"This is a new frontier, my sexually repressed friend," Eric Effiong tells his best friend Otis in front of Moordale High. They've just found their way to some social clout — the trade of sex therapy. Most high schoolers (including Otis) would probably approach the idea with hesitance, and even discomfort. But Eric doesn't. He embraces it with fearless glee and a mentality that seems to define his character's outlook on life. Ncuti Gatwa plays Eric on Sex Education, and he can't decide what he loves about the character more: his eyeliner mastery, or his willingness to demo oral sex on a banana in an honest effort to help a gag-prone friend.
Most importantly, Gatwa loves that Eric is unapologetically himself. He's openly gay. He loves clothes that make a statement, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and who cares if he sucks at playing the french horn? Not him. The actor seems to love that about his character as much as fans do.
"We have a few similarities," Gatwa told Logo. "We both come from African backgrounds and grew up in the U.K. My dad’s always worked in churches, so I have a religious background. I also grew up in Scotland, which wasn’t the most multicultural of places so I had a semi-tough time at school. We’re also both very loud! People often say they can hear me before they see me." Eric is Gatwa's first big TV role.
He and Eric have their differences, too. For one, the actor is actually 26. Secondly, he told Teen Vogue,before filming Sex Education, he had never worn makeup. As those who have seen the show already know, Eric love to paint his face. In fact, in the show's first episode, Eric is found eloquently painting his face before school, and the decision to wear or not to wear makeup is integral to his character's journey through the school year.
"I remember I went to Harvey Nichols in the U.K. and I spent an obscene amount of money on Fenty Beauty," Gatwa told Teen Vogue. "And I myself went home and did YouTube tutorials and learned how to do contouring and highlighting and concealer. Oh, my God, like all the things that... It's a whole world, it's like a whole world."
Gatwa also said Eric's outfits were one of his favorite parts of playing the character. He often wore loudly printed socks and shoes, and for prom, he donned a printed suit made from traditional Ghanian cloth, a towering head wrap to match, and kitten heels.
"I would wake up every morning being like, 'What is Eric gonna wear today?' But my favorite has to be the prom look," he said. "Having clothes made in Africa when you've got an African body — normally I can't get jeans past my bum — it was just brilliant. It just fit everything amazingly."
Eric's character may be a supporting role to the sex therapy business ventures of his friends Otis and Meave, but he really is the beating heart of the series. So much nuance and strength is crucially represented in his story, and if Netflix were to give Sex Education a second season, more of Eric and his fun-loving narrative would be a must. Especially that surprising relationship twist at the end.