The last 12 months have been huge for rising British star Emma Mackey.
This time last year, Emma was a relative unknown with only a couple of credits to her name, but within the space of a few weeks, she found herself the break-out star of one of Netflix’s biggest shows of 2019, Sex Education.
Pretty much immediately, Sex Education became a huge hit with both critics and viewers, with the show eventually being named Netflix’s eighth most-watched of 2019, ahead of staple shows like Orange Is The New Black and Queer Eye.
As high school student Maeve Wiley, Emma won herself a legion of new fans, and has since gone on to land a role in Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming interpretation of Death On The Nile, where her co-stars will include Annette Bening, Armie Hammer, Jennifer Saunders and Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot.
With a new series of Sex Education now streaming on Netflix, we spoke to the actress about what’s made it such a juggernaut hit, and how her life has changed beyond recognition since the world took Maeve to their hearts...
Series one of Sex Education was so hugely popular, did the show’s success take you by surprise at all?
Of course! I had no idea what to expect, and we became – all of us – very, very close, the cast and crew included. So it was a lovely bubble to be a part of. And then suddenly, it belongs to the world, and it’s not your tiny little thing anymore. And once it’s out there, people... want to be friends with the characters, and want to be a part of that little warm bubble that is somewhere in Wales. People are really drawn to it. But yeah, it was a lovely surprise.
Was there a moment for you where you suddenly realised just how much impact the show had made?
There’ve been a few, I can’t think of, like, a big moment, but I think it’s just the positive feedback that we’ve had. I don’t really look at messages [online] or anything, but it’s really sweet receiving letters from people. I like that, it’s quite old school. I like when people actually write notes to you, I think that’s really touching.
And then yeah, the whole being recognised on the street thing is weird. But, you know, it’s lovely. It’s a new thing, a new way of life to adapt to.
What are the sorts of things people say to you in their letters, because Maeve is a character a lot of people will relate to?
Hmm… it’s more generally about the show, and they think Maeve is really cool. And that they want to be her friend. And I feel very protective of Maeve, so anything anyone says about Maeve that I agree with I’m like “we need to protect her at all costs. She needs to live her life and be happy”. We all just want her to be happy.
What about playing Maeve, and the show in general, are you the most proud of?
Oh so many things. I’m just generally very, very proud of our fight – we’ve started a movement, almost, I feel like it’s actually become quite a driving force. I’m just proud of the messages that it sends out and how warm and touching and accessible we’ve made it. It’s great that it’s on Netflix, because it gets to reach so many millions of people, who wouldn’t necessarily have that kind of chance on another platform. So that’s very cool.
What’s the biggest way that Sex Education has changed your life?
There’ve been a few ways. Professionally, the show has opened up a lot of doors, and I’ve been very lucky to meet and work with absolute living legends since the show came out. So I feel very, very thankful for that. And then, I think it’s just given me a tiny bit more confidence in myself, which is nice. So I’m keeping that and cherishing that and using it as a driving force for anything that comes next.
Sex Education will be a formative show for a lot of young people, what were the formative shows for you growing up?
Do you know what, I didn’t watch teen dramas, really. I think I was very, sort of, CBBC-oriented until I was relatively old. And then I watched Skins. And I thought I was really bad-ass. I think I watched teen movies when I was at uni, and I kind of got educated there on things like Mean Girls, Clueless, Breakfast Club.
It’s weird, I always talk about Tracey Beaker, yeah? But Tracey Beaker was such a good show. And I remember it quite well, and I just thought it was really cool because it was all about foster kids and growing up and putting a bunch of kids with different backgrounds all in one space together and seeing how they grow up together. It’s kind of similar to what we’re doing but… not as much sex involved!
What sets Sex Education apart from early teen dramas, like Skins?
A few things, but I think it’s generally very refreshing for people to see a show like that because I think it’s very truthful, I think it’s very warm and is quite wholesome, weirdly. Even though there’s a lot of silliness that goes on, it’s very touching, and I think people want to root for the characters, and they find themselves, certainly, in a few of the characters. I think it brings people together like that. And it’s helpful! It’s become a tool for people, which is really good. It’s become a healthy conversation-starter.
The second series of Sex Education is now streaming on Netflix.