Tanya Reynolds on That Mini 'Sex Education' Reunion in 'Emma' and Hopes for Season 3 (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
English actress Tanya Reynolds is enjoying quite the moment thanks to two buzzy, acclaimed projects -- Netflix’s Sex Education and the remake of Emma.
The latter is Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 adaptation of the Jane Austen classic, which sees a cast of rising, young stars stepping into the period story about a privileged young woman, who occupies herself with matchmaking and meddling in the lives of her friends and family. In this version, Anya Taylor-Joy plays Emma, with Josh O’Connor playing Mr. Elton, Johnny Flynn as George Knightley, Mia Goth as Harriet Smith, Callum Turner as Frank Churchill, Gemma Whelan as Mrs. Weston, Connor Swindells as Robert Martin, and Reynolds as Mrs. Elton. Rounding out the cast are Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart as the town’s meandering adults.
Now in theaters, the film is earning positive reviews largely due to its stellar ensemble who fully immerse themselves in Austen’s world. “Actors like Anya and Mia are such extraordinary stars of the moment,” Reynolds tells ET, adding that the entire cast is full of “incredible actors doing incredible things.” The actress goes on to reveal that she was constantly pinching herself, especially when acting opposite Nighy. “I was just so starstruck and trying to be cool. And Bill was so lovely to me because I think he could tell that I was super nervous and he just gave me the sweetest pep talk.”
Later, while Reynolds was filming a scene with Nighy and Taylor-Joy outside “this amazing manor house with everyone in these gorgeous costumes,” the actress had an epiphany about acting. “I just had a moment where I was like, ‘When I was little and I knew I wanted to be an actor, this is what I imagined myself doing: being in a Jane Austen.’ ...My little 8-year-old self was jumping for joy.”
The film also led to an unexpected Sex Education reunion between Reynolds and Swindells. The two were unaware that the other was in the cast until Swindells was on set and saw Reynolds’ headshot on the wall. “It was purely coincidental, but lovely,” she says. “We had one day where we were both on set together, which was so nice. Actually, my favorite moment of the film is of him and Mia, when she runs and kisses him toward the end and they run off together. Oh, it’s so sweet.”
On the hit Netflix series, Reynolds and Swindells play teenage classmates -- Lily and Adam, respectively -- of the socially awkward Otis (Asa Butterfield), who opens up a sex clinic with Maeve (Emma Mackey) to help other students with their sexual exploration.
When audiences first meet Lily, she’s a quirky, if not slightly misunderstood girl known for writing alien erotica and is determined to lose her virginity. “I love Lily so much. From day one, it’s been so much fun to create her,” Reynolds says of the scene-stealing character. “In the first season, she was so out there and so funny and had these little scenes that were great fun to do and tickled a lot of people.”
She adds that Lily, who quickly became a fan-favorite, “was quite ridiculous all the time.”
In the second season, the character grows more complex as Lily finds herself putting her sexual endeavor on pause to focus on her creative talents, which includes applying her fictional work to the high school’s musical production. (“I think she could go on to be the next Ridley Scott. I really believe that,” Reynolds says of Lily’s command as director of the school’s theater company.) Meanwhile, Lily’s budding friendship with Otis’ girlfriend, Ola (Patricia Allison), gets complicated after Ola realizes she has deeper feelings.
“The character grows more and more with every episode,” Reynolds says, recalling how she felt when she saw what Lily was getting to do, especially with Ola. As Lily’s character and storyline grew, she was given more “moments of sincerity -- these gorgeous little romantic moments” that left the actress wondering how she was going to pull it off. “I remember thinking there’s stuff in the second season kind of being these quite serious moments with Ola and having a panic, like, ‘Oh, gosh. How is Lily going to do this?’”
In February, less than a month after season two debuted, Netflix renewed Sex Education for a third season. The news didn’t come as much of a surprise to Reynolds even though she was cautiously optimistic it might happen. “The second season has been received so well,” she says. “We were hopeful, but you never know. You never want to be too confident about these things. No matter how good a show is.”
And when it comes to Lily, Reynolds is excited to see what unexpected turns her character takes in season three. “The one thing I love about Lily is that she surprises me all the time,” the actress says. “What they wrote for her in season two, I couldn’t have predicted that.”