Ncuti Gatwa Brings Mischief & Sparkle to History-Making ‘Doctor Who’ Role

Scottish actor Ncuti Gatwa isn’t afraid to sparkle, he tells me. While he is referring to his personal style, his personality shines the minute he flashes across the Zoom screen for our interview. 

The actor earned a huge fan base when he played fan-favourite character Eric on Sex Education. Gatwa allowed Eric to shine and sparkle while still grounding him. The actor was also seen in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie last summer, and participated in the memorable ‘Ken’ dance number on the Oscars stage alongside Ryan Gosling, Simu Liu, and Kingsley Ben-Adir. It’s a memory he’d like to time-travel to. 

Gatwa, 31, makes history as he steps into the fifteenth incarnation of the Doctor in the science fiction series Doctor Who. He is the first Black and queer actor to take on the role, and — while this moment is not lost on him — he simply puts his best self forward as the doctor, whom he calls a shape-shifting alien.

“I just think of myself as a human being that’s existing. My experiences that I’ve had in life will inform my work, my art and how I react to things. I’m just trying to exist in the role and bring my best self to the role.”

Ncuti Gatwa

Gatwa is a burst of energy and enthusiasm — it’s easy to see how his infectious energy colours the characters he steps into. The very first episode of Doctor Who, which dropped Friday, is evidence of this: Gatwa brings various shades of emotions in a single turn, which will certainly draw in fans of the franchise and fans of the actor. 

We sat down with Gatwa to discuss what he wanted to bring to the role, how much of himself he sees in the Doctor, and the difference between the Doctor’s style and his own. 

How gratifying is it — not only to play a historic character, but at the same time be making history? Young kids watching this will grow up wanting to be your version of Doctor Who.

It feels very gratifying. It’s such an incredible role that has such great writing to it. I work with Russell T. Davies, who’s an amazing writer. As an actor, to get a role that’s fat with things to do and with great writing — that feels so gratifying. So, I love that.

In terms of approaching this specific role, oh my God, it’s a lot of anxiety — and responsibility as well. So, I hope I do the role justice in order for kids to feel like they want to be that character. I mean, it’s an honour and a privilege.

Picture Shows The Doctor Ncuti Gatwa
Photo courtesy of BBC Studios Distribution Limited.

If every character is a little bit of the actor who plays them, how much of this mischief maker do you see in yourself?

Laughs. Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of similarities. He loves an adventure, he’s very curious, and he can’t help but get into a little bit of mischief. Those are all traits that I somehow, somehow was able to bring to the room.

This is an iconic character. What did you personally want to bring to Doctor Who to make this character your own?

Good question. I think predominantly the excitement of life; the Doctor’s a character that regenerates, so they’re constantly born again and getting these second chances at life. They die and their organs start to regenerate, and it’s like a new lease on life. They’ve got all the same memories, and all the same experiences of, obviously, all the other incarnations, but there are new eyes now, experiencing things. They’re just excited by everything.

I think that was my ‘in’ to the character: that excitement [for] life, that curiosity, and that urge to just get out, explore, and see everything, because things are finite. The darkest of depths and the lightest of lights — it’s not a phrase, but we’re making it one today — he knows that, just through his experience. He knows time is finite, so he wants to soak it all in. I think excitement and curiosity were two things I wanted to bring. 

I read that Eric, your character on Sex Education, had taught you to be braver. What has Doctor Who given you as an artist and as a person?

I don’t know yet. I think probably by the end of next season, I’ll find out. Certainly, I can say words that are longer than I used to be able to. Laughs. The text is very tricky! I feel like it’s helping me to be a little bit smarter.

Picture Shows The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) BBC Studios Distribution Limited 5-2024 f1
Photo courtesy of BBC Studios Distribution Limited.

In the first episode, my favourite moment was when you talked about chance, coincidence, and luck — such a pivotal moment. I was curious, how have chance, coincidence, and luck played a role in your life, especially your career as an actor?

Hmm…chance, coincidence, and luck, I think plays a part in any success story. We can talk for ages about things like, ‘Oh, I’ve worked hard for this’ but you know, I have an amazing team that managed to align things. I also think things just align in life; those things are the real pillars of a success story.

If you could time travel, which part of your life or moment in time would you like to go back and revisit?

It’s probably the Oscars. Just do it all over again.

You are known for your boundary-pushing red carpet style. How would you describe your personal style?

I tend to either look like a gym outfit or couture. There’s not really an in-between. Laughs. I’m either in leisurewear or a full Prada runway look. There’s no in-between. In terms of my personal look, if I’m stepping out, I like to dress however I’m feeling and there’s always going to be a little hint of sensuality, let’s say, in my dressing. Whatever I can find, it’s gonna make me feel really confident and sparkle a little bit… I’m not afraid to sparkle. Or it’s just like a gym outfit: a pair of short shorts and a tank top.

How would you describe Doctor Who’s style? I feel like you might have influenced that in some way. 

I’d say the Doctor’s very eclectic, subcultures of British fashion.

New episodes of “Doctor Who” streams weekly on Disney+

Feature photo by James Pardon/Bad Wolf, supplied courtesy of BBC Studios Distribution Limited.