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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: MIMI KEENE TALKS HER BREAKOUT ROLE AS RUBY ON “SEX EDUCATION” FOR THE UNTITLED MAGAZINE’S “INNOVATE” ISSUE

<em>Mimi wears a jumper belt and shorts by Alessandra Rich sunglasses by Poppy Lissiman at Koibird Boutique and earrings by Motley photographed by Pip for The Untitled Magazine<em>

As a young British actress, Mimi Keene has already done it all. First hitting the scene with her Royal Court Theatre debut in 2010 at the age of 12, Keene followed this up with stints across British television, most notably on soap stalwart EastEnders, before making her Netflix debut in the hit show Sex Education. Playing mean-girl Ruby, Keene rose to prominence in the supporting cast of teen dramedy as the de facto leader of “The Untouchables,” and has cemented herself as a fan favorite character. The now 23-year-old can also be seen in recent film releases such as 2019’s Tolkien and the Noomi Rapace thriller Close from the same year. With the third season of Sex Education released last September, and delivering on its promise of a lot more of Ruby, Keene is growing both as an actress and a person, and continues to go from strength to strength, establishing herself as one of the brightest talents of her generation.

For The Untitled Magazine‘s latest print edition, The “INNOVATE” Issue, we caught up with Mimi Keene on her journey to the screen, as well as how Sex Education has influenced her life. Read the full interview below.

<em>Mimi wears a jumper belt and shorts by Alessandra Rich sunglasses by Poppy Lissiman at Koibird Boutique and earrings by Motley photographed by Pip for The Untitled Magazine<em>

You started acting as a child on the stage and professionally debuted at The Royal Court Theatre in 2010. How did you get involved in acting as a child? Do you come from an acting family? 

I’m not from an acting family. I had never seen acting professionally as a possibility, as it didn’t seem accessible. Funnily enough it was my failure to secure a place at the local grammar school at 11 that changed everything. My teacher at primary school told my mum that I was on the gifted register for singing and dancing, which led to me ending up in a stage school. At the time it felt like a terrible failing, but in hindsight it was a life shift. Without this redirection I think my life would have been very different.

What caused your eventual transition from stage to screen acting?

Although I loved working on the stage, my career has organically moved into screen, and I find the perfectionist in me really appreciates the ability to finesse a scene with lots of takes. 

Growing up as an actress, did you face any challenges fitting in at school?

I was very fortunate to attend a stage school, which meant we were all in the same boat. I can imagine it would be much harder in a normal school.

Tell us about your role as Ruby on Netflix’s Sex Education. How did that opportunity come about, and do you relate personally to the character?

I remember receiving the script from my agent Kat and as soon as I read it I thought it has something really fresh and different about it, but you never get too invested at first, because nine times out of ten, it’s not going to go your way. The more Ruby’s character develops the more I can relate to her. The truth is no matter how much you think people have got everything together, we are all a little insecure. Ruby’s meanness is not something I can relate to, but her love of fashion I relate to, and I get to drive a car when playing Ruby which I love! 

With Sex Education pioneering open conversations about sexuality, what do you feel are some of the biggest benefits for young people watching the show? 

I think it’s empowering to realize we all have insecurities about sexuality and that it’s really common to think you aren’t normal. I suspect very few people, young or old, are totally self assured in this area. We are all just trying to get by and be the best versions of ourselves. I think the show really encourages young people to celebrate the perfection of imperfection and knowing in that sense they are far from alone.

What does it mean to you to be part of such an influential show?

I honestly can’t believe how lucky I am. I get to work with the most incredible cast and crew and look forward to every day I’m on set. I have to pinch myself a little when I think of how groundbreaking the show is and that I get to be a small cog in the machine that is Sex Ed. 

What were your feelings on transitioning from the quick-fire production style of soaps like EastEnders to the longer production schedules of films and Sex Education?

The difference is incredible, as we have so much more time to work on a scene. It gives me more opportunity to experiment with the scene and fine tune what I want to achieve. 

<em>Mimi wears a top and shorts set by Joostic at Koibird Boutique pumps by Alessandra Rich tights by Falke and earrings by Motley photographed by Pip for The Untitled Magazine<em>

Ruby has come very far on the show, from a cruel mean girl type to now a more sympathetic potential romantic-lead. What has been the most interesting part of her evolution for you as an actress? What was your approach to portraying that shift?

I always try to create a multi-dimensional character in my head from the start and in my character breakdown, Ruby always had an arguably quite well-hidden kind and vulnerable side. I love that she has started to show her sweetness and I love the idea of her as a romantic lead.

The show has also reinvented and innovated the teen drama genre, taking cues from John Hughes and bringing a modern spin to many of the tropes. Have there been any particular moments of innovation you’ve enjoyed?

It’s hard for me to pin down a moment, but I was raised in a house where we watched all of the John Hughes films, my particular favorites being The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink, so I was no stranger to the feel of the show. Although until the first season was released I hadn’t realized how perfectly the show gave a nod to the genre, while adding a great fresh English twist. 

For many, Sex Education stands strong in the pantheon of trailblazing British teen television, alongside the likes of Skins, My Mad Fat Diary and The Inbetweeners. How does it feel to be compared so favorably to iconic shows like these? How do you think it has built upon them?

I’m incredibly proud to hear Sex Education be included in such a list! As an actor, storytelling is such an important factor in what I do, and I hope and feel that the show has continued to open up narratives and conversations, particularly on identity, difference, and sexuality, which are so important to be represented on screen to reflect the beautiful diversity of our real world. 

<em>Mimi wears a jumpsuit by JW Anderson photographed by Pip for The Untitled Magazine<em>

What do you think you have personally learned from playing your character and being on the show? How has Ruby broken new ground for you as an actress? 

I’ve been able to spend three years with her and really get to understand her as a character. She’s also taught me a lot about making some seriously bold fashion moves. Sometimes I look at her outfits and think “surely not,” but I’ve learnt to have faith in the amazing costume department, because somehow it always works! 

How have you stayed positive through the pandemic? 

I was lucky to be able to film through a lot of the pandemic. It obviously had its challenges, but I was so grateful to be able to work, which has not be the case for so many in my industry, and my heart goes out to them. 

What else can we look forward to from you in the future? Any exciting new projects on the horizon?

Nothing that I can share at this moment, but watch this space!

To read the full interview pick up a copy of The INNOVATE Issue – available now from our online boutique.

Mimi Keene @mimikeene3
Photography by Pip @bypip for @theuntitledmagazine
Stylist Aimee Croysdill @aimeecroysdill
Make-up by Naoko Scintu @naokoscintu
Hair by Dayaruci @dayaruci

 

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