Emma Appleton – Who’s That Girl?

Phil Dunlop
Grace Joel
Gemma Lacey

This summer it’ll be hard to miss Emma Appleton, as she hits our screens in BBC’s Everything I Know about Love and Pistol. With two stellar roles where she plays polar opposite characters, her range as an actress is evident and as we found, in person, she’s just as luminous. She talked to us about playing a punk icon, why imagination is everything and why we all can relate to a love story centered on female friendship.

Cover 1 (blue): Chanel cardigan, pleated skirt & bracelet, vintage gloves
Cover 2 (green): Saint Laurent knit dress, belt & sunglasses, Prada shoes, Cartier Trinity earrings

Emma is wearing Emilia Wickstead dress, Prada shoes, vintage gloves & earrings; models are wearing vintage

     It’s an interesting time for art, we’re coming out of a period where we had to take a step back from the world and one of our most significant means of connection was the stories we consumed via our screens. What’s been born of this time is an appetite for stories that showcase the simple human tenderness we all craved and that’s where Everything I Know About Love finds its perfect place and with Appleton as Maggie, the relatable warm and funny heroine we may not have known we needed.
     In person, Emma Appleton is warm and casual, and immediately an engaging subject, it’s clear her enthusiasm for this recent role is genuine and we discuss the best bits of creating a story which is so focused on women and their unique experiences of each other. In her eyes, what Dolly Alderton created was something unique. “She celebrated female friendship in a way that we never do, we always knew it was there. We all felt it and we all experienced it, but we didn’t name it and there hadn’t been a book dedicated to it.” She feels that the show offers a unique take on love, “Usually shows focus on romantic love but actually there is so much romance in friendships. There should be anyway! There’s an amazing quote, I can’t remember who said it, but they say `Put more friendship into a romance, and more romance into a friendship, which I think is a really beautiful thing.’”
     The camaraderie with the cast she says was entirely organic, and it’s clear during filming things naturally evolved this way through group dinners and on set chemistry. Another factor was having creator Alderton on set advising and what we’re left with is a uniquely female love story told through the subtleties of a female lens, the result is tender, funny and captivating and Emma’s gentle warmth informs her performance as Maggie in a way that makes you root for her throughout.

Emma is wearing Erdem tweed skirt & jacket, Prada shoes, Cartier Trinity earrings

Christopher Kane PVC & tulle dress, Prada shoes, Cartier Trinity earrings

Saint Laurent knit dress, belt & sunglasses, Prada shoes, Cartier Trinity earrings

Acne Studios corseted dress & shrug, vintage earrings

Chanel cardigan & pleated skirt, vintage earrings

Emma is wearing Prada satin skirt & heels, vintage belt & blouse; models are wearing vintage

     By contrast as legendary punk girlfriend Nancy Spungen in Pistol she’s playing a decidedly unlikeable character with a  host of more complex problems. I ask how she tackled playing a less positive character but it’s clear that was her hook with this role. The questions her characters raise are her conduits to their world. “How do I get you to empathize with me? How do you like me? Because I don’t believe that obviously there’s a few exceptions, but there’s normally something you like about someone, even if they seem like a terrible person.” This empathy is integral to her approach, “I think it was more, I just wanted to understand that so that I could get people to understand her.” With Nancy she also had some fun facets to play with.
     From her wardrobe, “I’ve never worn so much fishnets and leather in all my life!” to her voice, “I love her voice, that her voice was like the thing I could tap into to kind of get into her and then everything else followed.” A keen study, Emma watched historical footage and read Nancy’s mother’s book to gain a deeper understanding of her too but her performance extended beyond the cerebral. “I was also aware that she had a completely different kind of body shape to me. So I wanted to change my body, it was a complete transformation and that was really, really fun. There aren’t many interviews with her so I could only kind of take little bits of what I saw and then I have to make it work. What stood out was that she just interacted with people in a different way as other people do, and that was really fun to play with.”

Emma is wearing Bernadette dress, Prada shoes, vintage jewellery; models are wearing vintage

     It’s clear that imagination plays a big role in her artistic process, but also her personality is naturally easy breezy and that ability to be in the moment and flow with things is clearly a real strength in her work too, allowing her to inhabit her characters in a very authentic way. A model for several years, part of her ease in front of the camera comes from years of practice but the tenderness and curiosity she brings to her roles is very much her own. We discuss other actresses she admires, including Jodie Comer but also Keely Hawes who she says was pivotal in helping her understand how to get her needs met on set, reminding her to snack, to keep her energy up but also demonstrating how to gracefully get what you need. “She’s a fantastic person to be around and to learn from and how she treats people wonderfully. She’s professional but also has a great sense of humour, all of the things that you want in a person.”
     I ask if there’s any other advice she’s been given by her fellow actors and she shares an experience with her co-star from Everything I Know About Love, Bel Powley. “Bel said, ‘You are the CEO of Emma Appleton industries,’ and that has always stuck with me because sometimes I’m quite bad at making decisions or being decisive or taking control in certain situations. So I’ve never forgotten that advice, because it’s really good and it’s safe for everyone. It applies to absolutely everyone, no matter what industry you’re in”. One thing is for sure, from best friend to punk girlfriend, Emma Appleton has a chameleonic ability to create warm and interesting characters we can connect with and right now that’s exactly what we all need.

Emma is wearing Erdem skirt & jacket, Prada shoes, Cartier earrings

Emma is wearing Prada satin skirt & shoes, vintage belt & blouse; models are wearing vintage

Chanel cardigan, pleated skirt & bracelet, vintage gloves

Emma is wearing Emilia Wickstead bralet & skirt, Prada shoes, vintage gloves & earrings; models are wearing vintage; Double C de Cartier Mini bag on the table

Photography: Phil Dunlop
Styling: Grace Joel
Concept & Art Direction: Mehran Pakgohar
Set Design: Penny Mills at The Wall Group
Digi Tech: Grzegorz Stefanski
Talent: Emma Appleton
Makeup: Phoebe Brown
Hair: Claire Grech
Production: Town Production
Casting: Sept Casting & Zachary Levenson
Models: Marie Khon at Milk, Katya Gray at Established, Apolline Coquet, Lilly Goodman at Anti Agency, Anna Colridge at Models1, Julia Lacey at Star, Richard Keep at Kult
Photography Assistants: Guillaume Mercier, Oscar Edwards & Ornela Aliaj
Styling Assistant: Sanda Bell
Set Design Assistants: Lucy Swan & Killian Fallon
Hair Assistant: Tomoko Fushimi
Makeup Assistant: Kate O’Reilly
Production Assistants: Declan McKenna & Vanessa Grasse
Retouching: Red Yolk Studio