If you hadn’t heard of Emerald Fennell before 2021, you’ve certainly heard of her now. Her first feature film “Promising Young Woman” became one of the most talked-about films of the year, earning five Academy Award nominations. Fennell herself picked up three nominations for writing, directing, and producing the film (via Deadline).
But filmmaking isn’t Fennell’s only claim to fame; you may also know her for her work as an actress. Her impressive CV includes roles in “Call the Midwife,” “Anna Kernina,” “The Danish Girl,” “Vita & Virginia,” and “The Crown” (via IMDb). And as if that wasn’t enough, Fennell is also a published author. It’s safe to say that this powerhouse is one of the busiest creatives around.
So, how did Fennell manage to rack up so many successes so early in her career? Well, her life story can give us a few clues. Here is the stunning transformation of Emerald Fennell.
Emerald Fennell grew up in a well-off creative family
Emerald Fennell had a few advantages growing up. Raised in London by a well-off jewelry designer father and an author mother, Fennell was blessed with the two fundamental pillars of success: wealth and creativity.
As she told the Wall Street Journal Magazine, Fennell is quite cognizant about how this privileged upbringing helped her. “I’m very aware that part of my luck was that I had parents who lived in London who were able to support me,” she explained. Nevertheless, instead of taking advantage of her luck, Fennell said it only made her trajectory harder. “So I have to work really hard because that head start that people like me get, you need to prove that you deserved it,” she continued.
While her family’s situation did give her a head start in life, Fennell also benefited from her parents’ easygoing approach to parenting. For instance, when Fennell wanted to get a belly-button piercing, her mom threatened to do the same. As she told The Times, “My parents have always been much cooler than my sister and me.”
Emerald Fennell used reading and writing to cope with insomnia as a child
Despite her privilege, Emerald Fennell showed the tell-tale signs of being something of a tortured artist from an early age. Even when she was young, Fennell found it difficult to sleep. “I had really bad insomnia,” she told the Wall Street Journal Magazine. “And reading has always been kind of a lifeboat.” Instead of sleeping, Fennell turned to stories, first reading books, then writing her own.
As Fennell explained to Empire, her imagination could get pretty dark during her sleepless nights. “I thought about things a lot,” she continued. “About things that would go wrong. People climbing in through the window and taking my sister away. Falling down in the middle of the night in the cellar, hurting myself and nobody being able to find me.”
While these twisted imaginings were clearly pretty troubling, they led to a manic creativity. As Fennell shared with The Times, “Anxious, crippling, dark nights of the soul that, arguably, have made me a better writer.”
Emerald Fennell started acting while in school and was discovered in a university play
While Emerald Fennell started writing during sleepless nights as a child, she started acting while she was attending school. As she explained to Holland Park Education, she found theater as a way to avoid gym class at school. “I found out that you could skive off games if you wrote for the school magazine or had play rehearsals,” she revealed. “I had two lines playing ‘Tavern Wench 2’ in Tess of the D’Urbevilles and never looked back.”
Of course, acting was also in Fennell’s DNA. As she told British Comedy Guide, “I was one of those exhausting children, a terrible exhibitionist always putting on plays. I think acting is one of those things you feel you have to do.” Fennell eventually went to the University of Oxford (via Grazia) and it was there that she was discovered by her acting agent.
Emerald Fennell stopped drinking when she was 22
Emerald Fennell may not strike you as a tee-totaller, but as she told RogerEbert.com, she decided to stop drinking when she was 22. While Fennell didn’t explain why she decided to give up alcohol, her 2021 film “Promising Young Woman” deals with the thorny subject of drinking culture and how it relates to sexual assault. A drunk girl, Fennell said, is often portrayed as an “object of desire.” She went on, “I still think that as a culture we have this idea of ‘asking for it.’ I had a very difficult conversation with a male journalist who said some people would argue that women make themselves vulnerable by getting drunk.”
By the sound of things, Fennell experienced this problematic culture first-hand before she stopped drinking. As she told Esquire, “I’d been thinking a lot about the world we all grew up in where alcohol was quite freely used as a way of getting people into bed … I found it very disturbing.” It’s clear that Fennell’s personal relationship with alcohol is wrapped up in this idea, so it’s no wonder she decided to stop drinking.
Emerald Fennell met Phoebe Waller-Bridge on the set of 'Albert Nobbs'
Emerald Fennell appeared in the Glenn Close film “Albert Nobbs” as Mrs. Smythe-Willard. Although it was quite a small part, the film ended up being a turning point in her life; it was on the set of the project that she struck up a friendship with a fellow actor and writer, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the woman behind “Fleabag.” The pair quickly became good friends thanks to their dark imaginations and love of twisted comedy (via Grazia).
While Fennell’s career as an actor-writer-director may seem similar to Waller-Bridge’s, she’s clear that her approach is pretty different. As she told The Times, she’d never want to star in her own work. “Personally I spend all my time doing the work, so I can hide behind that a little bit,” she confessed.
However, despite their slightly different approaches to their work, these two women are great friends. Waller-Bridge once gushed about Fennell to The Telegraph saying she was “the most stylish person I’ve ever met. Not just in her work and her appearance, but in her spirit, how she speaks, how she carries herself.” Talk about friendship goals!
Emerald Fennell made a name for herself in Call the Midwife
In 2013, Emerald Fennell landed a leading role in the BBC drama “Call the Midwife.” She played Patsy Mount, the red-headed, no-nonsense nurse. Although she had several impressive credits already under her belt, this role marked a turning point in Fennell’s career.
As she later told Radio Times, Fennell learnt a lot from the experience. “I learnt so much about how sets work, and about almost every facet of film-making, just from getting to be there every day,” she revealed. By the sounds of things, this stint on a TV series helped Fennell as she began to think about working behind the scenes as a writer and director.
Despite her rising fame as a BBC star, Fennell kept her feet solidly on the ground. As she told Express, she spent her time off work cooking, singing karaoke, watching horror films with her housemates, and strolling around London.
Emerald Fennell wrote a series of creepy children's books
Just as her acting career was taking off, Emerald Fennell began yet another career. In 2013, her first book, “Shiverton Hall,” was published. The children’s book follows a young boy at a creepy boarding school. As The Guardian noted, the book had some disturbing psychological parts, but was still perfect for intelligent young readers.
As Fennell explained to the Evening Standard, the book was a result of her childhood obsession with horror. “I loved all that stuff when I was a kid,” she recalled. She added that she’d wanted to write a kid’s horror book similar to “Point Horror.” “We’ve got quite an amazing horror background in this country, so it’s nice to [add to it],” she said.
Clearly, the book was a big success, as a sequel was published just one year later. We have to say, we’re super impressed by Fennell’s work ethic — she never seems to stop!
Emerald Fennell published her debut novel in 2015
Shortly after writing her first two novels for children, Emerald Fennell took the leap into adult fiction with her novel “Monsters.” The characteristically creepy book was, unsurprisingly, a big success. As William Boyd wrote for the New Statesman, “Emerald Fennell’s Monsters is a tremendous, destabilizing work of fiction, infusing the mundane with eerie and unsettling darkness it is written, moreover, in a remarkable tone of voice” (via The Guardian).
In an interview with the Evening Standard, Fennell explained the book’s premise. “Monsters is written from the point of view of this very macabre, lonely little girl,” she shared. “It was just one of those things I’d had in my head for years and really wanted to do.” Clearly Fennell’s own twisted imagination as a child led to her successful novel. By the sounds of things, she’s just as good a fiction writer as she is an actress. We are pretty impressed.
Emerald Fennell wrote the second season of 'Killing Eve'
In 2019, Emerald Fennell took over as the new writer and showrunner of Season 2 of “Killing Eve,” a show created by her friend Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Fennell ended up being the perfect choice for the job because of her dark sense of humor and her distinctive writing style. As the star of the show, Jodie Comer, said at a screening, “Phoebe and Emerald are so similar but they are genius writers within their own right. I really feel that Emerald captured the heart of the show and the characters.” And, of course, as a close friend of Waller-Bridge, it was an easy transition. As one producer said, “She was also a very good friend of Phoebe so it felt like a natural handing on” (via The Times).
As Fennell explained to Empire, working on “Killing Eve” helped her take the next steps in her career towards becoming a writer and director. “It gives you so much experience and confidence,” she shared. “And other people confidence, because I think it still is difficult for women.”
Emerald Fennell landed a starring role on 'The Crown'
After her successes as a writer of fiction and television, Emerald Fennell got another massive career boost: in 2019, she was cast as Camilla Parker Bowles in the Netflix smash hit “The Crown.” As she told Vogue at the time, she had had her eye on the role for years. “I have always felt that she might be someone who maybe hasn’t been treated very fairly,” she explained. To that end, once Fennell was cast, she decided to try to give Camilla a reprieve of sorts. “I absolutely love Camilla and am very grateful that my teenage years have well prepared me for playing a chain-smoking serial snogger with a pudding-bowl haircut,” she continued. It sounds like Fennell has more than a few things in common with her character.
Of course, being in “The Crown” was a huge step for Fennell, being one of the most successful shows in Netflix history. She was “over the moon” to be cast — and even a little “terrified.” Luckily, her performance was just what the show needed.
Emerald Fennell had her first child shortly after making her first feature film
Despite her hectic career, Emerald Fennell did find time to start a family with her husband, Chris Vernon. As she told The Telegraph, she only had a three week break in her schedule. “We were filming ‘Promising Young Woman’ until three weeks before I gave birth,” she recalled. The production crew even moved to a house near Fennell’s home so she could stay involved.
Not surprisingly, becoming a parent has taught Fennell a few things about herself. “There is something very primal about the process,” she continued. “You’ve grown up being told that your body isn’t good enough, then suddenly it does something so magical it focuses your mind in a really amazing way.”
Having her child also made Fennell realize the importance of supporting young mothers. “The first thing I’d say, as someone with a young child is that anything we can do to help with childcare would make a huge difference,” she told Grazia. “It’s impossible to have a young family and work in this industry.” Fortunately for everyone, Fennell seems to have found a way to make it work anyway!
Emerald Fennell wrote 'Promising Young Woman' about the modern experience of being a woman
After success in the acting and writing worlds, it was no surprise that Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut was one of the biggest talking points of 2021. Her film “Promising Young Woman” starred Carey Mulligan as a young woman looking for revenge against toxic masculinity. The film featured Fennell’s recognizable mixture of dark moments, wry humor, and aesthetic style.
As Fennell told Vogue, the idea first came to her as a single scene. Additionally, the feminist nature of the film led to it being dubbed a “#MeToo-era film.” But, as Fennell explained, this was never her intention. “I don’t think women’s stories always have to be political or address the things that are happening at the moment,” she declared. But, nevertheless, Fennell’s goal with the film had always been to shed light on what she called “this thing that we all grew up with, which was that getting girls drunk in order to ‘seduce them’ … was kind of normal.”
Whether “Promising Young Woman” was a response to #MeToo or not, it clearly resonated with people. As a result, Fennell earned the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for her work.
Emerald Fennell was blown away by the response to her debut film
When Emerald Fennell made “Promising Young Women,” she saw it as something of a passion project. However, when the film was released and swept up numerous award nods, she was blown away. As she told RogerEbert.com of the experience, “It’s been, honestly, as a writer it’s impossible to describe … It’s been incredible.” Fennell went on to explain that she’d never imagined so many people would watch the film let alone think it was any good. “The idea of Academy Award nominations or winning a Writers Guild award is just so amazing,” she gushed. “It’s beyond.”
Of course, because of the film’s sensitive subject matter, the response went beyond just praise — “Promising Young Woman” started some big discussions, too. For Fennell, these reactions were even more meaningful than the awards. “You can’t really prepare yourself for the reactions to something like this because it’s something we all feel so personally about and it’s so complicated, and so it’s just been incredibly moving, actually,” she added. “You can’t really prepare yourself for how moving and how profound an experience that will be.”
Emerald Fennell wrote a musical with Andrew Lloyd Webber
Even though Emerald Fennell’s first film came out in 2021, she didn’t take any breaks. Instead, she went straight on to the next project: co-writing a new stage version of “Cinderella” with none other than Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. The musical was intended to open in the summer of 2020, but due to the coronavirus outbreak, this was postponed to May of 2021.
As Webber told Variety, Fennell proved herself once again to be a tour de force with the script. “I wouldn’t have written it if it hadn’t been for Emerald’s brilliant synopsis she sent to me,” he confessed. “She’s a very, very exciting writer, she’s brilliant.”
As for Fennell, the project was another opportunity to write a female-led story. As she told LW Theaters, “Rather than saying we’re going to set it in modern times, we’re going to make it the most Cinderella-y Cinderella in the world, push it to its very extremes, and then put real characters in that world.” Sounds like Fennell’s smart, inventive, darkly creative side came out once again — and we can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
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