It is a nice leading role. In Sex Education, actress Emma Mackey as Maeve, a young girl—pink hair, piercings and miniskirt—is intelligent, generous, sexy, funny, but brazen and rebellious too. Unapologetic describes the young Franco-British. She is as fluent in English as in French. Indeed, Maeve does not apologise for her presence and gives the ‘finger of honour’ to those who look at her too closely.
Her character is very different than that of Emma, who is just 23 years old and is more reserved than the character she portrays. “I can never take the first step,” she says, however open and welcoming. “I was asked if I was using my French side for playing Maeve. In retrospect, I believe yes. She is direct, she is not polite.”
Behind the scenes
A strong role in a funny and sassy series, around a subject, that is omnipresent, and yet, a taboo - sex. Released in January, the comedy fits in the high school drama formula of Netflix, in line with 13 Reasons Why, Stranger Things, Riverdale or the new Elite, vintage costumes included. “Timeless,” Emma says.
She tells the story of Otis (Asa Butterfield), who has big blue eyes; Jean (Gillian Anderson), who raised him alone and is a sexologist who assumes a liberal and fickle sexuality. Despite his total lack of experience in this domain—he is a virgin and is unable to pleasure himself—Otis opens an informal cabinet of sex therapy in his school, with Maeve’s coaxing and help.
Overall, the series is more funny than torrid. Subtle as well. We meet different personalities and sexualities. Homosexuality, transformism, coming out, self-acceptance, also revenge porn, the series approaches the themes and the situations long neglected by mainstream media. “The aim is not to show sex all the time, but to narrate friendships among people, and relationship with parents. This is what gives a universal character to the series.”
The current flows. Notably for Maeve and Jackson, lover on the screen and whose love scenes give an impression that young people do this all the time. “Everything was choreographed, we were giving ourselves some time. We rested five seconds in this position and kissed,” she explains, laughing. With Jackson (Kedar Williams Stirling), student model and an athlete of high level, she knots a spirited physical relation but is reluctant to the idea of sharing more than her body.
“They were totally different spiritually. This allowed her to not to share emotional weight. I think we all, at one moment in our lives, feel it is hard to be emotionally open even with your friends. It is very interesting to explore.”
The series came at a good time because 2018 was never the year for tendering freedom of speech on Internet. We knew the aversion of social networking for the female body parts, the last bastions of erotic freedom. So is Tumblr which has just banned adult content on its platform, which was also considered by the LGBTQ community as a space of exchange and discovering oneself free from judgements.
Emma expects this series to be the catalyst of these discussions. “Our generation is rather at ease with conversations about sex and pleasure. Sex is not just about body parts. We all have understood that it is more diverse and nuanced. Being able to talk about it gives confidence, it is liberating.”
A feminist look which sticks well with the series, marked by strong feminine roles and some moments of subtle but capable sorority. We will not go into the details, but the subject visibly touched Emma. “These are intimate moments but with strong symbolism. There is nothing more beautiful than solidarity in women. All our lives, we learn to be in competition. I have spent enough of my energy in comparing myself with other women, it does not help.”
Feminist, LGBTQ, a casting that represents the diversity… the perfect woke series? “This is the balance,” defends the actress. “It is not a question of ticking boxes, but we are talking about the youngsters who have a range of things to explore and who are trying to find their place in the world.”