Matthew Bell speaks to Lily Newmark – Ruthie in Sex Education – who has a major role in Netflix’s new fantasy drama Cursed.
Lily Newmark is increasingly hard to miss on screen, dividing her time between TV – Sex Education, Temple and Les Misérables – and UK film – Nick Hornby adaptation Juliet, Naked, the critically acclaimed Pin Cushion and Misbehaviour, set during the 1970 Miss World competition. She even had a blink-and-you-miss-it role in Solo: A Star Wars Story.
Since leaving the East 15 Acting School four years ago, the 26-year-old Londoner has racked up 15 credits to add to the part in NBC’s Emerald City that she nabbed while still studying.
Newmark had acted in youth theatre, though she didn’t consider “it could be my profession until the end of school”. Even then, she almost opted for theology at university, but “decided that wasn’t going to make me my happiest self. It’s anthropology, either way: it’s studying people as an actor or studying people in terms of their religious beliefs.”
She will be back on our screens shortly in one of Netflix’s big summer releases, Cursed, a 10-part reimagination of the legend of King Arthur.
“I’ve been wanting to do fantasy for so long,” she says, having read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter as a teenager. “I should take it up again, especially now. It’s a good time to escape into another world.”
Cursed, though, is an all-too-familiar world. “[The writers] wanted to reflect the world we live in now – it has the same themes of obliteration of the natural world and senseless war. It didn’t feel too far removed from our own reality – it’s just that the clothes are a bit different and it was more normal to carry a sword.”
Not that Newmark got to wield a weapon, which was a serious disappointment. “My character, Pym, is not a fighter. It’s a great shame because I’ve been wanting – not to start a fight – but to get into combat scenes and I haven’t had the opportunity.”
The coronavirus lockdown has been a “strange but not too unfamiliar” experience for an actor: “You find yourself in periods without work where you have to keep yourself busy.” As befits a creative person, she has gone far beyond perfecting her cooking: “I built a retirement home for my cat out of some old boxes and papier mâché because his back legs aren’t working so well.”
Newmark should have been filming series 2 of Sky One drama Temple, in which she plays the daughter of Mark Strong’s subterranean surgeon, who runs an illegal medical clinic beneath the eponymous London Tube station.
When it starts shooting, she hopes the actors will have the freedom to perform. “I would hate for a series to be compromised in terms of its production values or performances because of new [production] regulations. But the priority is people’s health and safety and, if that means waiting longer in order to so something in a more authentic way, then we’ll just have to wait.”
She adds, laughing: “Temple is pretty much set in a sort of underground lockdown so perhaps this [crisis] could inspire performances to be more authentic.”
Despite her enforced lay-off, now is a good time for young actors, rich in drama on both traditional TV and the US streamers. “There’s no lack of content and it’s not even as if it’s filler – there’s a lot of good writing, especially from England,” she says, namechecking the “amazing” Laurie Nunn who penned Sex Education, in which Newmark played Ruthie.
“Perhaps if I’d started 10 years ago, I would have had to go to LA or New York,” she says, “but I’ve been very happy to stay in London.” She has a few projects of her own up her sleeve: “It’s funny, but one of them I’ve been working on for a few years is about solitude and self-isolation. It feels like the moment’s passed where that’s something people might want to watch.”
Photo credit: Netflix