Most actors will tell you that what led them to their current role was careful selection, deliberation, direction. Jemima Kirke makes it clear that, like most of us, she wants a job, first and foremost.
“I’m no different than any other person working in terms of just needing to have work,” Kirke says over the phone. “Obviously I’m different in many ways. But I mean, I’m no different in that I need to be working. And I try not to leave too long between jobs.”
Kirke famously broke out in “Girls” after her friend Lena Dunham tapped her for the project, and cue instant adoration for her effortless cool-girl vibe. Since then she’s been acting here and there but reemerges this weekend in the cult favorite Netflix series “Sex Education,” joining the third season.
Kirke was offered the role of the new headmistress, Hope, after expressing her love for the show to whomever she came in contact with who was involved.
“I guess I had told them that I was a fan of the show. And in the way that I guess actors do sometimes, reach out to other people in the industry to congratulate them or tell them you love what they’re doing, but also with the sort of subtitle of, ‘Hey, I’d work with you if there is ever the moment for it,’” she says. Months later, that moment came to be when she was sent the description for a cool and collected headmistress who had big plans for turning the school around with strict rules that might not sit well with the students.
“I related to her in a few ways. The character reminded me of a sort of exaggerated aspect of myself. And it was fun to have the opportunity to take that piece of myself and turn it into an entire personality for a character,” Kirke says.
The show is beloved for its very British sense of humor toward young people and sex (it follows a series of high schoolers in the U.K., one of whom’s mother — played by Gillian Anderson –– is a sex therapist (is there anything more embarrassing?).
“I love the approach that they use to talk about sex, which is quite a wholesome one on it, without puritanical intent or without making sex into something that should, or shouldn’t be done in any way,” Kirke says. “It’s just nice to see sex in this loving and warm way, I guess. Obviously it’s a positive spin on casual sex and it’s rare that you see that on TV.”
Since “Girls,” Kirke has done a few TV roles but not a full season of any show — and while lots of actors find comfort in the known rhythm of a TV job, she says she wasn’t looking for anything in particular — just fueled by a desire to work and make something interesting. She’s not even that concerned with constructing a career or her public image, for that matter — which, of course, is entirely part of her appeal.
“[I’m] definitely one project at a time. I know that other actors or celebrities have more of a plan or even strategy around their careers, but I really don’t. I’m not that interested in carving out a career or an image. I don’t have a plan,” Kirke says. “And that’s for better or worse, because, I can, in interviews for example or social media, or any outlet that gives me exposure, I actually don’t have an agenda for how this will look. So sometimes I say things that I regret, because I’m not really concerned with how it looks. And I’ll regret it because I might say something that I want to keep private, that I was just always talking in a relaxed manner and it came out. Or I say something that I don’t even know if I believe, but I was just spitting ideas. And also, I’m not that strategic about what projects I pick. I can be picky, because I want it to be something I enjoy, but I’m not strategically choosing things that will dictate how people see me, or that will manipulate people into seeing me in a certain way. I don’t really know anything about that.”
She’s in Northern Ireland shooting the TV adaptation of “Conversations With Friends,” the first novel from breakout author Sally Rooney.
“Not a lot happens narrative-ly in the story. I mean, things happen, but it’s not an eventful story,” she says of the project. “It’s sort of told in terms of the relationships between the characters and within the conversations. And so it’s kind of a bit of a challenge, I suppose.…It needs to be told with sort of nuance and subtlety, but with a lot of care within the dialogue. I mean, actually, everything has to have meaning and has to have relevance, even a moment of asking if someone’s [OK]. You know? It’s those kinds of moments that are actually of those kinds of moments of mundaneness, or domesticity, or everyday actions that are really fun for an actor, or for me at least, to sort of find the point in it all, the story within it.”