She’s now become one of the best known faces on Netflix … but her roots remain in Holmfirth.

Jessica Gunning’s amazing yet creepy performance as stalker Martha in the Netflix series Baby Reindeer has been arguably the TV hit of the year but many people don’t know she comes from Holmfirth, her family still live in the Holme Valley and her acting career began here.

In an exclusive Q&A with Andy Hirst from Huddersfield Hub, Jessica has talked about Martha, the impact it’s had on her career and how it all began with amateur dramatics in Huddersfield.

She said: “I don’t think any of us imagined that Baby Reindeer would be watched by so many people but I’m so proud to be part of it.

“I don’t think I’ve ever read a more honest, complicated and interesting script so I guess my biggest challenge was trying to do the character of Martha justice.”

Does she think such huge international success will see this Holmfirth lass soon taking Hollywood by storm?

“Haha no, Hollywood hasn’t come calling yet,” says Jessica. “In terms of what’s next, I don’t know. Watch this space, as they say.”

But she will be appearing in the latest series of The Outlaws released on BBC iPlayer on Thursday (May 30) alongside comic genius Stephen Merchant and Hollywood icon Christopher Walken where she plays the role of bossy community service officer Diane Pemberley in charge of a misfit group of offenders working in a community payback scheme.

The Guardian review of the programme said it’s “the brilliant Diane (Jessica Gunning) who should be doing community service herself for stealing every scene she appears in.”

This is the third series and 38-year-old Jessica has been involved in writing it.

She said: “Being part of Stephen Merchant’s show The Outlaws really is a dream come true for me. I love playing Diane and I had chance to be part of the writer’s room for this next series, which was just brilliant. I learned so much.”

And although Baby Reindeer may have hit the headlines in a mega way, Jessica is very proud of her earlier work.

“It’s all been a highlight for me,” she said. “I still feel so lucky to be able to say I do this for a job, let alone look back at all the things I’ve had chance to be part of.

“Some of my favourites have to be the film Pride where I play Sian James, a Welsh miner’s wife who goes on to become an MP for Swansea East alongside a brilliant cast of Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy and Andrew Scott.

“My first TV acting role was in Doctor Who – series 4 episode 1 to be precise – and then around that same time I was also in a production of Much Ado About Nothing at the National Theatre.

“That show changed my life really as it’s where I met some of my life-long best friends, nearly 17 years ago now – wow.”

But her acting career first began when she was at Holmfirth High School and also a member of local theatre company CragRats.

“I have such great memories of doing drama classes at Holmfirth High School,” said Jessica. “I took part in the yearly productions as well and loved them.

“I used to attend an after school drama club run by CragRats and absolutely loved that as well. We used to do improvisation and plays, it was brilliant.

“The drama group at CragRats was a big inspiration and I really remember making people laugh in a drama class once and was hooked. I’ve probably been chasing that feeling ever since, really.

“In Year 11 I remember I played Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf for a GCSE drama play which, in hindsight, is a very dramatic and intense play for teenagers to be performing.

“It was definitely where I got bitten by the acting bug, as they say, and after that I then went on to Greenhead College.”

No matter where she goes in the world now, Jessica loves Holmfirth and comes back as often as she can.

“Holmfirth is such a picturesque place to grow up,” she said. “Its claim to fame is being home to Last of the Summer Wine so I remember always seeing tourists wandering around looking for Compo’s Cafe or in search of Nora Batty’s stockings.

“When I was in Year 7 a TV series called Where The Heart Is filmed in Huddersfield and used the school as a filming location in the summer holidays so my year got to be extras in the background of that.

“I was picked to play a high school bully and had the line “hasn’t your mum got a sewing machine? Harsh!”

Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR ( specialising in press releases, blogging, website content and copywriting. Main image by: THEO TENNANT.

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