She is known for playing the selfless LGBTQ+ ally, Jill Nalder, in Russell T. Davies’ hit television drama, It’s a Sin.
And Lydia West has revealed just how tough it was to convey the harrowing real-life trauma of patients and their loved ones for the show, based on the 80s epidemic.
Speaking on the Make it Reign podcast on Tuesday, the actress, 27, said: ‘A wave of emotion came over me. I said…”I really need to call my mum. I’m not okay”.’
Harrowing: Lydia West has revealed just how tough it was portraying the harrowing real-life trauma of AIDS patients in It’s A Sin (pictured with co-star Olly Alexander)
She explained: ‘I just broke down and everything just came out. I went into a little room and I sat there for 15 minutes.
‘I called my mum but she didn’t pick up so I had a cup of tea, some chocolate, and then I just cried.
‘It was because we were on the AIDS ward for three weeks… It was modelled off one of the London hospital’s AIDS wards… there were locks in the doors.
‘You feel like you’re there and you just can’t help but sympathise and empathise with all these poor people that deal with this.’
‘I really need to call my mum. I’m not okay’: The actress, 27, cried on set when filming in wards that were modelled off real-life London AIDS hospitals with locks on the doors
Lydia, who is now busy filming a TV thriller alongside Uma Thurman, experienced her emotional overload when filming the death of her co-star Callum Scott Howells’ character Colin, who was undergoing treatment for AIDS in the show.
‘The hardest scene to film was the scene at Colin’s bedside, where Colin is in his last days’ the actress revealed.
Depicted as a virginal, unlucky-in-love member of the ‘Pink Palace’ friendship group that the series followed, the trainee tailor’s death packed a shocking emotional punch for audiences and cast members alike.
The scene harshly reminded viewers that the illness doesn’t discriminate between promiscuous and restrained people.
Haunting: ‘You feel like you’re there and you just can’t help but sympathise and empathise with all these poor people that deal with this,’ said the actress
‘What’s interesting is that sex at the time was so liberating and so fun and people were living their truth, having sex and having a great time,’ said Lydia.
‘Then suddenly the vocabulary that was associated with sex was AIDS and that carried on through the 90s and the 00s.’
‘I think it just goes to show how much work there is still to do on banishing homophobia, bi-phobia that’s out there. That is very much for the jobs of allies to do.
‘Being in the (queer) community, being black and being a woman, I celebrate it, I absolutely celebrate it.
Success story: It’s A Sin has already had 6.5 million views on All 4 (pictured, L-R, Omari Douglas, Nathaniel Curtis, Olly Alexander, Callum Scott Howells and Lydia)
‘I wouldn’t want to be anything else. It’s so special and… Your identity is your power. No one else can define who you are, it’s for you to decide. ‘ enthused the star.
The young actress revealed she is no stranger to discrimination in her own life
‘I think in my everyday life you face it, especially when you’re younger,’ she said. ‘I was surrounded by quite privileged white families and I knew that I was different.’
‘I think just understanding where you come from, trying to accept anyone for who they are, protesting for equal rights and just overall equality and fairness is really what all of humanity should be doing. We are all equal.’
Not done yet: Lydia thinks there’s still a long way to go to banish homophobia and bi-phobia that’s out there
HIV TRANSMISSION AND PREVENTION
You can get or transmit HIV only through specific activities, most commonly through sexual behaviors and needle or syringe use.
The FDA has approved more than two dozen antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV infection.
They’re often broken into six groups because they work in different ways.
Doctors recommend taking a combination or ‘cocktail’ of at least two of them.
Called antiretroviral therapy, or ART, it can’t cure HIV, but the medications can extend lifespans and reduce the risk of transmission.
1) Nucleoside/Nucleotide Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NRTIs)
NRTIs force the virus to use faulty versions of building blocks so infected cells can’t make more HIV.
2) Non-nucleoside Reverse Transcriptase Inhibitors (NNRTIs)
NNRTIs bind to a specific protein so the virus can’t make copies of itself.
3) Protease Inhibitors (PIs)
These drugs block a protein that infected cells need to put together new copies of the virus.
4) Fusion Inhibitors
These drugs help block HIV from getting inside healthy cells in the first place.
5) CCR5 Antagonist
This stops HIV before it gets inside a healthy cell, but in a different way than fusion inhibitors. It blocks a specific kind of ‘hook’ on the outside of certain cells so the virus can’t plug in.
6) Integrase Inhibitors
These stop HIV from making copies of itself by blocking a key protein that allows the virus to put its DNA into the healthy cell’s DNA.
It’s a Sin has been credited with boosting HIV awareness, with a sharp increase in numbers of the public taking tests.
‘It’s a huge part of British history that hasn’t been explored. I just feel really proud to have been selected, to have been involved in that,’ said Lydia.
‘People are sending me messages saying that they’ve gone home for the first time and spoken to their parents about their positive status,’ she revealed.
‘When people are sending you messages saying that they had many friends that died in the eighties and they remember the time or they wish to live in the pink palace, or they’re having dreams about Richie that just fills me with so much pride and joy,’ the star continued.
A spokesperson for the Terrence Higgins Trust told MailOnline: ‘There has been a surge in HIV test following the It’s A Sin effect.
‘This is the biggest ever National HIV Testing Week (1-7 Feb) with tests being ordered at a faster rate than we’ve ever seen before.
‘On Monday we saw a x4 increase on a “usual day” or National HIV Testing Week to over 8,000.
As a result, the Public Health England has released 10,000 additional HIV self-sampling tests due to demand to make sure tests continue to be available.’
Last week, the programme’s creator Russell T. Davies revealed that even the music legend Elton John had called the cast to voice his praise.
‘He phoned them up to congratulate them. That’s the man who’s raised half a billion pounds for AIDS research, so that was the ultimate [compliment], I think. That was the ultimate reward,’ said Russell.
It’s A Sin has already had 6.5 million views on All 4, making it the streaming service’s biggest ever instant box set, third biggest series to date, and most binged new series ever.
Lydia and her co-stars, including Years and Years frontman Olly Alexander, have shot to fame thanks to the series and now keep touch in a ‘Pink Palace’ Whatsapp group.
‘It’s nice to experience this with some of your best mates, but also people who understand as well,’ the star told Grazia.
‘We’re all overwhelmed and thankful and grateful and honoured to experience that as a team. And it is very much an ensemble piece.’
Information about HIV, other sexually transmitted infections and how to maintain good sexual health can be found out at https://www.tht.org.uk
WHY MODERN MEDS MEAN HIV IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE
Prior to 1996, HIV was a death sentence.
Then, ART (anti-retroviral therapy) was made, suppressing the virus, and meaning a person can live as long a life as anyone else, despite having HIV.
Drugs were also invented to lower an HIV-negative person’s risk of contracting the virus by 99%.
In recent years, research has shown that ART can suppress HIV to such an extent that it makes the virus untransmittable to sexual partners.
That has spurred a movement to downgrade the crime of infecting a person with HIV: it leaves the victim on life-long, costly medication, but it does not mean certain death.
Here is more about the new life-saving and preventative drugs:
1. Drugs for HIV-positive people
It suppresses their viral load so the virus is untransmittable
In 1996, anti-retroviral therapy (ART) was discovered.
The drug, a triple combination, turned HIV from a fatal diagnosis to a manageable chronic condition.
It suppresses the virus, preventing it from developing into AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), which makes the body unable to withstand infections.
After six months of religiously taking the daily pill, it suppresses the virus to such an extent that it’s undetectable.
And once a person’s viral load is undetectable, they cannot transmit HIV to anyone else, according to scores of studies including a decade-long study by the National Institutes of Health.
Public health bodies around the world now acknowledge that U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable).
2. Drugs for HIV-negative people
It is 99% effective at preventing HIV
PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) became available in 2012.
This pill works like ‘the pill’ – it is taken daily and is 99 percent effective at preventing HIV infection (more effective than the contraceptive pill is at preventing pregnancy).
It consists of two medicines (tenofovir dosproxil fumarate and emtricitabine). Those medicines can mount an immediate attack on any trace of HIV that enters the person’s bloodstream, before it is able to spread throughout the body.