Emma Greenwell | PERPETUAL CHECK IS NOT AN OPTION
You’re in LA, so it’s like six in the morning?” asks Emma Greenwell as we’re wrapping up our interview. It’s a phoner, and she’s on the line at home in London where the evening is just setting in. “Thank you so much for getting up to talk to me,” she says; her guilt is measurable even through a poor connection from time zones away.
Greenwell’s striking humility is just one aspect of her groundedness. Best known for playing sensitive bad-girl Mandy Milkovich on cult Showtime series, Shameless, Greenwell is chatty and playful; despite some of our words muddled by bad audio, there’s plenty evidence of laughter. When given compliments about her latest work, a starring role on The Rook, a pseudo-Sci Fi spy drama airing on Starz this summer, her level of gratitude is more akin to someone who’s just landed their first role as opposed to an actress who’s been around the block.
The Rook, roughly based on Daniel O’Malley’s 2012 best- selling, eponymous novel, follows Myfawny Thomas (played by Greenwell), a low-level agent in a clandestine government agency called the Checquy. The opening scenes show Myfawny waking up near Millenium Bridge, with no memory of herself at all, surrounded by a team of latex glove-wearing corpses. Minutes later, Myfawny finds a note in her pocket left by her pre-amnesia self explaining that she’s under threat. Along with the note are a red key and a blue key, and a choice: blindly navigate your way back into an evidently dangerous identity, or disappear and forge a completely new one.
“What I find interesting about amnesia is that you have all these fears and reservations, but what we fear can go away,” says Greenwell, speaking to Myfawny’s mindset and what drives her to move forward into the abyss of her identity. “She wakes up without a fear of death; there’s a danger she sets upon herself—that’s her guide.” The Rook begs the question of the audience—which key would you choose? Furthermore, what would you do if you lost a part of yourself?
Coincidentally, Greenwell has had her own unsettling brush with memory loss. “I lost two weeks of memory,” she says, describing the aftermath when a dislodged door fell on her while walking up the stairs of her house a few years back. “I knew who I was and where I lived, but I couldn’t remember the last two weeks. It was terrifying; you realize a part of you is missing.
“I didn’t know what to say,” she continues, describing the dissociation she experienced following her encounter with amnesia. “I’m not like Myfawny,” Greenwell humbly adds, while not wanting to spoil too much of the plot, of course. She seems to think she’s a bit more cautious than some of the characters she plays (which is probably a good thing, considering Mandy infamously attempts to mow someone down with her car in season 3 of Shameless). “I would pick neither key, I would get out!,” she laughs.
Whereas experiencing amnesia left Emma feeling paralyzed, it spawns an insatiable, inquisitive determination in Myfawny. “The audience and Myfawny work together to get their heads around this not-normal situation,” says Greenwell, adding that “everything I touch is a clue; there are clues throughout each episode.”
Greenwell reflects on her roles from both series; she’s eager to draw connections, to analyze. Perhaps Myfawny is in her more than she thinks. “Myfawny is this kind of fight-or-flight character. Mandy didn’t have much to live for where she was, yet she was always trying to go forward and get out,” she adds. They both have that strong sense of survival, and an inner-strength...”
Greenwell speaks lovingly and with pride about her character on The Rook, whom she considers a badass. “I’m really grateful for the opportunity to play these brave women. I like watching stories about people who take risks, who push themselves and have a very clear vulnerability to them.”
In Myfawny’s case, she’s a little more than human—superhuman, if you will. As if being a member of a secret government agency wasn’t mysterious enough, she’s one of a handful of the group with above-average talents; including Gestalt, a set of quadruplets who share a hive mind, and Myfawny, who doesn’t yet know what her ability is beyond having the “potential to be a deadly weapon.”
“Within The Rook they’re called ‘EVA’s,’ which means ‘Extreme Variant Abilities.’ The idea plays off of what we have in common biologically—how far we can push the human body, biologically and scientifically,” she says. But, as viewers discover over the course of the first episode that she’s been a target of a murderous plot, it’s clear her being an ‘EVA’ is just one piece of the Myfawny Thomas puzzle.
“So, they’re not powers,” continues Greenwell, teasing that while Myfawny may have one of the chicest apartments on television, hidden panic room, top line appliances and all—“they’re paid very well, in the Checquy,” she says with a laugh—she got the short-end-of-the-stick in her first venture into Sci-Fi: “I’m really actually quite sad about not getting a latex suit,” she says, “maybe another role.”