Jessica Gunning Says Her ‘Baby Reindeer’ Breakout Role Felt ‘Quite Traumatic’: ‘Your Body Doesn’t Know What’s Pretend’

Portraying mental health issues and trauma on-screen isn’t a walk in the park. There’s a responsibility in discussing these subjects, a delicacy that shouldn’t be underserved, and breakout “Baby Reindeer” star Jessica Gunning takes this to heart. In playing the lonely stalker Martha on the autobiographical Netflix TV series from comedian Richard Gadd, Gunning chased down the opportunity to care for this character.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times recently, Gunning said, “I really thought, if this gets into the wrong hands and it ever gets played by an actress who sees her as scary, or plays a kind of crazy version of a stalker, I think you’d absolutely ruin what is such nuanced, careful, delicate storytelling.”

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Gunning isn’t wrong. The plotting of “Baby Reindeer” is a high-wire act that deals in subject matters ranging from the struggles of success in absurdist comedy to sexual assault as a result of grooming, all of which pulled from Gadd’s real-life experiences. Gunning’s reverence for the truth behind the story made her want to ground Martha in the truth as the character sees it.

“I think she felt like she was slightly magic with him. It’s kind of an unconventional, unrequited love story from Martha’s point of view, so that’s the way I approached it,” she said. “I never saw it as a kind of stalker-victim story. You can’t ever play someone with bad intentions. I don’t think she intended ever to be scary, even if she was received that way.”

Taking on Martha in this way allowed Gunning a separation during the filming of the show, but as she stepped away from it, she started to realize just how much she’d put herself through for the sake of the role.

“Somebody said the other day, ‘Your body doesn’t know what’s pretend and what isn’t, and it’s so hard to get to that place.’ I used to always think when actors said that, I had a bit of an eye-rolly moment like, ‘Ugh, actors.’ But actually, it’s so true,” she said. “You do really feel like you’ve been through something quite traumatic because your body doesn’t know otherwise.”

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