Wearing a miniskirt, Dr Martens and black bomber, with bleached pink hair Emma McKay made her smashing entrance just a year ago in the high school courtyard of the English series Netflix Sex Education.
The French-British actress plays Maeve Wiley, one of the main roles in the series. Maeve is a rebellious, brilliant and lonely teenager, who rejects all emotional connection and authority, hiding deep within her a great empathy and many wounds. Now, as season two of Sex Education has just been released, Emma McKay has become a household name: a meteoric rise from drama school to one of the leading roles in a series acclaimed by audiences and critics in just two years.
On the back of her quick rise to fame, she also was tapped to play Jacqueline de Bellefort, with the British director and actor Kenneth Branagh who entrusted her with one of the most beautiful roles in his new adaptation of Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie alongside Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer. The film will be released next fall on the big screen.
L’Officiel sat down with the actress to discuss, her rise to fame, bilingual upbringing and of course, Maeve Wiley.
Contrary to what one might think when you hear her very British accent in Sex Education, Emma McKay was born and raised in France in the Sarthe, between a French father and an English mother, a perfectly bilingual and bicultural universe: “My British family is very music and theatre focused. When I was little, I played characters, I dressed up. It has always been part of me, part of my upbringing. My teenage dream was the Royal Shakespeare Company. I went there at 16 for the first time to see a production with my parents, and I thought ‘that is what I want’. However, it took until when I was studying literature at the University of Leeds, for me to understand that it was possible to make it a profession. In the first semester, I staged a play, and then I met people who had the same passion and I started auditioning.” On Sex Education, she finds the same spirit of troupe, in a different, very rural setting of the Wye Valley between Wales and England: “We lived on those shoots like we were in a bubble: we saw each other every day, we worked very intense on a campus, and it lasted four months. The alchemy we see on the screen comes from there. A troupe where everyone adores each other supports each other; it’s great.”
Viewed as the successor of the Skins TV series, Sex Education is full of endearing characters: Jean Milburn played by Gillian Anderson (the Scully of X-Files), a therapist, her son Otis (Asa Butterfield), a somewhat unexperienced teenager but therapist at heart. In high school, Otis opens a therapy practice with Maeve whom he is secretly in love with. Other key characters who flourish in season 2 include Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), best friend of Otis, and Adam (the extraordinary Connor Swindells), a misunderstood bully. Maeve, on the other hand, is the only “little adult” of the group living alone in the caravan for which she pays the rent. A very nice role for Emma who likes the ambivalence of her character: “This season is a little darker, more thorough, we see everyone grow, there’s a sense of emancipation about it and I find it beautiful, It’s very raw writing, sometimes even heartbreaking. It broke my heart to shoot some scenes between Maeve and her mother (a former addict), but it’s a challenge I love, I live for it.” Finally, Sex Education talks about everyone, all identities. It’s a fun series but above all benevolent, she speaks to Gen Z but also to others.
Emma saw a radical change of scenery for a few months after finishing season two, she found herself in the luxurious but lethal world imagined by Dame Agatha Christie alongside a prestigious cast in Egypt. The actor is still visibly stunned by this experience: “during these two surreal months, I got up in the morning as if I was on a spring: it was a joy from start to finish.” Kenneth Branagh, filmmaker and actor but a man of theatre above all, always spots the actors with an unparalleled flair. An excellent sign for Emma who was blown away by “Mr. Shakespeare”: “to be guided and educated by him, to create my character and fine-tune it in a very technical, quite “conservative” way, it was extraordinary. For Jacqueline, I took voice and choreography classes. There was a fantastic, very sensual atmosphere with beautiful costumes and light. Even though I was a bit of a “baby” of the group, I felt like a woman for the first time in this adult film.” Emma is only 24 years old and has a meteoric career behind her, but we cannot wait to see where her star will lead her.
Photographer : Guen Fiore
Styling :Vanessa Bellugeon
Hairstyle: Walter Armano.
Makeup: Megumi Itano.
Photo assistant: Francesco Zinno.
Styling assistant: Gabriela Cambero.