Sex Education's Aimee Lou Wood on her season 4 hopes and her new role in Channel 4's On the Edge
The Aimee Gibbs star opens up about the Netflix show's future and her important new Channel 4 drama.
There aren't too many actors who can say they share a name with their best-known character, but Aimee Lou Wood – the star of Sex Education – is one of them. "She has kind of stolen my name," she says. "Most people are talking to Aimee Gibbs, not to me, when they talk to me so it's a weird thing to get your head around. More people know Aimee Gibbs than they know me – like millions more."
Over 40 million to be more exact, so it came as no surprise to viewers when Aimee Gibbs – the slightly dim but loveable baking enthusiast of Moordale Secondary – made Wood a star overnight after the Netflix teen drama premiered back in 2019. Aimee quickly became a fan-favourite with her hugely quotable lines and vagina-covered cupcakes, and while the role won Wood a BAFTA earlier this year, she admits the name-stealing is "kind of annoying" as we speak over Zoom on a Wednesday afternoon.
Thankfully, Lou Wood's latest role in Channel 4's upcoming anthology drama On the Edge doesn't add another Aimee to her acting résumé. The 26-year-old stars in the show's stand-alone first episode Mincemeat as Jane, a young woman trying to find independence whilst living with an overbearing and controlling mum (played by Worzel Gummidge's Rosie Cavaliero). The rising star is just as bubbly and chatty as her Netflix namesake whilst Zooming from her South London home, although the character's blonde, '70s-style curls are gone, with Wood sporting a chic, brunette lob.
"I think [Jane] is highly relatable. She's got this mother who takes up both the physical space – she hoards – and Jane has to make herself so small to fit into her mum's life, and also all the emotional space and Jane is left with nothing," she says.
The episode, written and directed by Samantha O'Rourke and Nadira Amrani respectively, opens with Jane and her mother Carol filling a shopping trolley full of processed meat before joylessly celebrating the birthday of her late father over a plate of meat stew. That's when Jane decides she wants to become a vegetarian, resulting in Carol's first (of many) emotionally abusive rants towards her daughter.
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"She's basically her mum's support system and it's all she's ever really known since her dad died," Wood adds. "It's about a person who is figuring out who they are when they wring out the sponge, wring out all this stuff that they've absorbed from other people. Who are they underneath that? And what do they believe in?"
Mincemeat isn't just a coming of age story centred around a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship however – it turns into a romance when Jane bumps into former classmate Nish (Nikhil Parmar). "I think for the first time she feels like herself when she is around him. It is a love story and I just absolutely love love stories and rom-coms when they're done well – it's the best thing ever."
Without spoiling too much, Mincemeat takes a turn when some of Carol's abhorrent views are revealed to the viewer and we watch as Jane tries to drown out her mother's loud opinions to establish some of her own. "She's really a personification of an ideology that is hateful, she's an embodiment of all these horrible systemic issues," Wood says of Carol. "I think it's just a really important story. It's important to be reminded that in the kind of echo chamber that I'm in, that people actually have those views still.
"People actually still need to be challenged and systems need to be dismantled that are literally poison. I think I find because of my friends and the world that I'm in, I forget that and then it's like, 'No, that is still rife,'" she adds. "Jane is of this younger generation but she doesn't realise that she's inherited so much of this from her mum because she hasn't had any space to detach and figure out what she believes in. I think what's powerful about this story is that Jane is breaking the cycle and it's really sad but it's also quite hopeful."
Despite preparing to start production on Living, a film in which she stars alongside Bill Nighy, Wood decided to take on Mincemeat after loving Jane's character arc ("It's an opportunity to really flex all those acting muscles") and learning that the character was a vegetarian. "I'm actually vegan so that was another thing about Jane that I was like, 'Oh cool!'"
Much like her role on Sex Education, the 10-day shoot involved a lot of eating, although Wood managed to avoid any of the titular grub featured in Mincemeat. "I was moving stuff around my plate a lot but when it was the plain pasta, I ate so much of it because one thing that really annoys me in TV and films is when it's a dinner scene, but nobody eats." Although, the Manchester-born star learnt the hard way why few actors dine out on set food. "You take that one bite and then you've got to do it every time for continuity. When I played Aimee and I'd make flapjacks in Sex Education, I started the scene by taking big bites of these flapjacks. By take nine, I was still eating, I just felt so sick."
After graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 2017, Wood was asked to audition for Sex Education in the role of Lily, which was eventually played by Tanya Reynolds – so it's a complete coincidence that she eventually landed the role of her namesake Aimee Gibbs.
"I really wish she was named after me but actually, she was just called Aimee. I got this thing through saying, 'Do you want to audition for Aimee?' and it was spelled A-i-m-e-e, and then I read her sides and I thought, 'Oh my god, this is fate.' I think it can get a little bit close for comfort. On set, I get called Woody because my director Ben [Taylor] has just always called me Woody so there's some kind of separation there."
The series recently returned for its third season after facing a number of COVID-related delays. "It was quite weird," Wood says of filming during the pandemic. "I think we were one of the first productions to go back as well and we were being tested constantly. I think we were just so grateful to be there and, you know, crew members especially have made such big changes and sacrifices in their lives in order to be there and get that show done."
Season three ended with Aimee breaking up with long-time boyfriend Steve (Chris Jenks) and slowly regaining her confidence after being sexually assaulted on a bus in season two – and fans aren't the only ones itching to find out what will happen in season four. "I actually spoke to Laurie [Nunn] a bit about some stories because I'm so excited. I just really wanted to know what's going to happen with Aimee next and everyone else.
"I think it's going to be really weird because Moordale's gone so it's going to be a very different feeling I think to how it has been," she says. "Probably in a really good way because I think they are growing up. Season three felt a lot more grown up and I think it's going to go even further in season four."
With Moordale shutting down and the students entering their last year of education, it does beg the question – could the hit Netflix series be coming to an end soon? "There's a part of me that could just do it forever but there's also a part of me that's like no, we've all got to go and do different things.
"I can't be 50 saying, 'Freshers Week!" she adds. "It's a bittersweet thing. Even if it's not this series, it probably is closer now to ending than it is to the start, which is sad but also probably in many ways, will be very positive. I always think leave them wanting more as well."
More importantly, with Aimee and Steve no longer together, who'll be getting custody of their goat? "It has to be Aimee, doesn't it?" Wood says. "But then I also feel bad because it's like, poor Steve. What's he left with? A broken heart and no goat."
Fans weren't the only ones fighting for the couple, as Wood reveals that she asked the show's producers if they could be reunited in season four. "I was saying a lot to our directors, 'Do they have to split up?' And then we were so sad on the day because we're the only couple that's lasted from season one.
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"I was saying to Laurie the other day, maybe Aimee and Steve can get back together? After they've had some time apart – they definitely need some time apart, but maybe they can find their way back to each other."
Regardless of Aimee and Steve's situation, Wood is looking forward to seeing Aimee pursue her baking dreams and become more of an independent person. "I would love her to stay on that track and explore her baking more, because she's getting really good at that. She actually has something of her own – she's not just a girlfriend or a best friend or a goat mum."
As for what's next for Aimee Lou Wood, the Sex Education star reveals that she's writing her own TV show – although she's not the best at setting goals for the future. "I wish I did more. I watched a video with Jennifer Aniston the other day and she was like, 'I've never ever set myself a goal in my life. I don't know what's going on, I'm just going with the flow,' and I think I quite like just going with the flow a bit."
This aversion to goal-setting can be explained by star signs, Wood explains as we exchange our astrological information (Wood is an Aquarius, I'm a Sagittarius). "I'm basically like the air version of you and you're the fire version of me," she says. "Aquarius and Sagittarius, they don't really like rules. They don't really like conventional structures so we're kind of the rebels."
On the Edge: Mincemeat airs on Channel 4 at 10pm on Sunday 7th November.