About a year ago, we at Topshop exclusively released the very first trailer to a new Netflix show called Sex Education no one had ever heard of – fast forward twelve months and season two is one of the most anticipated new releases of 2020. The series has seriously shaken things up with its open, honest and relatable approach to talking about all things sex education, coming-off-age in a modern society and other themes most shows would shy away from. So what can we expect from season two? We sat down with Patricia Allison, who plays Otis Milburn’s current love interest Ola, to ask her what she loved about the new episodes, what she learnt herself and why the show is so important…
Let’s start with season one – did you expect the show to be as successful as it turned out to be when you first joined the project?
I totally didn’t. I got the job and then I was there. It all happened really quickly, so I didn’t even really have time to process that I was doing a show called Sex Education on Netflix. It was more like ‘okay I’m Ola, and I’m Swedish – sure’. My first day was with Gillian Anderson, I know! She opened the door to me and I was completely starstruck. After I got over all of that, I did think that the result would be good but I thought it would be an undiscovered gem for some reason. One of those really cool things you make that people don’t watch. But it was the complete opposite. What more could you want for a show that you feel really passionately about?
What do you think it is that makes the show so appealing to so many people?
It’s literally available to anyone of all ages. Anyone could watch it and relate to it. We’ve got characters that are older, like the teachers that have relationships, teenagers and all that. We’re all looking for ways to talk about sex and to talk about it in a frank, easy, emotional and honest way that isn’t grotesque. I think the show does that really well. It’s an inclusive show with quite a diverse cast I think. That’s really appealing because you see people you see everyday and who you can relate to. And that’s a niche, which it really shouldn’t be.
Why should people tune into season two?
It’s packed with things that I am surprised could even be in it. The things I got to do are things I never thought I’d get to do. As a woman, to get to play a role like this is amazing. Season two breaks down a lot of things and makes you realise that things don’t always have to be the way you’ve been told they have to be. It shines a light on sexual assault and what we deem as sexual assault. That’s incredibly important and opens a dialogue too. What can we do if it happens to someone we know, or if it happens to us? It’s important to call it what it is and to realise that it does have psychological effects on people over time. People often feel they have no one to go to or that no one cares, and that it must be their fault. Season two explores that so well.
How would you describe Ola in your own words?
I think Ola is very confident, she’s headstrong, she’s grounding. In this season we get to see her in situations that make her vulnerable, in situations that make her slightly uncomfortable and in situations where she gets what she wants. It’s been really fun for me to go to all of these places and create and prepare that for season two.
Ola goes on a journey of self-discovery this season, did you see that coming?
It was a surprise to me. My character development is however this script will go, especially because it’s a new show. I was just sitting tight waiting to read. Once I read it, it did make so much sense. It’s so well written that as an actor I am so thankful because I don’t have to search for my character in the words. The journeys are so clear. It’s so fun to put on her shoes and explore this girl’s life. I love her so much.
Do you relate to Ola yourself?
I used to think we were quite similar and there’s a huge part of me in her too. But there are decisions that she makes that I wouldn’t have made. It’s been really great to see that though, because starting out I was worried I was just being myself. But she has her own life and thoughts. We think really differently actually. That’s nice to play. When I think ‘I would never do that’ that’s awesome.
What is your favourite thing about her?
My favourite thing is also my least favourite thing about her, because I always want to be overly polite and she’s not. She’s really unapologetic and I love that about her. And the fact that she will just look at what she wants and she’ll just go and get it. That’s something I’m always going to try and embrace more.
Her style is really fun as well, did you enjoy playing someone with such a unique style?
Thank you for that question! The designer on the show is incredible. I totally believe that the style of the show comes out in the clothes and the set. Ola’s wardrobe is my favourite thing. She wears a lot of a colourful stuff and I get to play around a lot. Some outfits are tailored especially for Ola, like pieces from the ’70s that are modified so I can wear them. It’s a pleasure.
What does Ola still need to learn in your opinion?
She needs to be a little bit more considerate of the other person. Like I said, it’s amazing how unapologetic and headstrong she is, but often it’s self-driven. She should find out where the other person is at so she can meet them in the middle.
The show doesn’t label people in terms of sexuality and presents it more as a spectrum, why do you think that’s important?
I’m the biggest advocate for that ever. In our generation there’s a lot of people that still want to categorise themselves, and label themselves – which is fine, if that’s what you need. Personally though, for me, I don’t like labels and I am nonsensical about it because I am a human being. I see it as just that. However I’m feeling, towards whatever, I will take that as it comes. The show does that as well and has actually given me the confidence to say that. So thanks Sex Education!
Apart from Ola, which other characters to you find the most interesting to watch in the show?
I love this. I have a couple of favourites. I love Mrs Groff. She’s incredible. I love Adam Groff beyond anything. His character and storyline are so special and move me so much. When we see people who we judge or are quite hard against and then get to understand them a little and see their vulnerabilities that is really important. It means that we can see what’s not working and then can stop doing these things. It could help us stop creating these environments where people turn out to be that aggressive. There are so many layers to him and to his relationship with his parents and to Eric. We show all of the complications too, which a lot of people would shy away from.
Who is your favourite character to act alongside?
I love Tanya and her character Lily. Even in the first season she was my ultimate favourite. Whenever I’m doing a scene with her it’s really hard not to laugh. I just want to watch her. We really get on, so it’s always banter with her.
We also meet some new characters in season two – what can you tell us about them?
Yes and they are lovely people too! We have Sami Outalbali as Rahim, who comes in as this French sex god and shakes up the freaking school. His entrance and the music that plays when he first appears is amazing, I’ve still got it stuck in my head. I love this character. Then there’s Chinenye Ezeudu as Viv, I adore her. She’s super geeky, headstrong, knows what she wants and doesn’t take any bullshit. She’s freaking cool. George Robinson who plays Isaac is just really funny, witty and sharp-tongued. He’s such an awesome, lovely actor as well. They’re all amazing and took it on so well.
Was there anything you learnt working on the show yourself?
There’s loads of taboos that I am unlearning actually. Vocabulary that I am unlearning. There are so many things in there that people still don’t know about but the show really shines a light on them.
What is something you wish you’d known when you were a teenager yourself?
Don’t be pressured to do things that other people are doing just because they are doing them. Relax. It’s not a big deal, whatever it is. Always check in with yourself: am I happy, where am I, who are the people in my life, are they supporting me and am I supporting myself? Self-responsibility is also just as important.
Sex Education season 2 launches on 17th January, only on Netflix.