An interview with Callum Scott Howells, who plays Colin Morris-Jones in It’s a Sin

It’s A Sin is multi-BAFTA Award-winning writer Russell T Davies’ (Queer As Folk, A Very English Scandal, Years and Years, Doctor Who) brand new 5-part drama which follows the story of the 1980s, the story of AIDS, and charts the joy and heartbreak of a group of friends across a decade in which everything changed.

Olly Alexander leads a cast which also features Keeley Hawes, Stephen Fry, Neil Patrick Harris, Tracy Ann Oberman, Shaun Dooley, Omari Douglas, Callum Scott Howells, Nathaniel Curtis and Lydia West.

It’s 1981, the start of a new decade and Ritchie, Roscoe and Colin begin a new life in London. Strangers at first, these young lads, and their best friends Jill and Ash, find themselves thrown together, and soon share each other’s adventures. But a new virus is on the rise, and soon their lives will be tested in ways they never imagined. As the decade passes, and they grow up in the shadow of AIDS, they’re determined to live and love more fiercely than ever.

Olly Alexander, from the band Years & Years, plays 18-year-old Ritchie Tozer, the family’s golden boy, though he’s determined to keep his secrets from them. Newcomer Omari Douglas plays London-born Roscoe Babatunde, a wild, brittle party boy, always on the run. Newcomer Callum Scott Howells plays Colin Morris-Jones, a quiet, unassuming, boy from Wales, about to become an apprentice on Savile Row. Lydia West (Years and Years, Dracula) plays Jill Baxter, Ritchie’s friend from college, straight-talking, funny, and the rock on which they rely. Newcomer Nathaniel Curtis plays Ash, a faithful friend through thick and thin.

The cast also includes Keeley Hawes (HonourBodyguard, The Durrells, Line of Duty), who plays Valerie, Ritchie’s mum, Shaun Dooley (Gentleman Jack, Broadchurch, Woman in Black) who plays Clive, his dad, Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother, Gone Girl, A Series of Unfortunate Events) as Henry Coltrane, Stephen Fry (Wilde, Gosford Park, Bones) as MP Arthur Garrison, and Tracy Ann Oberman (Friday Night Dinner, Toast of London, After Life) as Carol Carter.

It’s the story of these boys’ friends, lovers and families too, especially Jill, the girl who loves them and helps them, and galvanises them in the battles to come. Together they will endure the horror of the epidemic, the pain of rejection and the prejudices that gay men faced throughout the decade. There are terrible losses and wonderful friendships. And complex families, pushed to the limit and beyond. This is a series that remembers the boys we lost and celebrates those lives that burned so brightly.

YASS Magazine met Callum Scott Howells who plays Colin in the series and this is what he shared.

Tell us a little about your character, Colin.

Colin is a young 18 year old boy at the beginning of the story, who moves to London, to start a job in Savile Row, and he befriends a man called Henry, and that’s where this journey begins. He finds himself and his true identity, outside of Wales and in a brand new place. When in London, he goes on a night out and then, by chance, finds his friends for life, basically. And then he goes on this massive journey, finding a family away from his own family.

Can you see any of yourself in your character?

Yeah, I really do see parallels between me and Colin. And I think for any young small town boy who comes from a village, or from the regions, or from the valleys, it’s really identifiable. Russell’s put things in that are so universal, like moving from a village to London. Also, particularly his relationship with his mother is something I really identify with. It’s so beautiful and that’s what I really clung on to really when filming the show.

What has it been working with Russell T Davies? This is your first on-screen acting role isn’t it?

As my first job I feel like I’ve been so lucky to work with Russell. He’s a magician. He’s a wizard. And to work with someone is not just as intelligent and brilliant and talented as he is, but also as supportive and lovely and present. There was never a day where I didn’t feel like I couldn’t ask Russell a question. His ability to communicate so well with every member of the company was so amazing. I really felt lucky to be with him and learn from him. I feel like I’ve had one of the one of the most amazing starts ever. Also, to learn from and to be able to spend time with Neil Patrick Harris was another time when I was in awe, of seeing someone fantastic at work.

You share lots of scenes with Neil Patrick Harris – how was it working with him?

He really is a legend. He’s an absolute legend. And, you know, before filming the show, I remember watching when he hosted the Tony Awards, and, obviously, How I Met Your Mother. Working with him was just a joy because he’s a gorgeous person, he’s beautiful. To be able to talk to him talk openly about his experiences, and he about mine, was just amazing. Gosh, I think I’ll remember for the rest of my life, it was so special. Unbelievable.

Were you already familiar with the period and events at the time? If not did you do much research and/or learn much from the project?

I didn’t know a lot, to be honest. I knew movies, I knew the music, I knew the fashion, but I really didn’t know what the political landscape was like. And that’s something that was a massive shock, I think, for a lot of us, particularly me. I was just gobsmacked at how ill-treated this community was. Researching it really hit me for six. But also, on the flip side, it was so vibrant and full of life the 80s were. I really do feel like if I had a choice of when to be born, I’d want to have grown up in the 80s, especially talking to my parents about it. There were so many things you could do that you really can’t do now. Like, for example, go on a night out and not feel the pressures of filming people with your phone. You just go out! You just listen to the music and you just dance all night. How amazing is that!

Why do you think this is an important story to tell?

I think because these people who we lost during this time are the forgotten faces and voices. We really don’t appreciate or acknowledge how many people we lost. We always look back and we say “there was the AIDS epidemic” but we never actually look at how many people we lost, at least I didn’t anyway. And nobody told me about it, you know. Russell has written characters that are brimming with life and colour and imagination and dreams and ambitions. And I think this is what will humanise the AIDS epidemic. I really hope people look at this show the same way they look at other iconic dramas that explore massive historic events. I feel like it’s vital, I think, and who better to write it than Russell T Davies, someone who knew so many people who are affected by it, the parents and the families too.

There’s a real “gang” at the heart of the drama – did you become as tight-knit a gang with your co-stars off-camera too?

I think a bit too much, right!?? We really were so tight. We were lucky because so many of the scenes were positive, they were all about partying and having a good time. So, we just really carried that into the scenes, you know. In the mornings we danced to 80s music in the trailers and stuff and we just really got along so well that when it came to portray how much of a family we were, as friends, it just kind of fell into place. And I love them so dearly. And we will be friends for life, for sure.

How did you find immersing yourself in the 80s during filming? How did you get into the 80s vibe – music/films etc?

We listened to lots of music – we had a playlist! It was us and Peter [Hoar] our director, did. We created shared playlists where we’d knock some songs in. At the start it was just the songs that are in the script, then we just kept adding stuff to it, stuff that we loved. I also watched a lot of Larry Grayson. He is so fantastic. We don’t make people like him anymore. Larry Grayson was a one off, completely unique. Also I watched a lot of documentaries. I watched one called Killer in the Village, part of Horizon, and it was about Greenwich Village and how the AIDS epidemic affected people then, before it came over here. For me that completely humanised the disease, and really helped me really get a full grip on it. It helped me just completely see the innocence and the confusion and the lack of knowledge about what was to come. And I think that is another thing that is so vital about this show is that they had no idea, no idea what was to come.

Some 80s questions now…

What’s your favourite 80s band or song?

Respect by Erasure. It’s just the best song probably ever. Love it. I listen to it now all the time.

And your favourite 80s film?

Withnail & I. A bit of a cult classic and the most incredible performances from Richard E Grant and Paul McGann. In my top 10 all-time greatest movies!

What about your favourite 80s fashion trend.

Flares. I love flares, but denim flares in particular.

And your favourite 80s TV show

The Larry Grayson Show, for sure. He’s amazing. Perfect.

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