On screen, Emma Handy played Mrs Cook in the screen adaptation of Jacqueline Wilson’s book The Beaker Girls, alongside a cast including Dani Harmer as Tracy Beaker and Emma Maggie Davies as Jess Beaker. Having joined the cast of Doc Martin in Series 8 as Samantha Trappett, Emma continued in the role for Series 9 and the final Series 10, and her previous roles have included playing Dr. Towne in EastEnders, Mrs Hallow in the first two series of The Worst Witch, and she played DC Paula McIntyre in Wire in the Blood. Emma’s most recent stage credit was in 2018, playing Linda in Devil With The Blue Dress, and she toured the UK in Handbagged in 2015. Over her years as an actor so far, Emma has been involved with numerous projects, including the Terence Rattigan play Flare Path at the National Theatre with Sheridan Smith and Sienna Miller, and on screen, she was in the cast of William and Mary as Tracy Mellor alongside Martin Clunes and Julie Graham. Talking to us, Emma tells us about being in the screen adaptation of The Beaker Girls for CBBC, her time as Samantha Trappett in Doc Martin and her memories from filming Wire in the Blood as DC Paula McIntyre.
What was Mrs Cook like to play in The Beaker Girls and how would you describe the character?
Mrs Cook is a force of nature and was great fun to play. She is happiest when ‘directing’; whether it be her plays, her concerts or her students. A woman of little patience, who very much likes things her own way. Underneath it all she has a good heart and likes to inspire the students to express their creativity, but as long as it is within the of boundaries set by Mrs Cook!
How was it filming with the rest of the cast and working on a popular Jacqueline Wilson franchise?
We had good relationships as a cast, on and off set, which makes the filming a lovely experience. The schedules are busy and the days can be long so we socialise together when we can. Some of the directors gave us the freedom to improvise quite a lot, which was great, especially when working with the kids who responded very well to improvisation with Mrs Cook! We had a lot of fun.
The storylines for the Jacqueline Wilson books have interesting and unusual themes so there is rarely a dull moment!
What was it like returning to film Series 2 and how was it seeing the fan response to the episodes?
Series 2 put Mrs Cook in her holiday bliss; running the community centre Horizons and directing the community show that is performed on the pier. I always love to work near a beach and we were filming in the summer, so it was lovely to jump into the Bristol Channel in my free time. Series 2 was quite a journey of sticky situations and hurdles to navigate for Mrs Cook but it all turned out to be rather moving in the end.
It is always lovely to hear that what you are doing is making a difference in some way to some people.
You played Samantha Trappett in Series 8, 9 and 10 of Doc Martin, what was the show like to be part of?
Being part of Doc Martin was an absolute pleasure. Lovely cast and crew, beautiful locations and fabulous food! I was welcomed into the Doc Martin family very warmly.
As a regular or a semi-regular on a series, you have the chance to become familiar and comfortable with the crew and this can considerably enhance your experience on set.
What did you enjoy most about playing Samantha Trappett and what was it like filming for the final series?
Samantha Trappett was the Port Wenn village estate agent but also a member of the local Cornish Gig Boat Rowing team. Filming the boat race was an experience I shall never forget. It was a logistical nightmare for the production team trying to work around the weather, but a joyous time for the actors. We trained in Port Isaac Bay early in the mornings with the local rowing team. When the weather was good, we would be filming out on the water, in the sunshine, rowing very fast, luckily never for very long. Keeping a certain level of fitness does tend to help in these situations!
My final storyline involved an injury to my finger and makeup made a prosthetic of my hand for the surgery Doc had to perform on it. I now have a spare hand as a momento!! It was sad to be filming the final series, but all good things come to an end.
How was it filming for episodes of EastEnders as Dr. Towne?
I was playing Adrian Edmondson’s character’s oncologist. As a huge fan of The Young Ones as a child, it was pretty surreal to work with him in a such a serious and rather moving storyline.
Can you tell us about your time playing Mrs Hallow in the first two series of The Worst Witch and what was it like on set?
Although I have worked with children quite a bit in my career, this was the first time I was filming with a lot of children all at once on set and it was quite daunting to begin with. It is paramount for the children to be respected and nurtured. They are so young and impressionable and when they are not filming, they have school lessons, so they can get tired very easily. It was great to work with the brilliant Clare Higgins again, who I had done a wonderful play with at the National Theatre, Vincent in Brixton, some years before.
Some of my filming dates sadly clashed with Doc Martin filming in the second series and, much to my disappointment, I had to miss filming an episode when I was to fly on a broomstick! Mr Hallow very kindly stepped in!
What are some of your favourite memories from working on Wire in the Blood as regular character DC Paula McIntyre?
I was in Wire in the Blood for five series. It was all shot in and around Newcastle, which has an incredible range of diverse locations for filming; from derelict chemical factories to beautiful castle ruins on stunning beaches. Although there was often a great deal of weather to deal with, Northumberland has some of the most beautiful landscapes you will ever see. I experienced cold that I had never felt before. I remember shooting a storyline when my character, who was in the C.I.D., went undercover as a prostitute in order to trap a serial killer. I usually prefer to do any physical or stunt work myself if I can and in this case, despite there being a stunt double for my character, I learnt early on that this would be the only way to keep warm! For someone who faints when giving blood, I love watching all the blood and prosthetics being created by the makeup team and there was, of course, plenty on this series. When you meet the brilliant and truly lovely Val McDermid, who wrote the original books, you would not believe these very dark stories are her creations. We had a lot of fun filming them.
How do you find the experience having guest roles in shows such as Trust Me, Doctor Who and The Coroner?
As long as it’s a juicy part then you can establish a relationship with the cast and crew pretty quickly and get on with playing your part. You just have to dive in, often not knowing anyone on set, so the larger storyline your character has, the easier it is to play. Turning up on set with not so much to do, you can feel far less at ease and this is not always so fun.
You most recently starred on stage in 2018 as Linda in Devil With The Blue Dress, how was this?
It is always exciting to play a real person. I was playing the now late Linda Tripp, who was the woman who became Monica Lewinsky’s confidante during her affair with President Clinton. She illegally recorded all the phone calls she had with Monica and then betrayed her by handing over the tapes, exposing the Lewinsky scandal. For me, one of the best bits of being an actor is the detective work; discovering what motivates the character you are playing. This was a particularly fascinating one.
What was it like touring the UK with Handbagged in 2015?
I loved playing the Queen. This was a very intriguing part to play as there is very little we know of the ‘private’ Queen, who she was away from all the pomp and ceremony. But there is just enough to read about and find in early footage (now online) of the family having barbecues in the mountains at Balmoral or the odd behind the scenes moment before a formal broadcast; and in these you get a very strong glimpse of a woman with a bold energy, a good sense of humour and quite different from the very serious dutiful ‘public’ Queen we mostly knew. This private side was brilliantly written by Moira Buffini, particularly in the scenes with Margaret Thatcher. We were all on stage for most of the play, which felt a little like being on a roller coaster ride. The story covered the ups and downs of the Queen and Margaret Thatcher’s relationship during their time together in power.
Can you tell us about some of the other projects you’ve been involved with so far on both stage and screen, which have included Flare Path at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and the TV series William and Mary?
I played Maudie Miller in Flare Path with Sheridan Smith and Sienna Miller. Maudie was a joy to play. Terence Rattigan, who wrote it, was a tail gunner himself in the Second World War and it is based on his experience of being shot down during a raid. We met some of the incredible pilots who fought in WW2 in these horrific raids. It is a beautifully written play and Trevor Nunn intentionally drew out in us the underlying horrors that these rather stiff British characters of the time were dealing with. It was moving and very funny.
My storyline in William and Mary was very sad and disturbing. My character Tracy Mellor was very alone in the world and, after giving birth to her first child, she tried to form a relationship with her midwife played by Julie Graham. She decided to keep getting pregnant so she could maintain that connection. For Tracy’s third pregnancy, Mary wasn’t available. So distraught by this, it led her to kill herself and her three children, one not yet born. Rather unpleasant viewing for my family!
How did you get into the acting industry and was it something you always wanted to do?
My late father was an orchestral and session musician (a trumpet player), my mother was a ballet dancer and my grandmother was the Chief Press Officer at the Coliseum (St Martin’s Lane). I spent a great deal of my childhood either sitting at the back of the stalls of the Coliseum watching ENO’s productions or in many a rehearsal and concert hall including the Albert Hall (or Bertie’s Barn as they called it) the Festival Hall, Purcell Room, the Wigmore Hall, and in the summer, Glyndebourne, where the London Philharmonic are the resident orchestra and who my father played with for over 25 years. Most days of the week, after school I was watching ballet classes at my mother’s dancing school.
There was an inspirational teacher at my school who wrote and directed all the school plays. I was always given the lead part whether it was male or female! Quite a good base to set me up although I didn’t realise it at the time. I did enjoy performing from a very young age.
Do you have any favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch?
I find it hard to name a favourite. I’m a big fan of Thomas Vinterberg films and I like many Korean films. Films I could and do watch over and over again: Burnt by the Sun, Some Like it Hot, Another Round, Shoplifters, Parasite, Jaws… It’s impossible to stop there but…
I would love to be able to go to Covent Garden more to hear any Wagner operas. I don’t watch very much TV, although I did just watch Sir Simon Rattle’s last concert with the LSO, one of the BBC Proms, and it completely blew me away. I enjoy going to the theatre when I’m abroad even if I don’t speak the language. It is amazing how much you can understand from body language without understanding the words.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I watch a lot of movies and documentaries. I love swimming in the sea when it has not had sewage dumped in it! I listen to music a lot. Yoga on a warm beach is my place of bliss.
What are you hoping the rest of 2023 brings for you and do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
I used to live on a boat and am going to learn to sail when I have the time. No acting projects coming up at the moment, but I am planning to do some conservation work; regenerating coral reefs and sea grass meadows when I can. When I book a holiday or a trip away, I often get a job, so my agent always encourages it!!