Acting, break ups, insecurities, bullying and fashion preferences: Aimee Lou Wood opens up.
Aimee Lou Wood thinks it’s her accent, broadly and proudly Mancunian, that makes her funny. “When people laugh, I always think, ‘So much of what you’re finding funny is the way I talk,’” she says. “And I get that. As northerners, we use our mouths so much to speak, and that in itself is weird.”
Whatever the cause, she’s on point in Netflix’s juggernaut series Sex Education, in which she plays another Aimee – the joyful popular girl with the big party house, who would much rather crack a joke than bare her vulnerable side. But if the first season was the one in which Wood delivered some of the best lines (“They told me in the audition that I pretty much won the part because of the way I said, ‘I’m losing my shit!’” Wood laughs), season two was the one that showed her depth as an actor, with Wood placed at the centre of a harrowing sexual assault storyline in which Aimee is abused on a bus. “I think most women have been publicly harassed or assaulted by a man,” she says. “Unfortunately, it is the norm. But playing it out was hard.” A high point of the series, Aimee’s cry of, “I’m gonna keep smashing stuff!” seemed to become a clarion call for all women’s rage.
When we meet, Wood is tackling another emotionally demanding role, the lovelorn Sonya in Chekov’s Uncle Vanya, on the West End stage. Even so, her default mode is lighthearted, as we discuss everything from bullying to her recent split from her Sex Education co-star Connor Swindells (who plays Adam Groff, the headmaster’s son). She’s even funny about heartbreak, while admitting that it’s sad. “Oh it is,” she says. “It’s very, very amicable and I love him so much, but it still hurts.” She raises a hand to her mouth, sensing that she’s becoming maudlin. “Oopsie!”
Still, no matter where her growing fame may take her, Wood is serious about one thing. “I’m not going to be one of those famous people who thinks just gracing you with their presence is amazing,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I hate that. So many actors think it’s acceptable to give the bare minimum. I mean, don’t be a dick.” She shrugs. “It can’t be that hard, right?”
You’re halfway through the run of the play Uncle Vanya. How are you finding it?
Oh, it’s so emotional. My character cries loads and it’s hard to sleep afterwards. When I get home, there is so much adrenaline kicking around my body. I’ve gotten into this routine where I have dinner before I go on, but then I end up ordering from Deliveroo on the way home and I stay up and eat (laughs). There’s this pitta place near me and I’ve become obsessed with their Greek salad and hummus.
You mentioned your recent breakup. When something’s going on in your personal life, does it affect your performance?
It’s actually helpful (laughs). My speech at the end of Uncle Vanya is quite a big one and it’s all, ‘We will carry on’. The day the breakup happened, everyone in the cast was like, “Wow, your speech was amazing.” Of course it was. It takes shit stuff to make your acting really good.
The sexual assault storyline in Sex Education drew a huge response from viewers. What was it like to play?
It was a real honour, because Aimee’s storyline was based on something Laurie (Nunn, the show’s creator) experienced. She went through a similar scenario, and it was so well written. The scene in the police station afterwards, when Aimee farted, that bit really warmed my heart. You still laugh with your best mate, even when the worst crap is happening. And it was so Aimee to have a fart in there.
Do you feel like you’re similar to Aimee in real life?
It’s freaky how similar we are. And then obviously we’ve got the same name, spelled the same way, which is another coincidence. She really makes me laugh, but I think we’re both that person who always wants to be happy and skippy, even if it means putting a brave face on. The worst thing could be happening but you wouldn’t know it because we’re dancing around the place, doing high kicks.
You originally auditioned for the role of Lily, how did you end up as Aimee?
I went in three times to read for Lily and I thought she suited me because she was originally supposed to wear braces. I just thought, ‘It’s a Netflix show, I’m not going to get on there with my teeth.’ But they ended up calling me back for Aimee, and she just is me.
Do you feel like your teeth have been a barrier when it comes to landing roles?
No, I don’t. It’s completely in my head. It’s a myth I’ve told myself. I had it in my brain that I’m not conventional-looking enough and that’s a mental barrier I’ve had to overcome.
Has it impacted your confidence?
Oh, so much. I’d always be super confident when I went to theatre auditions but if it was a TV thing I’d be so shocked when I got a recall. I sometimes thought, ‘Oh, a Channel 4 thing, I might have a chance on there.’ Then Sex Education came along and I was like, ‘Well, what have I seen on Netflix? Everyone has perfect Hollywood teeth.’ And now, of course, I’m getting hundreds of messages from people going, “Oh my god, you’ve got teeth like mine. Now I go to school and people think I’m cool because I look like Aimee.” Instead of it being “Bugs Bunny” or whatever. Because that’s what happened to me. Georgia May Jagger became the face of Rimmel London when I was at school and all of a sudden it went from me being goofy to, ‘Oh, you’re a bit of a model, aren’t you?’ So I want to thank Georgia May Jagger for representing the buck teeth.
Is it true that you recently got in touch with a boy who bullied you at school?
The first season of Sex Education was about to come out, so I was feeling on the verge of exposure. I was really drunk with my friend and I messaged him on Instagram. It was quite a self-righteous rant, like, “Thank you for making me who I am” (laughs). But actually, he sent back the nicest reply. He said he’d been feeling guilt and shame about it for a long time – he’d been having an awful time at home when he was bullying me and he’d never been able to express how sorry he was. He was quite horrendous to me. I’m not sure why I bugged him so much. I think it was to do with being very popular, even though I was also very weird. I don’t think he could get his head around that.
What makes you think you were weird?
Well, put it this way: at primary school, I had an imaginary dog. “Kenny! Kenny! I’ve lost Kenny!” I would be crying and everyone would be running about looking for him in the bushes (laughs). That was in year five, far too old to be doing that kind of shit, but it was such a safe and lovely environment. It was at secondary school that things became more difficult.
You grew up in Stockport. What was life like at home?
My mum was a constant, consistent presence, but otherwise it was very turbulent. My dad was a drug and alcohol addict and he was always coming and going. He would go out for a pint and not come back for days. He once went out and didn’t come back for 10 weeks because he’d been to the World Cup in Korea. He was a party animal on the scene in Manchester so he would hang out with celebrities and Manchester City football players; he had a massive ego, so that gave him validation. Because of him, my mum had to carry a lot on her shoulders. She tried to protect us, and took responsibility for it, in a way. When she was a kid, she used to make her toast in the morning by walking over my granddad who would be passed out on the floor, drunk. So going out with some guy who was always rat-arsed was actually not that weird for her.
That must have been tough. Have things got any better for your dad?
He’s been completely clean for years now, it’s amazing. He’s done so well. Our relationship’s gotten better and better as I’ve gotten older. I’ve realised I can’t take it personally. And he’s moved on and had two sons, who I adore. But it’s hard with addicts: you feel like you spend your whole life congratulating them for getting sober, but what about the people who get left behind? I guess therapy has helped me to unpick a lot. I’m learning through therapy that some people have a really steady line in life and then… poof, trauma. While others are working through a constant flow of shit.
Do you see a therapist regularly?
I try to go every week. I actually found my therapist, Anna, through (the writer) Dolly Alderton’s book. I read Everything I Know About Love and I thought her therapist sounded amazing. Anna’s great at giving tough love – I’ve had therapists in the past that I’ve found a bit limp. It can be something as simple as a bad review or a negative comment I’ve read about myself, and Anna will give me a pep talk.
Filming Sex Education you have to deal with some pretty intimate sex scenes. How do you handle that?
We have an intimacy coordinator on set who choreographs those scenes to make sure everyone is comfortable. Intimacy coordinators are becoming a bit of a thing (in the wake of #MeToo), and ours, Ita O’Brien, has been a trailblazer. She gets us to do things like animal workshops, where we run around the room pretending to have sex like a horse – not that weird if you went to drama school.
You also recently filmed Louis Wain with Claire Foy and Benedict Cumberbatch. What can you tell us about it?
It’s an amazing film about (19th-century English) artist Louis Wain, who lived with mental illness and painted hundreds and hundreds of cats. I play one of his sisters. It wasn’t really about the part, because I have about four lines, but more for the experience.
As it’s our high street fashion issue, let’s talk clothes. How would you describe your style?
I love the 80s and the 60s. The 60s would have been my era. Obviously I was delighted with Aimee’s wardrobe in Sex Education because that’s very 60s. But at the same time, I do love a bit of practical. A perfect day off outfit is a jumpsuit or a pair of dungarees, because it’s no effort.
Where do you shop?
I get a lot from charity shops. I think Mary Portas’s shops (Mary’s Living & Giving) are amazing. But the thing I would recommend most are Lucy & Yak dungarees – they are made ethically without being too expensive and they’re so nice.
Do you ever wear designer?
Only when it’s sent to me. The jumpsuit I’m wearing now is Sézane – Emma (Mackey, her Sex Education co-star) has it too because she was sent it at the same time. We’ve got all the same clothes. Every time we meet up I have to say, “Are you wearing that?” It’s getting a bit tricky now.
Sex Education has just been renewed for a third series, but what else do you want to do in the future?
I’d like to write something of my own, maybe a play that I could put on in a pub theatre and make into a TV show. I’m always writing about unrequited love and miscommunication – my characters are the ones who haven’t figured things out yet, but if they just revealed how they were feeling they’d be alright. Gavin And Stacey was the first thing I watched that made me want to act, I’d love to write something like that. It’s so beautifully simple.
Did you watch the Gavin And Stacey Christmas special?
Oh my god, I cried so much. I get so attached to characters – I miss them when they’re gone. I’m the same with This Is England. I’ve seen it about six times, and I think they’re my mates. I just love things that are human and relatable. You won’t find me writing something where someone turns into a mermaid.
Uncle Vanya is at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London until 2 May; haroldpintertheatre.co.uk
Images: Jonty Davies