Nathaniel J Hall (right) as Donald Basset in It's A Sin (Channel 4)
It’s a Sin star Nathaniel J Hall has shared his experience contracting HIV as a teenager, drawing parallels with the character he plays in the seminal AIDS drama.
Hall appears in episode three of It’s a Sin as Donald Bassett, who disappears one day after Ritchie spots the tell-tale Kaposi’s sarcoma lesions on his back.
The devastation of the disease is all too familiar to the actor, who caught HIV at the age of 16 after having sex for the first time.
“I was diagnosed very, very young,” he told Sky. “There was a lot of working through all that shame of being gay and trying to unpick all that homophobia that I’d internalized. And then [came] this other thing, I’d contracted this virus.
“I didn’t tell anyone, I didn’t tell my family and my friends – I told very few friends – until about 2017. And I think I thought I was dealing with it. You know, I just boxed it up, put it on a shelf, it was fine. I was like, it’s my life, it’s my medical record, I don’t need to tell anyone.”
Much like his on-screen boyfriend Ritchie, as a young man Hall never believed the virus could affect him until it was too late.
“When I was offered the test, actually, I refused, because I just thought I couldn’t possibly have caught it,” he admitted. “You know, I’m white, middle class, I was head boy at my school, I was like, it doesn’t happen to people like me, which is obviously a really ridiculous attitude to have because it can happen to anyone.
“But, yeah, I think it really wasn’t on my radar and there was a denial there because of the fear.” Fortunately, Hall was diagnosed well after the years of It’s a Sin and there were medications to help him manage the virus. Even so, he was given a life expectancy of around 37 to 40. It was a devastating prospect for a teenage boy, and he says it took him 15 years to come to terms with the diagnosis.
“To hear that at such a young age was very difficult. And I lived with the thinking that I could pass the virus on,” he said. “I lived with that fear, always, that I could pass it on to a partner, until about 2016 when the science was showing that I couldn’t pass it on.”
Thanks to medical advances, he no longer has to worry about the prognosis he was given when he was a teenager – and thanks to the preventative pill PrEP, he can’t transmit the infection to his HIV-negative partner. “It’s a revelation,” he says.
Alongside acting, Hall now works as an HIV activist to help normalize and spread awareness of HIV/AIDS. The message now is that “if you get it, you’re going to be fine, with the right support. You’re going to be happy and healthy”.
“It’s slightly surreal doing all this, all this stuff happening now,” he says, referring to the huge publicity around It’s a Sin. “If I go back to when I was 16, 17, going through that diagnosis…“If I could go back to that version of myself, you know… It turns out all right in the end.”