Breakout star of Netflix’s hit show ‘Sex Education’, Emma Mackey, sat down with Reggie Yates for Belstaff’s original podcast series ‘The Road Less Travelled’ to talk risk-taking, playing cool characters and nonconformity. Incredibly, the British teen rom-com was watched by 40 million subscribers within one month of its January premiere, and Yates was keen to speak to Mackey about confounding expectations, the choices she’s made that have led her to where she is now, and of course, her bad-ass character in the show – Maeve Wiley.
So, is she one to take risks?
Mackey tells Yates that she reckons she’s in the middle somewhere –while she makes some risky decisions these days, she doesn’t necessarily act on impulse. She does in fact prefer to be a little bit careful, which is quite a contrast from her on-screen character in ‘Sex Education’.
If you haven’t yet seen the show, it follows the lives of sex therapist Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson), her socially awkward son Otis and his bold – yet big-hearted – crush, Maeve.
Maeve Wiley was her first acting job. So how has she managed to deal with the overnight global success? Mackey reveals how taken aback she is when people come up to her in the streets of London and tell her how much they love the show and her role in the series. She explains how she still finds it completely mental.
How would Mackey describe her character Maeve?
Mackey agrees with Yates in that her character has been well-received because she knows herself – and will never be changed by anyone. She is very observant, understands people and has an unapologetic nature, which Mackey states is attractive in anyone.
After reading the script, Mackey reveals how she thought Maeve was the coolest – and a real driving force in the story. She discusses how these types of roles help to define careers a lot of the time: ‘If you are playing a character on the side lines, you don’t get to dive in as much because you rely on other characters to carry your story. If the character you’re playing is a driving force, you can craft the character better and bring it to life’.
Just how much of Emma is in Maeve? Mackey doesn’t know and tells Yates it’s impossible to give a ratio. She does however believe that their cores are the same.
What was life like growing up?
Mackey explains that her youth was spent in the north west of France, a lovely place to grow up, so when she moved to UK city Leeds aged 17, it was quite a change. She tells Yates that going from a quaint, rural area to a big northern industrial city was brilliant and actually, she loved it. While it took her a little while to find her feet, Mackey says she adapted to her surroundings quite quickly – ‘which is something us humans are good at’.
What’s her biggest fear?
Mackey hates the thought of being mediocre – or a cliché. She says she couldn’t imagine how awful it’d be if someone told her that she was only ‘alright at acting’. She tells Yates that she doesn’t ever want to be average at something.
Much like her character Maeve, she also doesn’t want to conform. In ‘Sex Education’, Maeve makes a bold statement: she wears a lot of makeup, has tattoos, a nose piercing and loves punk music. However, she desperately wants to belong.She wishes she had a home, and people to love her.
Because Maeve doesn’t have any of those things, she tries to overcompensate and forge her own path. Much like a Belstaff leather jacket, her character is extremely tough and strong – and unafraid to stand out from the crowd.
Was it embarrassing for her when her mum watched the show?
Mackey is no stranger to sex scenes within the show, so naturally Yates had to ask what her mum’s feedback was.It was very positive, she says. Mackey explains how her mum looked past the sex scenes,and instead fell in love with the story and the show’s message.
On set, an intimacy co-ordinator ensured that the actors were all looked after and helped to feel as comfortable as possible during scenes. Because TV and film has changed so much in the recent past, Mackey describes how there is no room for error these days. She says how great it feels to be part of the movement.
Who has inspired her to do things differently?
‘My mum’, she states.Growing up, she tells Yates how her mum was obsessed with learning French, then moved to France and met her dad. Mackey highlights her mum’s charity work and reveals how she has tutored for many years. She thinks that her mum’s approach to life is lovely. Any other inspirations? ‘Beyoncé’. She’s a super fan.
Is she currently on the path that she will be on for her whole future? Or is she on a ‘just for now’ journey?
While she’s currently doing her dream job, Mackey illustrates that she’s good at other things, and can’t wait to explore them later on in life. For now, though, she says that her job is a joy – which is great to hear, because we enjoy watching her!