Emma McDonald – to the Moon and Back

Charlotte Hadden
Emily Evans
Sofi Chetrar

British actress Emma McDonald makes her US debut in the utopian-drama ‘Moonhaven’ by American film director Peter Ocko. Following her successful Shakespeare performance on stage, she now faces the challenging on-screen acting she is not afraid to take on. From dramatic fighting scenes to heartfelt conversations, the sci-fi series touches on current social issues that also “demonstrate the importance of practising love, connecting to your fellow humans and being kind to one another”, says Emma. She shares her fascinating journey of becoming an actress, and the many exciting projects she cannot wait to share with her audience.

Sofi Chetrar: You began your career by playing Shakespeare on stage and now you played a leading character, Bella Sway, in the recently released AMC utopian sci-fi drama “Moonhaven”. How different was it to play a cargo spaceship pilot from the classical Shakespeare character?
Emma Mcdonald: Worlds apart – literally ahah. Acting on screen is pretty different from the stage not least because of all the technical elements. When I’m on stage my primary focus is my lines, entrances and exits, an occasional prop and most importantly connecting to my other actors. On-screen you have to be aware of hitting marks, lens sizes, your mic pack not being visible, eyelines, crossing the line and oftentimes you’re doing the whole scene to a cross on the camera – box, not another actor. That’s before the text, actions and intentions even come into it. So getting to grips with that side of things was a bit of a learning process but soon it became second nature and now I really enjoy it, especially the intimacy it allows.
In terms of my classical theatre background I think it was actually pretty helpful, I used to do plays in rep, so two different Shakespeare plays at the same time. This means I’ve had to get pretty good at learning lines quickly and having a lot going on in my head which is great for when you’re shooting things out of sequence and often learning scenes the night before you film them the following day. There’s also a fair amount of stage fighting in the Shakespeare plays I’ve done which helped me with Bella’s stunts and her physicality.
SC: How do you feel does “Moonhaven” portray modern society issues? 
EM: Moonhaven doesn’t shy away from the problems currently facing our planet, overpopulation, climate change, war, famine, water shortages, political mayhem etc. In the show, we see this all playing out 150 years in the future. However, Moonhaven also paints an ultimately hopeful picture of our species and what we can do when given the space, technology and desire to create a better future for ourselves.
Peter Ocko the series creator is a genius, through Moonhaven he shows us two versions of our future. One if we fail to change our ways and the second an alternate utopian future. Ultimately he leaves it up to the earthers and mooners as to which path they take or indeed choose to fight for.
SC:What do you think is the most important message to the audience in this show?
EM:That the future could be better and not all hope is lost. It demonstrates the importance of practising love, connecting to your fellow humans and being kind to one another. It also shows us that taking a moment to pause, reflect, breathe and appreciate beauty is never a bad thing.
SC: Would you fly a spaceship in real life if you had the opportunity?
EM: Absolutely! I would love to take CAT my spaceship on the show for a test run. I got to ‘fly’ it with a VR headset on and that was pretty cool but it would be even cooler in real life.
SC: What were the biggest challenges for you?
EM: Letting each day go. When you’re doing a play you get to go home each night, sleep on it and come back with new ideas and choices to play. If you’ve had a show you think hasn’t gone great you can go in again the next day with a fresh canvas to play on. With screen once you’ve shot that scene it’s done and you have to leave it alone. I found that difficult but have got better at it over time and now find it fairly therapeutic. That said I would love to spend some time in the edit suite watching how it all gets assembled.
SC:What were the highlights of working together with Joe Manganiello and Dominic Monaghan?
EM:They’re both such fun and really generous actors. They also both care immensely about their jobs, they were a joy to work with and learn from. Dom would check in with me weekly and we would train together, we would also sometimes have very deep chats with one another and other times natter on about the small things. He’s a beautiful presence to have on set and I was very happy in his company. Joe is hilarious to work with but also a complete professional, he never shies away from bold acting choices which I greatly admire and he’s awesome to fight with; I absolutely loved our epic battle at the end of the pilot episode.
SC: What got you into acting in the first place?
EM: I’ve loved dressing up and putting on plays for as long as I can remember. I would always get terrible marks in the technical scores in my ballet and tap exams but I would excel on the performance score; so I guess I have a flair for dramatics. I went to a mixed school and in year 9 I played Fagin in a production of Oliver Twist. A boy in year 12 stopped speaking to me as I had taken his role. When I did the curtain call and took off my hat a person in the audience went “*gasp* it’s a girl!?!” I took that as a massive compliment, and still do.
A few years later, Michael Frayn a brilliant British playwright saw me in a school play as his granddaughter also happened to be in it. He wrote a letter to the school detailing how much he loved my acting and offered to help me if I wanted to pursue it as a career. I was already signed up to do a Maths and Psychology degree at the University of Nottingham but Dallas Smith (Frayns long-term friend and celebrated agent) came to see me in a play and signed me and the rest is history (note reader that I did finish my degree before hanging up my Labcoat and calculator).
SC: What are you excited about at the moment?
My garden, it’s flourishing. I have Cucamelons, courgettes, tomato plants, aubergines, and peppers on the go. Homegrown tastes so much better and is so much more fun. I’m excited about a family holiday I’ve got coming up as it’s been a long time since we all got to go away together and I’m really looking forward to it. Obviously, I’m thrilled we get a season two of Moonhaven. I have so much trust and respect for Peter and the group of writers and I’m dying to see where they take us all next. What has Bella got up to in Primo?! Has she met her mum?! Are there aliens?!? So many questions, I want answers!!! I also recently shot a BFI film in South Africa which I had the best time doing I think it tells a beautiful and important story and cannot wait to be able to share more about it! Watch this space!
Photography: Charlotte Hadden
Styling: Emily Evans
Hair: Venner James
Make-up artist: Emma Miles