With bleached pink hair and wearing a miniskirt, Dr. Martens, and a bomber jacket (a little goth, a lttle punk, but above all fierce), Emma Mackey made her sensational debut a year ago in the Netflix series Sex Education. She plays Maeve Wiley, a brilliant but rebellious social outcast and "bad girl", who hides her insecurities behind a biting sarcasm.
And with Season 2 of Sex Education having been released earlier this year, Emma Mackey has become much more than an ingenue. She is a bona fide star, who has skyrocketed from drama school to one of the leading roles in a critically acclaimed series.
She also caught the eye of famed British actor and director Kenneth Branagh, who has entrusted her with the role of Jacqueline de Bellefort — alongside Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer — in the new screen adaptation of Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie, which will hit cinemas sometime next fall.
Contrary to what one might think when watching Sex Education, Mackey was born and raised in Sarthe, France to a French father and English mother, a perfectly bilingual and bicultural universe.
“My British family loves music and theatre very much. As a child, I played characters, I dressed up. It has always been part of me, of my education. My dream as a teenager was the Royal Shakespeare Company. I went there at 16 for the first time to see a production of Much Ado About Nothing with my parents, and it moved me deeply. I said to myself, that's what I want. But I had to go to the University of Leeds to study literature before I understood that it was possible to make a career out of acting. In my first semester, I staged a play, and then I met people who had the same passion and I started auditioning.”
In Sex Education she found this same shared spirit, in a different, very rural setting in the Wye Valley between Wales and England.
“We lived the shoots as in a bubble: we saw each other every day, we worked very intensely on a campus, and it lasted four months. The chemistry we see on the screen comes from there. A group where everyone adores and supports each other. It was great opportunity."
A worthy successor to Skins, Sex Education features a cast of tremendously endearing characters: Jean Milburn played by Gillian Anderson (also known as Scully in the X-Files), a sexologist who often argues with her son Otis, played by Asa Butterfield (a favourite of Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton), a teenager ill at ease with himself but a therapist at heart. Other important characters who flourish in Season 2 include Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), Otis' best friend, and Adam (the extraordinary Connor Swindells).
Maeve is the only “adult” in the group, living alone in a rented caravan. Mackey loves the ambivalence of her character.
“This season is a little darker, more in depth, we see everyone growing up, becoming emancipated, and I find it beautiful, sometimes even heartbreaking. It broke my heart to shoot certain scenes between Maeve and her mother, but it's a challenge that I love. I live for that."
Sex Education talks about all identities (bi, hetero, gay, lesbian etc.) to everyone, without drama and with humour and honesty. Paraphrasing the legendary “Nobody's perfect” from Some Like It Hot, one could say that Sex Education demonstrates that perfect sexuality does not exist. A fun series but above all benevolent, it speaks not only to Gen Z but also to all ages. Mackey confirms that, saying, "We have created unique characters but it is still a tool; we are not there to tell the truth but to support open discussions on sexuality.”
In a radical change of scenery, just months after having finished Season 2 of Sex Education, Mackey found herself in the luxurious but lethal world of Dame Agatha Christie, filming in Eypt alongside a cast of renowned actors. This hard worker is still stunned by the experience. “During these two surreal months, I woke up in the morning as if on a spring; it was a joy from start to finish.”
Kenneth Branagh, actor and director but above all a man of the theatre, always identifies actors with an unparalleled flair. An excellent sign for Mackey, who was amazed by “Monsieur Shakespeare”.
"To be guided and instructed by him, to create my character and refine it in a very technical, fairly 'drama school' way, it was extraordinary. For Jacqueline, I took voice and choreography lessons. There was a fantastic atmosphere, very sensual with magnificent costumes and light. Even if I was a bit of the 'baby' of the group, I felt like a woman for the first time in this film, an adult."
Emma may be only 24 years old, but with a year of meteoric success under her belt, we can't wait to see where her star will lead her.