With Tracy Beaker returning with the highly-anticipated CBBC adaptation of Jacqueline Wilson’s My Mum Tracy Beaker, Emma Maggie Davies was cast in her first major role as Jess Beaker starring alongside her screen mother Dani Harmer, with the show setting a record as CBBC’s most successful programme launch. Being cast as Jess has seen Emma appear with Dani live on CBBC HQ on release day as well as being guests on Blue Peter, and they both appeared on Saturday Mash-Up alongside Montanna Thompson, who plays Justine Littlewood in the show. Emma has previously worked on a short film called Lavender, which has won many awards including her winning Best Young Actress at Prodigy Film Festival. Speaking with Emma recently, she talks about being cast as Jess Beaker in My Mum Tracy Beaker for her first major role, working closely with Dani Harmer and appearing on Blue Peter and Saturday Mash-Up.
You’ve recently been seen starring as Jess Beaker in the new CBBC adaptation of My Mum Tracy Beaker, what was it like booking your first major role?
I remember my agent calling and my mum answered, and put it on speakerphone. My agent said “you’ve landed the part of Jess Beaker”. I screamed and jumped about, so did my family, even my dog joined in! To get this as my first major role was so exciting as I’ve read a few Jacqueline Wilson books, Tracy Beaker being one of them, and my brother and I watched reruns of the show after school when I was around six or seven, so Tracy is like a big, big character to me in my life.
What do you remember from meeting the rest of the cast for the first time?
I met Dani (Harmer) first, our lovely director John McKay had us doing role play, and we had a total laugh, we improvised and what I remember is there was an imaginary goldfish in a bag and Dani gave me a piggyback!! I adored her immediately and felt at ease, she’s such a fun and good person. I then met Jordan (Duvigneau), again, we improvised scenes and he was such a great guy, so calm, and easy to talk to. He taught me about football which I knew nothing about at all! I then got to meet Noah (Leacock), he’s hilarious, we clicked like that and quickly became friends and still chat pretty much every day, he’s one of my closest friends. When I met Lisa (Coleman) and Ruth (Gemmell) it was on the same day, and it was the scene I had to act out throwing up on Granny Carly. I had a bit of anxiety about meeting them both and doing the scene. I thought, they’re all so good and I’m not and I felt genuinely sick. But John heard I was worrying so he sat down with me and told me an amazing story about an experience he had where he almost gave in to negative thoughts about himself while working with lots of very, very famous people. I won’t tell you everything he said as it’s his story to tell, but he told me he reminded himself he was hired because he was good at what he does and that I was too and to remember that. So, I did, and Ruth and Lisa were just so lovely, and I remember feeling so lucky to be working with them. When I met Montanna (Thompson), she put me at ease immediately, She’s just so nice and fun and nothing like Justine! I love how she plays Justine, she is really awful, but Montanna shows Justine’s softer side so well, I’d love to play a character like her one day.
How did you find the experience on set of the show and working on the series?
I loved every minute. The crew were so nice and friendly. It was hard work, but working with such great people makes it easier.
What was it like working closely with Tracy Beaker star Dani Harmer?
Absolutely brilliant. I’ve adored her since being little, and now I know her as a person and think she’s just amazing. One of our first scenes together we filmed for ages in the cold rain in the caddy, we got very cold!! Dani bought me a hot chocolate from Costa to warm me up and I just thought, yep, you’re awesome!
Can you tell us how you felt on release day and chatting live on CBBC HQ?
I was so excited for everyone to see the show. Chatting live was nerve-racking but the presenters put me at ease quite quickly and I just relaxed and had fun.
How did it feel seeing the response to Jess and hearing the show had set a record as CBBC’s most successful programme launch?
I felt so happy that the fans who knew where Jess was coming from and understood her as a character liked what I’d done playing Jess. To hear it broke the record was very cool, and I felt so proud of everyone involved.
Did you have a favourite scene to film and what was Jess like to play?
Definitely the caddy scene by the beach, even though it was so cold I just loved it, singing along with Dani and hugging little Pip Squeak the dog (Alfie in the show), I had a hot water bottle behind my back and one under my feet!!
Jess was so much fun to play. She is quieter than Tracy, but she’s got her fire too which was great to act out.
What are some of your favourite memories from your time filming?
Definitely the time I just mentioned, and also when it was my eleventh birthday on set, the cast and crew all sang to me and gave me a cake and all signed a card which I’ll keep forever probably.
How familiar were you with the Jacqueline Wilson books before auditioning?
I’d read a Tracy Beaker book, Hetty Feather and My Sister Jodie.
You recently appeared on Blue Peter, what was this like to do?
That was my first time on live TV. The producers, crew and presenters all helped prepare me, we did a few run throughs before we went live, and as I’d done lots of local theatre before I wasn’t as nervous as I maybe would have been. I also got to catch up with Dani for the first time in a while which was fab, we were chatting away in between rehearsing! It was a really fun experience, I’d love to do it again.
How was it being a guest on Saturday Mash-Up with Dani Harmer and Justine Littlewood actor Montanna Thompson and can you tell us about your appearance on the show?
That show is bonkers!! But again, like Blue Peter, it has a fab producer, crew and presenters who all help you prepare and we were called extra early to run through certain bits like the… ahem… scooter driving!! I actually think I was the youngest to do that, and I believe I may have caused a bit of damage! But it was very funny! I really loved the energy of the show and Dani and I had such a nice time catching up with Montanna in the green room, even if we had to keep two metres apart.
You’ve previously appeared in short film Lavender, can you tell us about it and how was the experience on set?
That was my first experience filming. Our director, Andrew Ball-Shaw, explained to me that the scenes I was in were the lead character’s memories of her being a young woman with her daughter as a child and her husband having a picnic in lavender fields. The lady in present time sadly had dementia. I enjoyed the experience so much and learned lots about how sets work.
The film has won a number of awards including your win at Prodigy Film Festival for Best Young Actress, how does this feel?
Well, I just think it’s wonderful and I’m so grateful, it’s truly a beautiful short film that I’m proud to be part of.
Had you always wanted a screen career and where does your love of acting come from?
I wanted to sing, dance and act on stage first, as when I was younger I’d watch my elder brother who’d joined a local theatre group. I did join quite a few shows in local theatre, and after a few years of being in the chorus I auditoned for the role of Annie and got it. That was so much fun, lots of work but a brilliant time. I then joined a screen acting class called only projects and learned screen acting is so, so different! I loved it though, and learned so much there that I knew I wanted to do this for a job.
Do you have any favourite TV shows or films to watch and what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I love The Princess Diaries, Anne Hathaway is so good in that, I love her. I loved Jumanji too. Stranger Things is one of my favourite TV shows. I like the sitcom Alexa & Katie on Netflix, it’s funny but also talks about serious subjects such as Alexa battling cancer. I also, of course, love Tracy Beaker! I like to watch The Next Step on CBBC too as it makes me laugh. In my spare time during lockdown I’ve been enjoying doing art with my friends on video call and just chatting to all my friends on FaceTime. I also love going on walks with my family and playing Roblox!
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