‘I will always choose laughter’: Izuka Hoyle on Big Boys, Boiling Point and feeling brave | Izuka Hoyle

It was last New Year’s Eve, on a yoga mat, when Izuka Hoyle was brought to her knees in a moment of gratitude. “Classic Zuk fashion,” she says, rolling her eyes and grinning. She had been lighting candles for meditation practice when she was overcome by the speed of her own life. “I was just like, gosh, what a few years. We’ve come a way. I was feeling reflective, bruv!” She throws her head back and cackles loudly – she does this anytime she thinks she’s bordering on pretentious. But Hoyle does have a lot to be grateful for.

In just a few years she has gone from drama school to being handed a Scottish Bafta by Succession’s Brian Cox for her role as a French chef in the film Boiling Point, having never spoken a word of French before. That film then became a TV series on BBC One. In 2019, she appeared in Mary Queen of Scots, opposite Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan, and in 2022 in Persuasion, alongside Dakota Johnson. Now she is promoting the second series of the much-loved Channel 4 sitcom Big Boys, in which she stars as the unshakeable, bisexual Corinne. She’s recently turned 28 and, as she said in her Bafta acceptance speech, she has already achieved so many of the goals she set for herself not that long ago.

She still has some, of course, and lists them in the confident, self-possessed manner of someone who has no doubt they will happen if they work hard enough: she wants to do a play, she wants to get her black belt in kickboxing, she wants to portray a real-life sports person, she wants a dog. She describes herself as “witchy” (she’s into crystals) and “a woodland creature” (rather than a coastal one).

‘This industry comes with jealousy’: Izuka Hoyle wears jacket and trousers, both by Themis Z (matchesfashion.com); loafers by miumiu.com; and jewellery by mariatash.com. Photograph: Julia Kennedy/The Observer

Hoyle has 27 plants in the room she rents in a north London house-share; a 20ft Devil’s Ivy winds around the walls. When she talks about the things she loves – fresh air, wild water, the way Scottish people will tell you how they actually are when you ask them – what unites them is reality and authenticity. She craves the shock of being truly alive and present in the world, that feeling you get when you jump into the freezing sea in December. She also loves “forest bathing”, though she uses the Japanese term for it (shinrin-yoku), then catches herself. “Oh my God, don’t write that down!” she laughs, “That is the most obnoxious thing I’ve said today.”

In the interest of balance, it is my duty then to tell you she spoke almost romantically about her deep love of a king rib, a battered and deep-fried minced-meat thing you can buy in chip shops that is not remotely a rib. Because Hoyle is, above all, deeply and devotedly Scottish. She was born in Edinburgh and, after her younger sister arrived, the family moved to Dundee for her father’s work as a nurse. When they returned to the capital a few years later, all four of them crammed into one room of her grandmother’s house while they looked for somewhere to live. She says her “wee gran” is her hero; Hoyle even took her to the Baftas where she got to walk the red carpet.

‘The Scottish part of me has always remained the most true’: Izuka wears dress by Alemais (matchesfashion.com); shoes by terrydehavilland.com, jewellery by mariatash.com. Photograph: Julia Kennedy/The Observer

In Edinburgh, Hoyle grew up as one of the few people of colour in the predominantly white city (her dad is white, her mum is Nigerian). “There were only a few times I felt alienated by it, but it wasn’t something that was discussed,” she says. “So when it was brought up, somehow I would feel really…” she tenses her face. She’s still figuring out exactly how she felt. She searches for the right word, then recalls being in primary school when the TV was wheeled in on its trolley for the class to watch a documentary. “Someone of colour came on the screen and my heart rate went up.” Hoyle thumps her chest now at an anxious speed, her fluttering fingers a blur. “I was like, people are gonna know. It was a weird thing of being, like, outed to the class. My reaction to seeing somebody like me was panic – and feeling like eyes were suddenly going to be on me. I still haven’t really dissected moments like that.”

Hoyle left school at 16 (“My therapist hates it when I say this, but I was not academic”) and spent two years studying musical theatre in college – singing was where she thought her future lay. (In 2017, she appeared in a London production of the musical Six.) “I’ve always been wildly independent since I was little,” she says, when I ask if there were any doubts on that last day of school. “I was very curious and quite fearless.”

‘My reaction to seeing a person like me was panic’: Izuka wears coat by miumiu.com. Photograph: Julia Kennedy/The Observer

She spent those two years “running riot in Edinburgh” and planning her big move to London. She “fought to the death” for a scholarship to ArtsEd in Chiswick – one of the top drama schools in the UK – and won it. It was at one of those auditions, for a low-income place, that she became overwhelmed. Not by the idea of pursuing a job so famously unreliable in a new city, but by the sheer scale of diversity she encountered in London. There were just eight people waiting to audition and she had never been in a room with so many people who looked like her. “It fucked me up a little bit, just for a wee while,” she says, matter-of-factly. “I didn’t know how to interact.” Again, like that day in primary school, she panicked. She walked straight out of the room and phoned her best friend for reassurance.

What she didn’t know during that phone call was that everyone in that audition room would go on to form an intrinsic part of her own self-discovery. “The Scottish part of me has always remained the most true – that’s where I’m from – but my exploration into my heritage and into what it means for me to be a mixed-race person, and that experience versus the experience of being a black person, versus the experience of being raised by those people in predominantly diverse places like London versus Scotland…” she’s speaking quickly, the complications of identity and environmental variables all rolling and snowballing. “It was a whole thing.”

Hoyle spent time at their houses, with their parents, hearing patois for the first time. They were all Caribbean and she couldn’t get enough of Caribbean food. “They taught me how to move my body! We’d have nights upon nights in the room with the mirror and they’d be like, ‘Up and down and up – Zuks, your twerking is shit!’” She’s joyfully up-and-downing in her chair in the middle of the café to demonstrate how shit her twerking was.

‘I was curious and quite fearless’: in 2017’s Six the Musical. Photograph: Josh Bird

“London also meant being around more queer people and musical theatre people. But there was such an exploration into like, who am I? And who am I really – not who people will tell me who I look like. What’s my own experience?”

The idea of “chosen family” forms a huge part of the show Big Boys. It’s not a new idea; the American writer Armistead Maupin, most famous for his cult classic LGBTQ+ series Tales of the City, calls it a logical family, rather than biological. They are the people you meet when you need them the most. Within the queer community, chosen families have sustained generations when biological ones have been less than accepting, or just – in the manner of many loving families – gently, unintentionally stifling. “My platonic relationships are what’s made me,” says Hoyle. “They give me the space to explore things.” For many viewers of Big Boys, seeing their own kind of chosen family on screen is healing.

‘A lot of the queer community find solace in that show’: in Big Boys. Photograph: Channel 4

It’s this idea of feeling “seen” that Hoyle keeps coming back to when she’s talking about her roles. Not seen from the outside by others, like her childhood fear in the classroom, but an acknowledgement of existence, a connection through story that makes someone feel understood and therefore less alone. This hope extends beyond those who are something other than white and heterosexual, but to those that are carrying something heavy – the lost, the grieving, the assaulted.

In the TV series of Boiling Point, there is a moment where Hoyle’s character experiences sexual harassment at work. The new chef, Nick, is always leaning too close, making comments a little too intimate. She rejects him, he retorts that she’s “a little too big for (him) anyway”. She turns back to her station, ripping up herbs for a dish, while the roar of the kitchen dies away around her. Though undetectable to the rest of the kitchen, we the audience are under water with her: hearing nothing but her choked-back sobs. It is one of the few quiet moments in a show that is otherwise extreme stress and shouting; lasting only a few seconds, it is one that hits hard.

‘When women watch it they go: “That’s exactly what happened to me”’: in Boiling Point. Photograph: Kevin Baker/BBC/Ascendant Fox

“When Mounia (Akl, the co-director of the show along with creator Philip Barantini) and I spoke to other women, and shared stories from our own lives, what was obvious was the fact it was quite a lonely experience,” says Hoyle. “It wasn’t this big thing, which everybody sees. It’s very personal. And that adds to the violation of it. When women watch it they go: ‘That’s exactly what happened to me.’”

Another moment. Though Big Boys trades in anal douche jokes and repeated references to Alison Hammond, it’s a show that goes unexpectedly deep and is genuinely moving. In the second series, Hoyle’s character, Corinne, has an abortion. It’s not portrayed as a sob story, or one that passes judgement, however sympathetic, on what she has chosen to do.

Later, in the season’s final episode, she reacts badly to being handed a newborn baby and there is an assumption on the audience’s part – deliberately put there by creator Jack Rooke – that we’re about to hear the kind of breathless monologue of regret that anti-abortion campaigners believe follows every procedure. But we don’t. Corinne is upset about something else – something to do with the core of who she is, rather than feeling guilt over a cluster of cells that existed for a few weeks. “(The overturning of) Roe v Wade is very much still fresh, and it feels like there’s a war on women’s bodies, especially in America,” says Hoyle. “To have a character show how important it is for us to be able to decide – and also to own that decision – and to show that it’s not that that’s getting her down, but something much, much deeper?” She pauses. It all comes back to Rooke’s writing. “What Jack does so brilliantly is that he lures an audience in with very witty and hilarious jokes, to a point where they’re incredibly open and vulnerable, and then he smacks them in the face with our hard-hitting themes.”

‘We laugh through the hard moments’: with Big Boys co-star Olisa Odele. Photograph: Ash Knotek/Rex/Shutterstock for Channel Four

To the witchy and the wise, everything must have balance. With the dark, there is also the light. What Hoyle likes about Rooke’s work is he never leaves the audience hanging on shock or horror or hurt; he softens the landing and leaves you feeling OK. “I think that’s why a lot of people, and a lot of the queer community, find solace in that show. We as a British society, especially as a Scottish society, laugh through the hard moments. It’s a healing process – it’s laugh or cry and I’ll always choose laughter. It doesn’t mean you’re not dealing with it – you just need it to accompany it.”

Light is important to Hoyle. She has Lightly my darling, Aldous Huxley’s famous line from his novel Island, tattooed on the back of her neck. Her Instagram account is filled with quotes about shining brightly or not letting anyone dim your light – which she says are a kind of note-to-self. “I’ve seen people who fucking shone go through a couple of bad experiences or are rejected, and they’ll just lose themselves. The light will go out.” She looks, for the first time today, sorrowful. “This industry will come with jealousy and with pigeon-holing. I think the older you get, and the more you start to climb the ladder, it’s imperative that you hold on to your own light and remain the person you are.”

Part of that knee-weakening moment of gratitude on New Year’s Eve is that she knows there is so much more to come, and she’s ready for it. She’s excited. “I’m feeling a bit brave at the moment,” she grins. “So while I’m feeling brave, I’d like to make some decisions.” She’s talking about her career, and the myriad directions that are open to her, now that Boiling Point and Big Boys have pushed her into the spotlight. “Because your bravery can go…” she clicks her fingers in the air, “like that.”

Big Boys can now be streamed on Channel 4

Styling by Hope Lawrie; photographer’s assistant Mike Mills; makeup by Kenneth Soh at the Wall Group using Victoria Beckham Beauty and Ipsum Skin; shot at Bobby Fitzpatrick Bar

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