Before the fate of on-the-lam lovers Alyssa (Jessica Barden) and James (Alex Lawther) is revealed in season two of Netflix’s dark comedy The End of the F***ing World, we’re introduced to Bonnie, a revenge-seeking ex-con played with affectless perfection by Naomi Ackie. Bonnie tries to act “normal,” but her emotionally abusive mother damaged her so badly that she became a target for the serial-raping professor whom James killed in season one before Alyssa became his next victim. Bonnie blames the traumatized teens for his death and is now seeking retribution.
You may remember Ackie from her attention-getting role as the mostly mute maid to the title character in Lady Macbeth. She’ll certainly become a familiar face after Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is released in December. It was after spending time in that faraway galaxy, but before shooting the now-scrapped HBO Game of Thrones prequel (about which she can’t say anything) that the 28-year-old British actress came back to earth to play TEOTFW’s emotionally stunted stalker. Recently, Ackie talked to Vulture about Bonnie’s damage and not letting her outsider status keep her from getting close to her co-stars, why she ate real tubes of lipstick, and becoming an expert horsewoman for Star Wars.
Why did you want to play Bonnie?
Having watched the first season, I knew [creator] Charlie [Covell] dealt with characters who had deep trauma and real problems really sensitively. When I read the first episode, I was so taken with the fact that you’re not only scared of [Bonnie] and what she could do, but really feel a deep empathy for her. She’s not a bad person. She does bad things, but you kind of see where she’s coming from.
Is she a sociopath, a psychopath? What’s her deal?
She’s complicated. A part of her wants to connect with people, and at the same time, she wants to run very far away from them. Also, the types of love she was taught are about possession and punishment and living up to somebody else’s expectations. James, in the first season, he claims that he’s a psychopath. She doesn’t claim to be anything. She’s just a mission. I am going to kill Alyssa and James, or I am going to point this gun at this person. She doesn’t have a level of emotional maturity to be able to pinpoint why she is the way she is. She doesn’t question it, so neither did I.
Bonnie doesn’t say much, and her face is often expressionless, except when forced to smile. Is it easy or hard to play someone who’s shutdown?
Some things were easier than others. What I started to do is disassociate myself from people. The fake smile, the vacancy behind the eyes are a lot of bodywork, focusing my energy in different spaces in my body to give that feel. When she’s smiling, she’s not smiling. [Laughs.] She does have the ability to feel real things as well. I didn’t want to take that away from her.
I need to know about you eating that tube of lipstick when Bonnie’s mom tells her to make sure she chews it! What were you eating? And how many takes were there?
We did three or four takes [with] fake lipstick made out of chocolate. But the texture wasn’t right, so I ended up eating real lipstick. [Laughs.] It was so gross. But the texture of lipstick is so specific, it couldn’t be achieved with edible material. So I was like, “You know what? I’ll just eat it.” I wanted people to feel grossed out. I quite enjoyed pushing it through my teeth.
In episode seven, there’s a big fake-out when Bonnie imagines shooting Alyssa and James. Then in the real scene, she tries to kill herself.
I wanted people to feel for her. You put your whole being into something, or someone, or a purpose, or a job. If that thing goes away — and you’ve attached your whole identity to it — what are you here for? Who are you? Now that her goal of killing these two people hasn’t [worked], she has to face her own stuff. And it’s big stuff. Years and years of pain that no one has taught her how to deal with. It was heartbreaking for me to do that.
I know you can’t say much about playing a Resistance fighter in The Rise of Skywalker. I read that you trained at a ranch three times a week for seven months.
Yes, it was the Devil’s Horsemen outside of London. By the end, I could canter just by using my legs with no hands, and I could shoot a bow and arrow. We played catch with balls. I was dipping down and picking up a ball, holding on to the saddle with my legs, and cantering at the same time.
Why did you need to learn all of that?
Because Jannah is a warrior who rides around on an orbak. Horses were used to help build the shape of the creatures, so it was important for me to learn to ride. It sucks [laughs] because I feel like I say the same things, but her skills help round out the team and her backstory helps you realize why she’s fighting.
You’ve had a lot of success relatively quickly. You said you don’t want to play anyone “sassy.” Is there anyone you’re modeling your career after?
[Laughs.] Yeah, I did say that. I don’t want to play [parts] that have been handed to black women as a way to make us feel like we’re being included. Because we’re far more complicated than a few actions. In terms of following a career track, I think it’s like a fingerprint — everyone’s is very different. So I just see what projects speak to me. But at the moment, I am free and figuring out what I want to do next, which is a very privileged spot.
This interview has been edited and condensed.