Few actors can boast the same kind of global appeal as Ncuti Gatwa has in only a few short years, with the British-Rwandan actor being involved in some of the biggest hits from across the pond. Between his roles on massive British television exports and, of course, his work on the biggest movie of the year, Gatwa has created a clear career path for himself. Now, with an impressive 2023 filmography under his belt and his version of Doctor Who underway, Gatwa is certainly one to watch.
Sex Education & streaming stardom
Before Heartstopper and Red, White and Royal Blue took over the popular cultural niche of gay British romance on streaming, there was Sex Education. Specifically, there was Ncuti Gatwa’s character on Sex Education. The actor played Eric, the out and proud best friend of protagonist Otis (Asa Butterfield), but his role was hardly limited to just the Black and/or gay best friend stereotypes. In a show already hailed for how it handled the reality of 21st century teen sexuality, Gatwa’s Eric was frequently singled out as “vital representation for black queer boys,” due in no small part to the actor’s expert and nuanced performance.
Gatwa is responsible for a great deal of the nominations that the series garnered across its four seasons, getting plenty of nods from the BAFTA TV Awards and even one from the stateside Critics’ Choice Awards. A clear and obvious standout of the show (which served as a springboard for many other young British talents), his Sex Education work paved the way for a promising career. With the show wrapping up this year, Gatwa bid adieu to his breakout role, but that’s not to say he was gone from the screen for very long.
He’s (not) Just Ken
It’s pretty crazy to have Barbie be one of your first movies ever, but that’s just a testament to Gatwa’s talent and charisma. As one of the many Kens populating Barbieland, he’s inextricably linked to his Barbie (Sex Education co-star Emma Mackey) until Ryan Gosling’s Ken introduces patriarchy—and horses.
Though just one of the henchKens, Gatwa’s performance shines through. Whether it’s his bleached buzz cut or his gleaming smile, he just fits in the dollhouse that Greta Gerwig created. Plus, his exasperated, incel-tinged delivery of, “Does the title of long-term-distance casual low-commitment girlfriend mean nothing?” is pitch perfect. He contributed to Barbie’s delightfully controlled chaos, and that’s a big boon on any resume.
The new Doctor Who
Gatwa made history last year when he was announced as the newest actor taking on the regenerating role of the Doctor in Doctor Who, becoming the first Black actor to play the character in the British television staple’s 60-year history. It’s a big step forward in terms of representation for the series, but that’s not the only plus that his tenure on the show brings.
Earlier this month, Gatwa debuted as the Doctor in “The Giggle,” one of the show’s 60th anniversary specials that kicked off Doctor Who’s first stint on Disney Plus. The specials saw the sci-fi show get a major upgrade in budget and special effects—as well as the size of the audience it can reach. No longer just a British export that would gradually find its way to some American streaming company or another, this new iteration of Doctor Who has become a full-fledged member of the Disney family. When Gatwa’s first episode in charge, “The Church on Ruby Road,” premiered on Christmas, an unprecedented number of people were able to watch the series in the U.S. It’s a lot of responsibility for an actor to shoulder, taking a beloved cultural figure and bringing it to the world’s stage, but Gatwa is the perfect one to do it.
Aside from Doctor Who, Gatwa has a role in Apple’s upcoming war drama Masters of the Air. He’ll be acting alongside the likes of Austin Butler and Barry Keoghan in the prestige series, under directors like Dee Rees as well as Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. After a massively successful 2023, then, the actor has quite the 2024 lined up.