When Netflix series Sex Education first launched on the streaming platform, it became an instant hit. The comedy-drama series revolves around a teenage boy, whose mother is a sex therapist, setting up a business with his classmate to dish out sex advice in school. It garnered rave reviews when it first debuted, garnering a viewership of more than 40 million.
Given its success, it’s not surprising that it was renewed for a second season. We speak to Emma Mackey, who plays Maeve Wiley, the quintessential cool girl who is the no-nonsense quick-witted co-partner of the sex therapy business, on her character and what we can expect for season two.
Emma’s life turned 180 degrees when Sex Education dropped.
“How am I handling it so far? Well I think I’m very lucky because we’re all—the whole cast—we’re all very down-to-earth and we care about each other, so we’re kind of navigating through this whole thing together, which is really lovely. I’ve got really lovely agents who look after me, take care of me and point me in the right direction. I’ve got family and friends who support me as well. So yeah, it’s going all right. It can be overwhelming at times, but you know, that’s just life.”
With the rain blasting in my background, the questionable network connection and the Emma saying, “I’m so sorry, can you repeat that, love?”, multiple times, it was far from a perfect interview. But talking to Emma was like talking to a friend on the phone—there was no pretence, no nerves.
And that’s exactly how the show let us feel.
“We’re like a family, like we get along really well—and actually last night, we were all having dinner,” said Emma, when we asked about her relationship with the cast. “We speak to each other a lot and I have a lot of time and affection and care for everyone and we’re very lucky to be part of that weird and wonderful group. It’s as lovely as you’d imagine.”
What’s the filming process like on Sex Education?
It’s amazing—it’s kind of like a whirlwind. It’s four months of the year, but it goes so quickly, it’s mad. It feels like a mini-film basically, there’s so much to prepare and the pace is kind of electric. It’s filming all the time and you don’t really have time to go off in your own bubble. I personally love it because I don’t want to be thinking about anything else. So yeah, we’re in our weird little bubble all together.
How did the opportunity to play Maeve come along?
I always get asked this haha. But my agent sent me the script and said, “Are you up for this?” and I was like “Yeah, I’m up for this.” I was actually doubting it a little because I’ve never done this, and they needed someone who’s done this job before. I mean, they’d be ridiculous to hire someone whose never been on camera before. Then I got the job and I was like, OK! So, yeah, I think it kind of came about, again, like quite randomly I suppose, but yeah, it just felt right. Everything made sense and I went for it. I think unexpected things are the best. The best things do come unexpectedly, like anything in life. Like don’t plan life out, just go with the flow. Have a bit of wine, see what happens. That’s where you have the most fun.
What was it about her that made you want to play the role? And how did you prep for it?
What everyone likes about her is what I like about her. When I read the script and read Maeve as a part of that ensemble, it made so much sense. And it made so much sense for me to want to play the part because she’s amazing. She’s written really, really beautifully, so it’s such a joy to get stuck to a character like that—someone who’s strong and young and has her whole life ahead of her.
In terms of process, it’s a very intimate thing for each actor. But for me, I guess it’s lots of music, creating playlists for her. It’s finding myself with my female friends around me and finding their strengths, and what makes them funny and what makes them scary or what makes them unapologetic, and what they care about. I guess just drawing inspiration from my life.
You do take inspiration from your life, so do you think you and Maeve have a lot of similarities?
I guess so, but really, all I’m doing is interpreting the words on the page and giving the audience a version of what Maeve could be. A lot of it is being left with amazing scripts and having a character, and then I get to bring it to life and that’s the fun part—me and Maeve aren’t necessarily similar. I’m not like her, I don’t present myself like her, I don’t act like her in my life but I certainly learnt from her and how she drives her life.
Let’s talk about Sex Education Season 2. What can you tell us about it?
I can tell you that it’s a 2.1 version of what you’ve already seen. It’s colourful and unapologetic, there are a lot more details—all the characters get that, which is really fun to play. Maeve and Amy spend a lot more time together, which is really fun—I’m particularly happy about that. It’s gonna be a delight. I can’t wait!
What do you think makes the show really special?
I don’t know, I guess you have to ask people who watch it. I’m a fan of the show even though I’m in it. I think that is testament, a credit to the show itself that we all love it and are so proud of it and want to share it to the world. I think the writing is like the core of all of this. The reason it works well is because it’s well-written and the concept is completely unique. But it makes so much sense. You say it’s really realistic and you’re right, but I think what we’re trying to do and what we’ve achieved are creating a world that is fictional, and very colourful and very Netflix, but the core of it is all of our lives. I think that’s the best way of describing it really.
You mentioned in an interview that you have an interest in directing. How did that come about?
When I moved to uni, the first thing I learned to do was to direct a play. Which I’ve never done before, I never had the chance to do it back home. It’s interesting because that was the first thing I leaned towards, as opposed to acting. Directing a play is very different from directing a film, you know what I mean? I really love the technical side of things—I love lighting and the cameras. I love the idea of just working with a script from the beginning and seeing it turn into a screen baby. So much work goes into it and I really think I would really enjoy it. It would be a process that I’d love to be a part of.
Is there a type of movie you’d like to direct?
No, not really. I don’t think it’s for now, I think it’s for another time in my life. Y’know, the unexpected thing—it’ll probably happen like that. Like, I don’t wanna plan it, I think it’ll just happen naturally and organically and that’s the best way.
What’s the best advice you can give?
It’s a bit cliché maybe, but take your work seriously, but not yourself seriously. That’s kinda like my motto. Also, face your front is another one, which I spoke about loads. Y’know, Ncuti Gatwa who plays Eric, that’s his thing. That’s like his mantra. It’s basically means focus on your path, don’t look left, don’t look right, don’t compare yourself to other people. It’s not going to bring good or warm positive energy into your life. Just focus on yourself be good to people, work hard and good things will happens. Do you know what I mean? It’s very simple but it works.
Sex Education Season 2 is currently airing on Netflix.
Text: Aina Nur Sarah / CLEO Malaysia / January 2020
Images: Sam Taylor/Netflix