowing that you had someone as limitless as him.
“He plays an actor and I’m having such fun with all his different jobs over the years.”
Read the full interview with Russell T Davies in the Attitude Awards issue, out now.