Interview with Emmerdale star Emily Head: “The world is going to look very different”

George White speaks to actress Emily Head about British TV, the stage, and what might be next in a post-lockdown world…

Growing up as the daughter of a legendary film and TV performer would presumably add extra pressure to succeed in the acting industry, as merely having the same name as someone successful in the field is enough to raise expectations. 

Yet, for Emily Head – whose father Anthony had key roles in the likes of Merlin and Buffy the Vampire Slayer – there was no such pressure. “I definitely didn’t feel like I had to do what my dad did,” she says. “Seeing him do so well as an actor made me realise that it was possible to do it as a job, and it probably did influence my decision to pursue the career I did, but I never felt an expectation to follow in his footsteps.”

In fact, having a dad with decades of experience as an actor has come in pretty useful for Emily, who is glad to have such a knowledgeable guide to the industry. “I often ask for advice on which options I should pursue and he always helps with line readings for auditions. He’s been a great help to me,” she says. 

Emily has now performed in over a dozen different on-screen productions, with one of her most prominent roles being Carli D’Amato in hit E4 comedy The Inbetweeners. At just 18 years old, she found herself starring in one of the country’s most popular TV shows, which came as something of a shock. “It was mind-blowing to get the role at that age,” she admits. “It was an amazing experience. The best part was getting to work with everyone on set. We all had a similar sense of humour and state of mind.”

The Inbetweeners quickly became one of Britain’s most outrageously memorable comedies, picking up a string of awards throughout its three series on screen, including the Audience Award at the 2010 BAFTAs. Being part of something of that scale is something Emily looks back on fondly, saying, “The fan base and following got bigger over time, and I got to enjoy it with a very funny, talented group of people. I was really lucky.” 

“You can really feel the energy of the audience when you’re performing on stage”

In 2016, Emily found herself in another of the UK’s favourite programmes, when she took the role of Rebecca White in long-running soap opera Emmerdale. Her time on the show spanned three years and hundreds of episodes, with Emily’s performance winning over fans from the very beginning, as her character casually arrives on the scene by helicopter. 

Working on a soap is not always so glamorous, though, with long shooting days and a fast-paced working environment sometimes proving a challenge. “The turnaround is so fast. I was used to shooting three or four scenes a day, but on Emmerdale we could film nine to twelve. It was a big learning curve. It definitely gave me a lot of tools going forward.” 

Despite the hard work involved, Emily loved her time on the show, and met plenty of talented people both behind the scenes and in front of the camera. “There are so many extraordinary people working in soaps. I think the challenge of the work used to go unnoticed, but opinions are beginning to change,” she muses. “In the past, working in soaps might have been seen as taking a step down, but thankfully it’s not that way anymore.” 

Away from the small screen, Emily has also performed in a number of popular plays, including Russell Labey’s West End thriller Third Floor in 2011. While the theatre experience is “completely different” to working in TV, it is also incredibly enjoyable for Emily, who cherishes performing in front of a live crowd. 

“You can really feel the energy of the audience when you’re performing on stage. It gives you a sense of adrenaline that you don’t get in TV. You get to discover new things every day and learn as you go,” she says, adding that audience reactions are often the best guide for performances. “I had worked on Third Floor for four weeks before I said a particular line differently, and it got a big laugh. Before then I hadn’t realised it was supposed to be funny,” she giggles. 

“I hope I get the chance to get back on stage or on a set again”

Having now worked as an actor for over 15 years, Emily often finds herself giving advice to other actors looking for success in the industry – and has even become a sounding board for her father. “My dad now has the same conversations with myself and my sister as we did with him. We give him advice on which roles to go for and he asks us questions, which is nice.” 

The biggest lesson aspiring actors should learn, she says, is to not take anything too personally, which can be difficult in an industry that involves a lot of criticism – both constructive and otherwise. “It can be a really difficult world to navigate,” she admits, “as 98% of the time you don’t get the job you want. You have to be able to deal with rejection, which can be a steep learning curve. 

“You get a lot of people who say mean things just to say it, especially on social media, but you also get others who make comments to help your development. You have to learn how to take messages as they’re meant to be taken, and try not to let anything get to you.” 

The outbreak of Coronavirus may have brought a halt to Emily’s work for now, after her latest project was set to begin on the day the UK went into lockdown, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t keeping herself busy. After answering the call to “Pick For Britain”, she has found herself working twelve-hour days in asparagus fields alongside her boyfriend, Jarrod, and has kept in touch with friends and family through weekly chats on Zoom.

After lockdown, the future of acting may never be the same as it was before the pandemic, making career plans difficult to pin down. “The world is going to look very different, and I don’t know what that will mean for my industry. Social distancing in film and TV will be difficult, because it will mean removing any intimate scenes, and theatre might not be the same.

“But I hope I get the chance to get back on stage or on a set again. I enjoy it greatly and I hope I can continue doing it long into the future.” 

By George White

Feature image credit: ITV

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