How Sex Education propelled its unknown cast into Hollywood: Stars land HUGE roles in Bridgerton, Barbie and Doctor Who and soar to global fame – as FINAL series of Netflix hit airs

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Sex Education took fans by storm when it first debuted on Netflix back in 2019 and has become a smash hit with its raunchy scenes and topical storylines.

The fourth and final series finally debuted on the streaming platform on Thursday after a long wait, and fans have been avidly binge-watching the last instalment.

As well as heavyweight talent featuring on the show to attract fans, including Gillian Anderson and Alistair Petrie, it also launched the careers of a whole host of unknown stars.

While leading star Asa Butterfield had already carved out a successful career as a child actor years before securing his role as Otis Milburn, many of his co-stars had no major acting credits to their names.

Now-household names Ncuti Gatwa, Simone Ashley and Emma Mackey were all propelled to overnight fame on the show and have gone on to storm Hollywood, landing roles in huge hits including the likes of Barbie and Bridgerton.

As Sex Education comes to an explosive end with its fourth series, MailOnline takes a look at how the popular show helped its rising stars achieve massive global fame.

Fame: Sex Education took fans by storm when it first debuted on Netflix back in 2019, and its previously unknown stars have risen to fame, with Ncuti Gatwa becoming the new Doctor Who

Fame: Sex Education took fans by storm when it first debuted on Netflix back in 2019, and its previously unknown stars have risen to fame, with Ncuti Gatwa becoming the new Doctor Who

Success: As well as heavyweight talent featuring on the show to attract fans, it also launched the careers of a host of young actors, with Simone Ashley joining the cast of Bridgerton

Success: As well as heavyweight talent featuring on the show to attract fans, it also launched the careers of a host of young actors, with Simone Ashley joining the cast of Bridgerton 

Talent: Leading star Asa Butterfield had already carved out a career as a child actor years before securing his role as Otis Milburn, with Gillian Anderson playing his on-screen mother

Talent: Leading star Asa Butterfield had already carved out a career as a child actor years before securing his role as Otis Milburn, with Gillian Anderson playing his on-screen mother

NCUTI GATWA

Ncuti Gatwa quickly became a fan favourite after his debut on Sex Education as Eric Effiong, the best friend of lead character Otis, played by Asa.

The Rwandan-Scottish actor, 30, achieved instant fame on the series and he has gone on to achieve huge success as he gears up to become the next Doctor Who.

However, Ncuti has spoken openly about his career struggles prior to landing the breakthrough role, previously revealing that he had been homeless for five months.

Back in 2020, he told how, after struggling to cope with the financial stress of London life as an aspiring actor, he didn’t have a fixed address, and relied on friends to let him sleep on their sofas.

In an interview with The Big Issue, Ncuti shared that a friend had to lend him money to get to the audition for his Sex Education role, which earned him praise for his show-stealing portrayal of a gay black teen.

‘I couldn’t seem to handle it all financially. I was supposed to move into a new place and it fell through’, he said.

‘So for five months before Sex Education, I was couch-surfing among all my friends. I didn’t have a home. 

‘I was homeless. The only thing stopping me from being on the streets was the fact I had friends.’

He went on to describe how envious he felt of the customers at his temporary job as a shop assistant, and simply wanted his ‘own bed’.

Popular: Ncuti Gatwa quickly became a fan favourite after his debut on Sex Education as Eric Effiong, the best friend of lead character Otis, played by Asa

Popular: Ncuti Gatwa quickly became a fan favourite after his debut on Sex Education as Eric Effiong, the best friend of lead character Otis, played by Asa

‘I was looking at people, thinking, ‘You are so lucky to be about to go home to your own bed.’ Then I was going to work to sell £7,000 perfumes,’ he added.

However, he then achieved massive overnight fame with his role in Sex Education and shared his delight earlier this year when he bought his first home in London.

His role on Sex Education has led to much bigger things for Ncuti, as he broke into Hollywood as part of the star-studded Barbie cast earlier this year.

He appeared in the hugely popular live-action film, which has raked in more than $1billion at the worldwide box office, as one of the many Ken dolls.

The film saw Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling star as the leading Barbie and Kens, while a whole host of other stars took on roles as different variations of the dolls.

And Ncuti starred as one of the many Kens alongside big names Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Scott Evans, while stars including Nicola Coughlan and Dua Lipa appeared as Barbie.

In another huge career step, Ncuti is also set to take to the screen next year as the next Doctor Who, joining an array of huge British stars to have taken on the role.

David Tennant will return to his role as The Doctor for three specials for the 60th anniversary, before Ncuti takes on the mantle with his companion Millie Gibson.

A trailer has already teased some of his first scenes, while official snaps have also shown him in character as the titular Time Lord.

He will be the 15th actor, and the first person of colour, to take on the full-time role of the Time Lord in the BBC series, marking a huge milestone in his blossoming career.

Big step: The Rwandan-Scottish actor, 30, achieved instant fame after the show aired and he has gone on to achieve huge success, and will soon take on the role of Doctor Who

Big step: The Rwandan-Scottish actor, 30, achieved instant fame after the show aired and he has gone on to achieve huge success, and will soon take on the role of Doctor Who 

Smash hit: Ncuti also appeared in the hugely popular live-action film, which has raked in more than $1billion at the worldwide box office , as one of the many Ken dolls

Smash hit: Ncuti also appeared in the hugely popular live-action film, which has raked in more than $1billion at the worldwide box office , as one of the many Ken dolls

SIMONE ASHLEY

Simone Ashley rose to fame as Olivia Hanan in comedy-drama Sex Education, who was part of a Mean Girls-esque popular group of friends, dubbed The Untouchables.

The star, 28, featured in one of the main storylines in the first series and quickly became a staple part of the cast for its first three seasons.

However, she was absent from the fourth and final series after she made the decision to leave following her casting in huge romance hit Bridgerton.

She had previously appeared in a string of minor roles including in David Tennant and Olivia Coleman’s hit show Broadchurch, and thriller series Guilt.

But she secured her big break in Sex Education, which was quickly followed by her sought-after casting as a leading star of Bridgerton’s second series, while she is also set to return for its third instalment.

Simone portrayed Kate Sharma in the Regency romp and the second series followed her character’s love story with Anthony Bridgerton, played by Jonathan Bailey.

The drama sees Anthony intending to marry Kate’s younger sister Edwina (Charithra Chandran) but he quickly falls in love with Kate and the pair share stolen intimate moments before finally professing their feelings.

Amid the whirlwind success of her leading lady role, Simone confirmed that she would not be returning to Sex Education for its fourth series.

Speaking to This Morning’s Vernon Kay and Josie Gibbons in 2022, Simone discussed her secret casting and why she had decided to leave Sex Education.

She said: ‘It was all a whirlwind; it happened In two weeks. I sent in some self-tapes the first week and by the second I was meeting with Jonny [Jonathan Bailey] for a chemistry test. 

‘Everyone knew about the show and was talking about it and was wondering what would happen in season two, but I had to keep it quiet for a few days.’

She has achieved huge fame on Bridgerton after her breakthrough role in Sex Education, and told how it was strange to see her face on a billboard. 

‘The hotel I stayed in LA, I saw mine, Jonny and Carithra [Chandran’s] face on a billboard out the window,’ she confessed.

‘It was so weird, in a nice way, I was really proud of everyone. It was a weird feeling, I guess. I’m just trying to live in the moment of it all and have fun with it.’ 

Casting: Simone Ashley rose to fame as Olivia Hanan in comedy-drama Sex Education, who was part of a Mean Girls-esque popular group of friends, dubbed The Untouchables

Casting: Simone Ashley rose to fame as Olivia Hanan in comedy-drama Sex Education, who was part of a Mean Girls-esque popular group of friends, dubbed The Untouchables

Raunchy: After her big break in Sex Education, she was cast as the leading star of Bridgerton's second series alongside Jonathan Bailey

Raunchy: After her big break in Sex Education, she was cast as the leading star of Bridgerton’s second series alongside Jonathan Bailey 

EMMA MACKEY

Emma Mackey is best known for playing sassy teenager Maeve Wiley on Sex Education, who is leading character Otis’ love interest.

She served as Otis’ business partner as they ran a profitable sex therapy clinic giving teenagers’ advice at their school, before she and Otis formed a romantic connection.

Emma, 27, soared to overnight fame after bagging her first big role on the show, and it was previously claimed ‘everyone wants a piece of her’ after her success.

A source told the Sun: ‘Emma is one of the brightest stars to come out of Sex Education. The series was a break­through into the industry for her, and as Maeve she made waves.

‘Emma’s name has become hot property and everyone wants a piece of her.’

Before her breakthrough role, Emma had not been in any major acting projects and had recently applied for drama school after studying English Literature at Leeds University.

During her degree, she starred in amateur theatre productions, inspiring her to pursue acting as a career. A year after applying to drama schools, she landed an agent.

And just six months later, Emma – who grew up in northwest France – was amazingly cast in Sex Education after five rounds of auditions.

At the time, Emma was working as a translator and living with friends and family to save money.

‘When I got off the phone I burst into tears and did a clichéd squeal,’ she said. ‘I called my mum and pretended to be very, very cool. Like, ‘Yeah, got this role, it’s no big thing’.’

Since rising to fame on Sex Education, Emma has gone on to bag herself a whole host of leading roles in high-profile movies.

Breakthrough role: Emma Mackey is best known for playing sassy teenager Maeve Wiley on Sex Education, who is leading star Otis' love interest

Breakthrough role: Emma Mackey is best known for playing sassy teenager Maeve Wiley on Sex Education, who is leading star Otis’ love interest

Impressive; Since rising to fame on Sex Education, Emma was cast with Hollywood stars in Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile

Impressive; Since rising to fame on Sex Education, Emma was cast with Hollywood stars in Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile

Last year, Emma made her big Hollywood entrance as she starred in Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile with a host of big names.

She starred as the mysterious Jacqueline De Bellefort in the crime drama, which was Kenneth’s second film portraying detective Hercule Poirot.

The film served as the sequel to 2017’s hit Murder on the Orient Express, which once again saw director and leading star Kenneth team up with with screenwriter Michael Green.

The Agatha Christie mystery also starred Armie Hammer as Emma’s former love interest and Gal Gadot as her close friend.

That same year, she also took on the role of famed Wuthering Heights novelist Emily Bronte before her premature death at the age of 30.

In a revised history of the famously introverted author’s life, Emily portrayed its titular character as caught up in a forbidden affair with an assistant curate – a real and reportedly handsome man.

Born in 1818 in West Yorkshire, Emily was the fifth of six children, and spent most of her short life in the moorland village of Haworth, where her Irish father Patrick was curate.

But life dealt Emily a series of terrible blows as she lost her mother when she was three, then two older sisters when she was seven.

Following her trauma, the novelist retreated into a fantasy world, writing stories and poetry with her siblings, and she penned the hugely successful love story Wuthering Heights.

Drama: Emma recently took on the role of famed Wuthering Heights novelist Emily Bronte before her premature death at the age of 30

Drama: Emma recently took on the role of famed Wuthering Heights novelist Emily Bronte before her premature death at the age of 30

French film: In another huge achievement, Emma also secured a role in the high-profile French-language film Eiffel alongside Romain Duris

French film: In another huge achievement, Emma also secured a role in the high-profile French-language film Eiffel alongside Romain Duris

Barbie! And this year, Emma amazingly appeared in the hotly-anticipated Barbie movie as a version of the Mattel doll alongside stars including Sharon Rooney and Alexandra Shipp

Barbie! And this year, Emma amazingly appeared in the hotly-anticipated Barbie movie as a version of the Mattel doll alongside stars including Sharon Rooney and Alexandra Shipp

The movie, titled Emily, was released in October 2022, and starred Amelia Gething and Alexandra Dowling, who played sisters Anne and Charlotte Brontë respectively.

And this year, Emma appeared in the hotly-anticipated Barbie movie as a version of the Mattel doll alongside stars including Margot Robbie, Nicola Coughlan and Alexandra Shipp.

As well as breaking into Hollywood, Emma also found further fame in French cinema, having starred in the high-profile French-language film Eiffel.

Emma is the daughter of a French headmaster and is fluent in the language having spent her childhood in northwest France.

Eiffel tells the story of engineer Gustave Eiffel, played by Romain Duris, and his journey to construct what would become one of the world’s most recognisable landmarks.

As in real life, the film depicts Eiffel as initially reluctant to build the 324m tower, originally intended as a temporary structure for the entrance to the 1889 Universal Exhibition. Yet, in a decision that baffles historians, he ultimately agreed.

The film’s explanation for this change of heart is a woman named Adrienne Bourgès, played by Emma, whom Eiffel had loved as a young man but was refused permission to marry.

The film received mixed reviews at the time of its release in October 2021, but Emma’s performance won much praise.

Her huge on-screen success was also recognised when Emma was named BAFTA’s 2023 Rising Star in another impressive milestone in her career.

She was encouraged to the stage by her smiling Sex Education co-star Aimee Lou Wood, who also received a nomination in the category.

Emma gave a shoutout to Aimee in her speech, prompting her teary-eyed pal to mouth ‘love you’ to Emma.

She was nominated alongside Naomi Ackie, Sheila Atim, Daryl McCormack and Aimee but appeared completely overwhelmed when her name was called out as the winner. 

Award: Her huge on-screen success was also recognised when Emma was named BAFTA's 2023 Rising Star in another impressive milestone in her career

Award: Her huge on-screen success was also recognised when Emma was named BAFTA’s 2023 Rising Star in another impressive milestone in her career

CONNOR SWINDELLS 

Connor Swindells has been among the Sex Education cast since its debut series, appearing as school bully and the headmaster’s son Adam Groff.

His character won over fans as his complicated relationship with his father Michael (Alistair Petrie) was explored, before he started a romance with Eric and explored his sexuality.

Before starting acting at the age of 19, Connor was training to be an Olympic boxer but a very serious injury ended his dreams, leading him down the acting route.

At the age of 19, he then landed a role in The Vanishing and also starred in VS., while he had minor acting credits in Harlots and Jamestown.

But his big break came when he was cast in Sex Education, earning him a huge fanbase and throwing him into overnight fame.

In the four years since Sex Education debuted, Connor has starred in a whole host of very successful movies and TV shows as his career goes from strength to strength.

In 2020, he joined the star-studded cast of Emma, starring as Robert Martin alongside the likes of Anya Taylor-Joy, The Crown’s Josh O’Connor and Mia Goth.

Connor, 27, went on to appear in smash hit BBC drama Vigil, which saw Suranne Jones taking on the leading role of Amy Silva.

The series was hugely successful and became the UK’s most-watched new drama launch since Bodyguard in 2018, attracting over 13million viewers.

Complicated character: Connor Swindells has been among the Sex Education cast since its debut series and has been praised for his portrayal of Adam Groff

Complicated character: Connor Swindells has been among the Sex Education cast since its debut series and has been praised for his portrayal of Adam Groff 

Vigil followed the mysterious disappearance of a Scottish fishing trawler and a death on-board the submarine HMS Vigil – bringing the police into conflict with the Navy and British security service.

It won the International Emmy and secured a BAFTA nomination for Best Drama Series and will be returning for a second series, much to fans’ delight.

Connor also marked another huge career milestone when he secured a leading role in historical drama SAS Rogue Heroes alongside Jack O’Connell.

He portrays Colonel David Stirling, who was a founding member of the SAS, a commando force that operated behind enemy lines during the North African campaign of the Second World War.

His co-star Jack also portrays one of the founding members of the SAS, Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Mayne, while Alfie Allen and Dominic West also make up the cast.

Connor’s character Stirling was captured by enemy combatants in 1943 and Mayne (Jack) replaced him as commanding officer of the SAS, which was split into two factions the Special Raiding Squadron (SRS) and the Special Boat Section.

SAS: Rogue Heroes is adapted from Ben Macintyre’s book of the same name and follows the real-life Special Forces unit, showing how they were formed during the Second World War.

The first series, written by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, aired to huge acclaim late last year and a second series is expected to drop in 2024.

As well as earning a huge number of roles in UK cinema, Connor also made his massive Hollywood debut in the Barbie movie this year.

He portrayed one of the human members of the Mattel staff in the box office smash hit, seeing him bounce off American comedy star Will Ferrell in his scenes.

In his personal life, Connor also had a relationship with his Sex Education co-star Aimee Lou Wood, but the pair went their separate ways in 2020 and remain friends. 

Drama: After his big break in Sex Education, Connor starred in BBC drama Vigil alongside Suranne Jones, with the series winning an International Emmy

Drama: After his big break in Sex Education, Connor starred in BBC drama Vigil alongside Suranne Jones, with the series winning an International Emmy 

Historical role: Connor also marked another huge career milestone when he secured a leading role in historical drama SAS Rogue Heroes alongside Jack O'Connell

Historical role: Connor also marked another huge career milestone when he secured a leading role in historical drama SAS Rogue Heroes alongside Jack O’Connell

Cameo: As well as earning a huge number of roles in UK cinema, Connor also made his massive Hollywood debut in the Barbie movie this year

Cameo: As well as earning a huge number of roles in UK cinema, Connor also made his massive Hollywood debut in the Barbie movie this year

AIMEE LOU WOOD 

Aimee Lou Wood is best known as Maeve Wiley’s best friend Aimee Gibbs on Sex Education, much beloved for her upbeat and warm personality.

As well as featuring in humorous plots, her character was also part of an important and emotional storyline in season two, which followed her trauma after being sexual assaulted on a bus.

And her portrayal of the fan favourite character even saw her take home a BAFTA TV Award for Female Performance in a Comedy Programme back in 2021. 

While her role on Sex Education was her first ever major acting credit, Aimee, 29, has gone on to carve out a hugely successful career, with the Netflix drama launching her into stardom.

In 2020, Aimee – a RADA graduate from Stockport – appeared in a film adaptation of the play Uncle Vanya, starring alongside huge British names including Richard Armitage and Toby Jones.

She then went on to join the star-studded cast of The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, which saw Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy taking on the leading roles.

In another big project, she appeared alongside acting legend Bill Nighy in 2022 film Living, which follows a humorous bureaucrat as he takes time off work in 1950s London after receiving a grim diagnosis.

As well as her huge on-screen success, Aimee has also followed her passion for theatre and appeared in Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club for a three-month stint earlier this year.

Comedy: Aimee Lou Wood is best known as Maeve Wiley's best friend Aimee Gibbs on Sex Education, much beloved for her upbeat and warm personality

Comedy: Aimee Lou Wood is best known as Maeve Wiley’s best friend Aimee Gibbs on Sex Education, much beloved for her upbeat and warm personality

Hard-hitting: As well as featuring in humorous plots, her character was also part of a vital storyline in season two, which followed her trauma after being sexual assaulted on a bus

Hard-hitting: As well as featuring in humorous plots, her character was also part of a vital storyline in season two, which followed her trauma after being sexual assaulted on a bus

Wow! Her portrayal of the fan favourite character even saw her take home a BAFTA TV Award for Female Performance in a Comedy Programme back in 2021

Wow! Her portrayal of the fan favourite character even saw her take home a BAFTA TV Award for Female Performance in a Comedy Programme back in 2021

Notable: Aimee starred alongside Bill Nighy in 2022 film Living, which follows a humorous bureaucrat as he takes time off work in 1950s London after receiving a grim diagnosis

Notable: Aimee starred alongside Bill Nighy in 2022 film Living, which follows a humorous bureaucrat as he takes time off work in 1950s London after receiving a grim diagnosis




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