Aimee Lou Wood is ‘Living’ her best life
She’s already a familiar face (and a BAFTA award winner) for her breakout role in Netflix’s ‘Sex Education’ – but now the actor is lighting up the big screen in an Oscar®-hyped movie
Thursday 3 November 2022 By Emma McCarthy
Sitting down to interview Aimee Lou Wood is like catching up with an old friend – a fact that will come as no surprise to fans of Sex Education. In the Netflix smash hit, Wood plays Aimee Gibbs, the lovable, relatable, occasionally TMI-oversharing BFF of lead Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey) – a part that stole hearts, catapulted her into the limelight and bagged her a BAFTA for Best Female Performance in a Comedy Programme. Not bad for her first on-screen role.
Naturally, Wood isn’t one to brag. ‘I always do this thing where I go, you know, “famous”, in inverted commas,’ she says, in her broad Stockport accent. ‘I can't quite say it about myself because it just feels weird.’
But the spotlight is about to get even brighter as the 27-year-old is starring alongside the venerable Bill Nighy in Living – a charming remake of the cult 1953 Japanese film Ikiru, scripted by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, which has generated much Academy Awards buzz ahead of its release this week. Nighy plays Mr Williams, a lonely, paper-shuffling bureaucrat who, following a terminal diagnosis, endeavours to transform his dull life into something remarkable. Wood stars as the vivacious Margaret with a contagious zest for life. Together, they form an unlikely friendship.
It’s a big departure from the fake orgasm-renouncing, sexual harassment-confronting, vulva self-appreciating persona we’ve come to love over the course of Sex Education’s three seasons, but Wood is well versed in serving up the serious side character energy that makes her so captivating to watch.
‘Margaret is the life in Living,’ says Wood of her character who stands out as a ray of sunshine in a sea of grey suits with her small acts of courage, such as quitting a respectable job she hates in favour of a menial one that makes her happier. ‘She is to him this radiant life force. But she just sees herself as an ordinary, normal person. That’s what’s so beautiful. By seeing herself through his eyes, she starts to believe that maybe she is a little bit extraordinary. She teaches him how to live, but actually it’s mutual, like any great friendship is.’
I’m curious to know whether this bond was shared behind the scenes, too. ‘I have been in love with [Nighy] forever,’ she says, admitting that her boyfriend performed 'Bill impersonations, like a trial run’. ‘I was so nervous. But when he turned up he was just so Bill Nighy, telling stories. I learnt so much from him. But he’s not really the type to give me advice on the industry. We spoke about our lives; about love and family and everything beyond acting, which I think is what made our connection so strong. He’s had a great impact on me, but it’s even more special because it was about us as people, rather than actors.’
Aside from a small role in The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain alongside Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy, this is Wood’s first major movie role. But she feels at ease with the big screen, describing it as a happy middle ground between television’s adrenaline-fuelled lightning pace and the deep character development instilled by a long play run. Recently, she wrapped the female-led mediaeval comedy Seize Them! alongside Nicola Coughlan and Lolly Adefope, and is even in the process of writing her own TV show.
Still, the RADA-trained actor feels the pull of the theatre. ‘At the moment I’m really quite desperate to get back on stage,’ says Wood, who won previous plaudits as Sonya in Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. ‘A lot of screen actors have said if you leave it for too long it’s the most terrifying thing.’
But a touch of stage fright was nothing compared to her fear of other people’s perceptions. ‘I was very nervous at first when I started getting recognised,’ she confesses. ‘I was just so terrified of someone walking away and not liking me. I would be paranoid for the whole day. I became a bit of a recluse. I was scared of going out because it required so much energy.’ But she’s becoming more assured, a lesson she credits in part to her latest film.
‘Living actually really helped me realise that I can’t just stay at home. I have to be alive. I can’t let this fear stop me.’
And with that, she’s off to Wales to film season four of Sex Education. Undoubtedly, there’s no stopping her.
‘Living’ is in cinemas now