EMMA GREENWELL IN NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 2016. JACKET: MIU MIU. JACKET (WORN UNDERNEATH) AND SHORTS: VISVIM. T-SHIRT: SUPREME. TIGHTS: WOLFORD. SOCKS: AMERICAN APPAREL. SHOES: EASY. STYLING: ANDREW MUKAMAL. COSMETICS: CHANEL, INCLUDING ROUGE COCO ULTRA HYDRATING LIP COLOUR IN VERA. HAIR: BRIAN BUENAVENTURA FOR CUTLER AND REDKEN/MANAGEMENT + ARTISTS. MAKEUP: ASAMI TAGUCHI FOR CHANEL BEAUTE/FRANK REPS. MANICURE: JACKIE SAULSBERY FOR DIOR VERNIS/WSM. SPECIAL THANKS: VANDERVOORT STUDIO.
When Emma Greenwell and I meet at the Crosby Street Hotel, she has just come from scrubbing the floor of her new apartment in New York’s Chinatown. “It hasn’t been lived in for months, and I guess a bird got in,” she says. Greenwell also essentially breaks into the building every time she comes home; the landlord didn’t give her a key but rather a piece of wire to open the front door. Sounds like no big deal for an actress known for her gritty, wrong-side-of-the-tracks characters. The only problem is that the American-born, U.K.-raised Greenwell (her mother is French, her father British) happens to have very little in common with her onscreen personas. “It’s fun to be able to use your imagination and research and delve into those roles,” she says. “It’s actually easier than playing closer to yourself.”
After four years on the massively popular Showtime series Shameless, Greenwell is ready to move on. “I would love to be killed,” she jokes. “I’m like, ‘Come on, kill me. Are you killing me?’ They’re like, ‘Maybe next season.’ ” In the meantime, she is busy with other projects. She now has a role in Hulu’s new drama series The Path, playing Mary Cox, an addict with an abusive past who’s been saved by the Meyerist Movement, a cult headed by Cal (Hugh Dancy). Greenwell’s challenge is to make Mary multidimensional. “Just because you’re a drug addict doesn’t mean you’re never going to get your life together, and it doesn’t define who you are,” she says. Of course, acting comes with other difficulties that might not be so apparent. “Never dye your hair black,” she tells me. “It’s so hard to get out, and I looked crazy for so many years. Every hiatus I would do a project that needed me to be blond again. I’m surprised I have hair.”
The scrappy actress is open for anything, including nudity: “I’m French!” She was mostly stuck in wigs and corsets, however, while filming her latest roles: Burr Steers’s recent adventure film Pride + Prejudice + Zombies and Whit Stillman’s upcoming drama Love and Friendship—both Jane Austen adaptations. “My mother has always been desperate for me to do a period piece,” she says. “In England there are the BBC dramas, and I’ve been working in the States playing 17-year-old damaged sluts.”