Having recently taken over the role of Jas in So Awkward, Emily Burnett can currently be seen in the new series showing on CBBC every Thursday, making this her second regular role on a children’s drama series. In 2017, Emily joined the cast of The Dumping Ground as Charlie Morris for three series, and last year, she picked up the Children’s BAFTA Award for Best Performer for her role in the show. Emily also has stage experience, most recently appearing in The Bee in Me at Unicorn Theatre and, for her first tour, she played Lorna in Princess and the Hustler. Away from acting, Emily is a keen artist and has run her business Emily Burnett Art for the past six years. We caught up with Emily about joining the cast of So Awkward as Jas, playing Charlie in The Dumping Ground and winning the Children’s BAFTA Award for Best Performer.
How have you found joining the cast of So Awkward and how are you finding playing the role of Jas?
Playing Jas has been COMPLETELY mad but in all the best ways! I had so much fun playing the character. She’s such a fun and quirky character and is so different from anything I’ve done before. The cast are amazing and so much fun to work with – it was all just one big giggle really. I feel like every week on set I had someone from one of the departments, either costume, makeup or design, telling me I had something crazy to do or wear and I loved every second of it.
What’s it like taking over an already established role on a popular CBBC show?
I was super nervous before we started shooting. Jas was such a loved character and Ameera (Falzon-Ojo), who played Jas previously, was also so loved and so good in the role. But the minute I got onto set the first day, everyone on the team was so lovely and supportive – I knew it would all be alright in the end. The fans have also been so lovely since it came out. There is such a loyalty to the CBBC shows so I feel really honoured to be welcomed into the So Awkward family.
What’s the series like to film and how is it working with CBBC again?
I love working with CBBC. Every day there is something new and exciting happening and in general, there is just such a lovely vibe to their sets. CBBC really is a family – once you’re in, you’re in, so I guess it felt familiar in some ways. I loved playing a completely different character and taking on a new challenge.
You played Charlie in The Dumping Ground across three series before leaving last year, what was she like to play and what do you miss most about the show?
Charlie was my first regular role, so she will always hold a super special place in my heart. The Dumping Ground is such a special show, with such a massive legacy, so being a part of that in some way has been such an honour. I miss the people the most. Working on that set was always a joy, and again, it’s like one big family – you love each other, you annoy each other, it’s literally like we were all brothers and sisters. I really miss living with the wonderful Annabelle Davis – she’s a great roomie!
Can you tell us about winning the 2019 Children’s BAFTA Award for Best Performer?
AHHH! That was just the maddest moment ever. I still have to pinch myself that it happened. Everyone works so hard at The Dumping Ground so I really felt like it was a team effort – I wouldn’t have got there without all the wonderful, talented people working around me. Still that night feels like a massive blur, but it’s got to be up there with one of the best nights ever. I cried A LOT! And the BAFTA is really very heavy. WOW is all I have to say about that night.
How was the experience on Blue Peter’s Christmas episode?
We all dream of being on Blue Peter and getting our badge when we are a kid (and an adult)! So actually getting to be on set and for their Christmas special as well was so magic. It was amazing, they had so many kids in for the live show and the set was like a winter wonderland. I’ll treasure that experience and my Blue Peter badge and it was so lovely getting to do it with Lewis (G. Hamilton) and Annabelle from The DG too.
You’ve filmed for an episode of Doctors as Zadie Stiller, can you say about your episode?
Yes – I played a teenage girl who was sinking under pressure after her mum died of organ failure and now she lives with her nan and her dad who argue all the time. Working on Doctors is like working on no other programme, it’s so fast-paced, and I was only there filming for two days. But a subtle part of my story was about organ donation and how BAME people that need a donation really suffer because there aren’t as many matches for them, and I felt that story was really important.
We understand you’ve filmed for mini-series On The Edge, what was this like to do?
On The Edge for Channel 4 is such a fab series, again I was only on set with this team in Cardiff for a day, but I really loved it. I love working on new writing, with up and coming artists and directing, and this is literally all about that. It’s really seeing the next generation of television and filmmakers come together. BBW was such a great piece of writing by Yolanda Mercy as well. So being in a drama with a plus-sized black female as the lead, really made me feel like – ‘YES!! WE ARE FINALLY GETTING CHARACTERS THAT REPRESENT THE REAL WORLD!’
Last year, you appeared in Welsh drama Merched Parchus, can you say more about this?
Merched was great fun to do and I really enjoyed being in a bilingual Drama. I haven’t had the opportunity to work in Wales, my hometown, as much as I’d like, so this felt really special. It was also such a fun and great piece to film. The writing was really fresh and original, and actually, Hanna Jarmin and Mari Beard, who both wrote and starred in the show, are up for BAFTA CYMRU awards for their writing and as breakthrough artists. So that goes to show how fab the series was. I also got my throat slit in various dream sequences I think three times and that was really fun working with fake blood and dramatic deaths!
How was it appearing in The Bee in Me earlier this year at Unicorn Theatre?
Talking about all of this I feel so lucky, I’ve worked on so many lovely things. I know I’ve said a lot of them were special, but this show was something else. I don’t even know where to start. This theatre and this company were such a joy to work with, and this job came at a time where I really needed to fall in love with working in the theatre again, and it completely did that for me, and more. The subject matter of the piece also opened my eyes to so much, especially with the year we have just had, and what it’s like for children living below the poverty line in the UK. We were basically jumping into the imagination of a young boy whose life was really difficult – he was neglected by his parents and coped with the hardships of his day by imagining that he turned into a bee. The show, and the writing, was beautiful. And it felt a real honour to be a part of. We also started Foodbank Friday at the Unicorn Theatre where everyone had to bring in something for the foodbank collection, a tradition I hope lives on in the theatre, and for us as a team.
What was it like playing Lorna in Princess and the Hustler for Bristol Old Vic?
Princess and the Hustler was the first show I have ever toured. So that was a great experience, especially taking this particular show all over the country. Lorna was a Liverpudlian and was only seven years old – so it was a new challenge having to play such a young character on stage and find ways to do that with my voice and physicality. But, most of all, this show taught me so much and was quite life-changing for me. It was about being black in the UK in the 60s and about the Bristol Bus Boycott (that I’d never heard about) – which was an integral part of the Race Relations Act going through. Whilst this show was bringing to life characters and a story in history that people had never heard of, which is so important for understanding where we are today, it was also massive for me personally, as it made me really have to consider how I articulated my personal experiences as a person of colour, and how complex that is when it comes to race in the UK, and colourism etc. I went on such a journey with this show and it’s something I will never ever forget.
How much do you enjoy being on stage and performing to an audience?
The stage really feels like home to me. It’s where I first fell in love with performing and I’m sure it’s where I will continue to fall in love with performing. There is a magic to live theatre and an adrenaline rush I don’t think I can get anywhere else. With the live theatre having disappeared this summer, I feel truly appreciative of everything it does. I truly miss it. I miss watching it, I miss performing it. I will celebrate until the sun comes up when it comes back.
Where does your love of acting come from and is it something you always wanted to do?
I think I love acting because I love people. I find them fascinating, the way we work, how very complex we are, and I love that the arts and theatre/television and film have the power to change minds and tell people’s stories. But that’s the crux of it really, I love stories in all their forms, I always have. I loved reading as a kid, and now, and I think that led the way to me loving the way we tell stories to each other in all these different and exciting ways. My dad also loves films, and I think if he’d have had the opportunity he would have worked in the television or film industry, but he didn’t know that was an option when he was younger. And we watched films together as a family since I was really little. I think I have him to thank in some ways for showing me how amazing television and film can be.
Have you seen any TV shows or films recently that you would recommend?
I’m currently in the middle of I Hate Suzie on Sky Atlantic that I’m loving. And I really loved watching Little Fires Everywhere in lockdown. I think the best telly I have watched in a long time though is both Years & Years – I love Russell T Davies’ writing, and I May Destroy You by the queeeennn that is Michaela Coel. She is honestly just on a whole new level I can’t quite comprehend. Film-wise, I watched Tenet, the new Christopher Nolan film recently in the cinema, which was mind-boggling, but I really enjoyed it, I love his films. But I can’t appreciate films and telly without appreciating some books. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo is by far the most incredible book I’ve read in a long time! I was blown away in so many ways by that book. I still feel emotional when I think about it. I just think everyone should read it.
We understand you are also an artist, can you tell us more about this?
Yes, I am. I have also done artwork alongside my acting, it always just fit together really nicely. I mainly do Portraiture, and Figurative pieces, but I like to always experiment with new things. I guess it’s just another way to capture people, and I love creating something that can go in people’s homes and be a part of people’s day-to-day lives. I’ve had my little business Emily Burnett Art for the past six years now. It helps pay the bills when acting is quiet. I think it keeps me sane, I always have something to do, and it’s something I’m in control of and can work on my own time in many ways. I just love making things.
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