There’s very little about Emma Mackey that feels cliché. She has an effortless, utterly cool thing going on, someone who is delightfully untouched by Hollywood and seems like her social media presence is somewhat of an afterthought. But on a rare free afternoon break in New York between nonstop, multicontinent press for her Netflix series “Sex Education,” she found herself giving in to temptations of the downtown, Insta-friendly, indie darling lifestyle.
After a trip to the Whitney Museum, she wound up at The Butcher’s Daughter, tucked away reading, yes, a French novel.
“I was literally in the corner of the restaurant, on my own, with my little French book. And I was like, ‘What drink would you recommend?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh the green goddess.’ And I was like, ‘Fine, I’ll have that,’” Mackey recounts, with a helping of self-deprecation. “And I was there sipping on my green juice and I was like, ‘Emma, you have become such a cliché.’”
Within the span of a few years (and one role, as Maeve Wiley on “Sex Education”) Mackey has gone from being an unknown and crashing on friends’ couches in London to “seeing my f–king face everywhere,” as season two of the show kicks off, and sitting in the front row at the AMI show in Paris.
It’s been a roller coaster for the actress, now 24, who says she’s been surprised by how much more raw and emotional she feels this time around with season two (out now).
“What I’m still figuring out is I think this time around, I’m experiencing more anxiety than I did last year, because it was still so completely new. I didn’t have time to think about it,” Mackey says. “And now, I find it more overwhelming. I don’t know why, because I feel like I’ve never been more comfortable and more confident, but it’s really taken me aback this time.”
She knows herself though, and once the press tour dies down she’ll be back to feeling grounded.
“It’s all blessings. It’s all happiness and I’m very, I’m very happy…as soon as I get back home in London and have a little routine again and I’ll have my little simple life, I’ll be absolutely fine,” she says.
She might crave the simple life, but Hollywood is rather smitten with the discovery of Mackey.
Maeve is Mackey’s first professional role; she says acting has always been of interest, but she was never conscious of that desire when she was younger. She would play dress up out of a dressing box filled with finds from the local charity shop, putting on piano and dance performances with her brothers throughout the house.
“I still do it now. I still have my mad hour at home, and I just perform for my parents,” she says. “It was very much like that at home [growing up]. At school I was very serious and very studious and had my friends I would mess around with and have fun with, but I was very, very goody two shoes at school. So it was like playing out two versions of myself.”
She was 22 when she booked season one of “Sex Education,” having only a student TV film — “a s–t one” — to her name prior to that.
“You know how when they say that, if you’re looking for love it won’t happen, and if you’re not looking for it, it will? It was that — I was like, ‘I’m never going to get this,’” Mackey says. “It was a Netflix show. She’s 17 years old. I was 22, it was not going to work out. And so I was in disbelief.”
Now based in London, Mackey grew up in the northwest French countryside before moving to Leeds at 17 to attend university. Her father is French, her mother English, and she started studying language and literature in Leeds to “level the playing field” with her French schooling. She says simply that she “just wanted to start doing acting,” so moved to London to find acting classes and be closer to the action.
Maeve has won hearts as the saucy British comedy’s resident tough girl, who is too cool for school and presents more like a 27-year-old, but who is actually incredibly caring, bright and brainy.
“I’ll use this expression ‘a lone wolf,’ because I guess she is. She’s doesn’t really belong to any group of people,” Mackey says, noting that’s something she identifies with. “I don’t present myself like her. I think that we externalize our feelings differently, but I certainly experienced a similar kind of building up of walls and a toughness, and I think use her personality in my life a bit more now. If I ever need to stand up for myself, I switch on the metaphor.”
Mackey finished filming “Death on the Nile,” the sequel to “Murder on the Orient Express,” right before Christmas, an experience she describes as “completely surreal and very, very special and quite grown-up, all of a sudden.”
“I was like, ‘Oh, I’m wearing a wig and I’m wearing all these beautifully handmade dresses, and I’m working with Kenneth Branagh and Annette Bening,’” she says. “And it’s like, ‘Hello.’”
This spring she’ll head back to Paris to finish shooting on a French film called “Eiffel,” before hopefully returning for a third season of “Sex Education.”
“It can stop any time and I might not do this for the rest of my life. So I’m just really enjoying it as it is now,” Mackey says. “I’m just kind of in that mentality.”
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