Get to know actor Mimi Keene, who plays Otis's love interest.
Mimi Keene has been a fixture on the hit Netflix dramedy Sex Education since the beginning, but in many ways it feels like we're just now seeing her for the first time. Season three, currently streaming, puts her fashion-obsessed, mean/cool girl alter-ego Ruby Matthews front and center. It's about time. Her comedic timing is so sharp you could put her in a scene with the dullest character on the show—looking at you, Jakob—and you'd think it was the funniest thing you've ever seen.
“I'm just winging it," Keene says when we connect over Zoom. “It's hit-or-miss, but if it's working, great!” She's not being modest—the actor, born and raised in Hertfordshire in southern England, seems genuinely surprised when I tell her that she's a star of the season.
Creator Laurie Nunn gets it. “I got a puppy over lockdown and named her Ruby because of how much I love Ruby in series three,” she says. “I really enjoyed writing her and being able to dig a bit deeper into the character. I think we all probably knew a Ruby in high school…those sort of popular/mean girls. But the reality is, all teenagers are probably having quite a tough time and that's what I wanted to explore with Ruby. I wanted to get under her skin a little bit more and see what makes her tick.”
The way in which Nunn writes Ruby is so witty and dynamic, but it's also Keene's portrayal. She'll have you laughing on the floor one minute and crying the next. She's so charming that Nunn wouldn't be surprised if Motis fans (that's Maeve and Otis, for you) eventually start rooting for Ruby and Otis (couple name to come later). As long as there's more Ruby, she can share the screen with Aimee's goat, for all I care.
So just who is the self-described drama queen who calls her acting career “a bit of a lucky accident”? For Glamour's latest edition of New Here, the actor—best known for the BBC soap opera EastEnders—tells us about life behind the scenes and what she has in common with Ruby.
Glamour: What was your audition like for Sex Education?
Mimi Keene: I was about 19 when I first auditioned. I'm a very slow reader, usually, but I flew through the script quite quickly because I liked it that much. I don't think I met any of the other cast until the read-through. My friend group on the show—The Untouchables—were all sat together, so we got to chatting and the chemistry picked up straightaway. We all got on really well. It's been a very fun experience.
How did you celebrate when you first booked the role?
I went for a very nice lunch on the river with my closest friends and family in London. We had loads to eat and drink and it was great.
What scenes are you most excited or nervous for viewers to see this season?
There are a lot of scenes I'm nervous for people to see because I haven't done these types of scenes before. But mainly I'm excited about this new element to Ruby in the sense that you find out a lot more of who she is behind the bravado of “I'm perfect. Everything in my life is brilliant. I'm better than you.” Otis helps get her to open up, and there are some really nice moments. But there's one very sad phone call between Ruby and Otis, and a couple emotional scenes. I think we'll all have a very new impression of her this season.
How are you most like Ruby?
I like to dress up and wear heels in very inappropriate places, which Ruby loves to do as well. That's probably one of the most fun parts of playing her, and this season is no different. She has some incredible outfits. Who wears heels to school? No one. My headmaster would not have allowed it, but if I could have, I would have. And also, we both talk to our dog, which is mine in real life.
Wait, Ruby’s dog is also your dog?
Yes. It's my dog, Baby, who plays herself in Sex Education season three. She's been coming with me every season. I bring all my dogs with me. I've brought my cat with me before. It's a whole thing. I'm always the person with the animals. I've been trying to land her a role for the past three years, and she's just landed it this season. She's got some very cute scenes, and Ruby does speak to her, much like you'd speak to another person. Very serious. That's how you'd speak to them. And I do that in my life.
That’s amazing. Any other surprises we should know about?
We both like to drive. That's one of my favorite parts about playing Ruby. I get to actually drive a car, which I love to do. Everyone else gets the train to Wales. I drive four hours.
Hold up. You drive four hours to set each day?
Yeah, I go the long way. You know why? Because you get to see all the little animals. It's fun. I drive at night so I can drive round. You can either take two hours and a bit or you can take four hours. It was a good four hours. I just love driving. It's my favorite activity in the world, which is why I love to do the driving scenes. Our director, Ben Taylor, quite likes my driving scenes. I always give it a little bit of action and try to make it look really good.
That’s incredible, but do you ever stay over somewhere? I’d be exhausted being in the car that long.
There are days where I'll drive there and home the same day. You can't wear me out with driving. I don't get tired of it. I can drive all day. I could have been a driver.
You’re hilarious. When I was on the set of Sex Education in 2019, I asked them to drive me to Jean and Otis’s house because I needed to see it up close. It looks so magical overlooking the water. I almost didn't think it was a real home.
It's amazing. I did get to do some scenes there this season, which was really fun because I hadn't been before. It's beautiful. You almost can't believe it's real. You think someone must have drawn that, surely.
Who is the costar that cracks you up the most?
I think it might be Ncuti Gatwa, who plays Eric. Yeah, definitely. He makes me laugh too much.
Who is the costar you can talk to about anything?
Ncuti and Chaneil Kular, who plays Anwar. It's got to be a tie between Ncuti and Chaneil.
This season you work very closely with Asa Butterfield, who plays Otis. What was that like?
Oh, we had so much fun. We had a lot of scenes together. Some scenes I was really nervous for, and he made me feel so relaxed. He makes you feel really comfortable, so we just had loads of fun. We also sang a lot. I taught him every word from Cardi B's songs. It was just fun and games with him. It was brilliant.
Do you have any rituals or superstitions before scenes?
Literally nothing, except I like to drink whatever I'm drinking, whether it's lemonade or water. I just want to make sure I'm hydrated and that I've gone for a wee because otherwise I might need to stop, and I don't want to make it any more stressful than it already is. But it's always fine. Once you get started, your inhibitions float away. If you're filming something a little bit sensitive, it's a closed set, so that's helpful.
Let’s talk Ruby’s look. She has the shiniest hair. Did you pick up any hair or makeup tricks on set?
No, because you know what—it's not the products; it's the artistry. The hair and makeup teams are amazing. They put such effort into Ruby because my hair is not the easiest to tame. Usually it's a frizz ball, so just getting it blow-dried is nice because I can't blow dry my hair to save my life.
Ruby also has the best sunglasses. What style is your favorite?
I love that they're always coordinated with the outfit. If the outfit's purple, the sunglasses have got to be purple. There are whole new ones for this season. I'm a big fan of sunglasses. I think they should be allowed to be worn whether it's sunny, raining, nighttime, anywhere. They look fabulous.
And I didn't tell you what we don't have in common, and that is that she's mean. I'm not mean. She could tone that down a bit.
Do people recognize you in daily life?
They do. Not that much, because I often look very, very disheveled. I don't dress up a lot. I go out very, very casual. Messy hair, no makeup. I don't often look like Ruby. But when I do, it's always a really positive response and feedback from people of all ages, from all kinds of backgrounds.
What do fans often tell you in regards to the show?
Everyone always says something different, like, “It was so good to see that,” or, “I felt like that was the first time I'd ever seen someone like me represented.” It's always really nice to hear stuff like that because the goal of the show is to be relatable and show people that you're not alone and be who you are. That's usually what I hear, which is great.
Jessica Radloff is the Glamour West Coast editor. You can follow her on Instagram @jessicaradloff14.
This story originally appeared on: Glamour - Author:Condé Nast