In this bold new take on H.G. Wells’ classic novel, Daisy Edgar-Jones stars as Emily Gresham. The 'Normal People' star speaks about her character and the new show.
By
SBS Guide

7 Jul 2020 - 4:12 PM  UPDATED 11 Aug 2021 - 11:32 AM

By now, you probably know English actor Daisy Edgar-Jones, if not from Cold Feet, then from one of this year’s smash-hit series Normal People, in which she plays protagonist, Marianne.

With her star well on the rise, now we get to see her turn as Emily in new series War of the Worlds. She told us about her character and how she found working on this adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel, in which an alien attack wipes out most of the human population.  

Can you tell us about your character, Emily? 

She is a very interesting character in a lot of different ways. She has Stargardt disease (a form of macular degeneration), which developed when she was about 13. She’s 17 when we meet her, so a good four to five years of not having full vision. She has a strange relationship with the world because she has to navigate things in a way that other people don’t.

She relies a lot on touch and sound and she has to judge people based on the way they speak to her because obviously she can’t judge by the way they look or how they appear. As the story goes along, she has a strange relationship with aliens, which she can’t really explain and she is very confused and scared, but it also feels strangely right. The way she feels towards them is quite caring and strangely motherly, I feel.

Can you talk about her journey, from who she is at the start of the series?

Yes, so when we meet her at the start, she’s just a very normal girl, she’s got lots of friends, she’s a bit of a teenager with her mum in that she is a bit stroppy. As the story develops, we see that she isn’t actually the person she or we thought she was. She has this special connection with what’s happening in the world and she can’t really explain it. There’s definitely a journey that she takes which is very nuanced because there are a lot of things happening to her at one time.

I think that’s really fascinating because I always think that your imagination is far more powerful than what you can ever actually see. For example, in the film, Jaws, it’s actually scarier when you can’t see the shark, because your imagination makes it so much more scary. For someone who can’t see and all of this stuff is happening and she just hears people describing it, it must be absolutely terrifying to not even know what she’s up against. She’s almost completely tuned into everything in a way that no one else is. She is also falling in love which is another element of her character.

What first appealed to you about War of the Worlds?

It is a great story, a fascinating story. I love a bit of sci-fi and I just love what it can bring to the table and bring up discussions about what’s happening in the world today. We go through life and we follow rules that society gives us, but what if suddenly all the electricity is turned off, everyone around you, most of them, have dropped dead and you have to survive, what would that mean? There is a character in the story called Kariem (portrayed by BayoGbadamosi) and he is a refugee and he’s coming to England to try and find safety. Then suddenly, this happens and he’s not the only refugee, everyone becomes a stranger in their home and needs to seek safety. That’s a really interesting journey for him. Not to mention, War of the Worlds was my granddad and my great granddad’s favourite book. I knew the story very well and it was a really fun thing to explore.

What has been the biggest challenge in playing this role?

The biggest challenge is trying to navigate how to play a scene as a character who is blind when you can see. I can look in your eyes and that’s how I communicate. So yes, just trying to work out how I would still enter a room, now having had vision, but also needing to understand it in ways that other people don’t, because that’s how I’ve kind of functioned in the world as Emily.

I would also say all the sci-fi elements. It’s quite hard to try and be scared of something that isn’t there; there’s a lot of imagination needing to be used.

Can you talk about your collaboration with the cast and the actors who play your immediate family?

The lovely Ty Tennant plays my brother and Natasha Little plays my mum. I’m very lucky on this. I think everyone will agree that everybody in the cast is so lovely, but I particularly love my family. We feel like an actual family. Like when Ty is late to things and we’re telling him off like he’s actually our younger brother. Natasha, she’s the loveliest woman and such a nice person to have with me, because she’s obviously incredibly talented and really experienced and it’s nice to be able to ask her questions. I’m still relatively new to everything and she’s always there for me.

Are you looking forward to seeing the finished series?

Yes, I am, especially because of all the sci-fi and CGI. I remember walking into the apartment where we were filming and the alien, the model of it, was on the table, and I was actually quite scared. They are very creepy, so I’m really excited to see how they’re going to move and how they’re going to attack and be in the world.

What do you think the message of War of the Worlds is?

I think it is a good message on how we should relate to other human beings, both in what I said earlier about the kind of comment on what being a refugee is, but also, particularly in my character, on having to trust others because she’s had to all her life, from being blind. When I was doing research for the character, I was told that a lot of people who are blind don’t want to use the white stick, the guide stick, because they fear that people will take advantage of them because they know that they’re more vulnerable. That is a really interesting thing to note, because it’s nice to be open and aware of other human beings and that we’re all on this earth together and we should all try as much as possible to help and connect with each other. War of the Worlds explores that, because if this happened, you have to rely on other people and trust and be able to give your life into someone else’s hands. That’s a really interesting thing to explore.

The series is based on human relationships under immense pressure. How do you think humans or you would cope in the event of an alien invasion?

I think it would depend on who you were with. I’m someone, if there’s a crisis and the person I’m with is very calm, then I’m likely to get panicky and anxious. But if the roles were reversed, then I become the confident, take-care-of-the-situation person. I would just need to be with my family and that would be all I could think about, being with them.

Do you believe in aliens?

I definitely believe in aliens. The universe is so big and we don’t understand so much of it, there’s no way that there isn’t some other life form floating around somewhere.

 

Is your character someone you think you could survive the end of the world with?

Definitely. Without giving too much away, she would be quite useful in an alien standoff. You’ll have to watch and see why. She is really strong and, under the circumstances, she holds up pretty well.

How does War of the Worlds differ from other alien or sci-fi shows?

It differs in that the stories are a lot more about the relationships between the human beings in the plot. It’s very much about the nuances of interrelationships and of people changing and of survival and of sacrifice and of what happens in these situations.

Describe what we can expect from War of the Worlds in three words.

I’d say tension, love and aliens.

 

War of the Worlds also stars Gabriel Byrne (Zero Zero Zero), Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abbey) and Léa Drucker (The Bureau).

See the Australian premiere of War Of The Worlds Season 2 on SBS and SBS On Demand from August 18. Episodes will be available at SBS On Demand each Wednesday, and also air on SBS at 9.30pm. Season 1 is streaming now at SBS On Demand. The series is also subtitled in Simplified Chinese and Arabic for SBS On Demand. Here's where it all began in season one:

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