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The Rook's Emma Greenwell on identity, starting fresh, and discovering her voice

By Heather Mason
The Rook Emma Greenwell

Myfanwy Thomas (Emma Greenwell) is in a bit of a situation when we meet her at the beginning of Starz's new thriller The Rook, based on Daniel O'Malley's novel of the same name. We've all been there: waking up in the middle of the night ... in a puddle ... surrounded by dead bodies ... with no memory. That's happened to you, right? All Myfanwy knows is that she needs to run. The rest we'll all discover together over the course of the eight-episode season.

We do quickly learn that Myfanwy works for the Checquy, a secret service organization filled with humans who have supernatural abilities. SYFY WIRE FANGRRLS spoke with Greenwell about her own experience with memory loss, wanting to have a fresh start, and the genre mixing of The Rook.

How far in advance did you know what was going to happen on the show? Because obviously, your character is in the dark for a lot of the time.

I still don't know what the ending is. We shot a couple of different endings. I'm not sure what they're gonna use. They kept me very much in the dark, which initially I was very anxious about, but then I realized it really helped me for the play of the story, and it was better to not know ... in a sense.

Myfanwy watches videos that she's left for herself, which try to quickly tell her who she is. If you were leaving videos for yourself, what would you personally want to leave in those videos?

I think I'd like to leave my likes and dislikes. It's very quick, but she's like, “You’re allergic to dairy, it makes you break out like a teenager." You know, that's very important, obviously, but all her friends and family and the dynamics. But also I was like “You have a dog. You need to feed it. You need to walk it. She relies so much on you."

I had an accident quite a few years ago — almost 10 years ago now — where I had a severe concussion, which led to, basically, meaning that I had lost the previous two weeks. So I sort of was able to draw on that experience with how discombobulated you feel and how terrifying that is, to feel like a part of you has been taken.

It's a very visceral memory of realizing that I had no idea what had happened two weeks previous to that. There are times in our life when we just wish we could start over, and this is a character that really gets to do that. Sadly, for her, the stakes are incredibly high and she is in danger. But I think that's something all people can relate to. It's just being like, "I wish I could start over. I wish I could do this over again." And this character, Myfanwy, really gets to do that. She really gets to make decisions based purely on instinct and without any outside influence.

Except that she wakes up and there's a lot of dead bodies around her, but other than that ...

Right ... the stakes are pretty high, and they're very scary. Like, it's not just waking up in your bed and being like, "Oh, I don't know who I am." Yeah, there are dead bodies and then she's being told to run, to trust no one, to take shelter, to hide and to be careful. Once that initial panic is over and she returns to her job and she's trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes and continue as though nothing has happened in order to get all the answers to the questions that she has.

I really think this show is like a mystery. It's a puzzle. Everything is deliberate. Everything I touch is a clue, which I found so interesting because they didn't make me aware that everything was deliberate. They were very clever, the directors of the show. It all ties in very nicely, very neatly, with solving the mystery. It all adds up. I have to give my hats to the writers and to [showrunners] Lisa [Zwerling] and to Karyn [Usher] in terms of the layers of this show. There is so much that they build into it that you don't really realize until you get to the penultimate episode. It's very smart, and I was ... I'm in absolute awe that they were able to build this show on all these different levels. It's very intricate.

Do you feel like, especially having so many women behind the scenes, that it influenced how the story was told or what was shown of Myfanwy's experience?

I'm not a writer, and I have such admiration for writers ... it's just not within me to write, and I think that female-driven stories are important and relevant, you know, it's half the population.

I've always said Myfanwy could have been a male character. I don't think her being a woman really changes anything. What it did change on set is definitely an understanding. I think that coming from being written by a woman, the showrunners being women, the directors being dominantly female as well, and having a very strong female cast ... the decisions and conversations are very short. We were able to understand each other. It's like an unwritten language. You can communicate slightly easier with women, being one.

I think they got the best people for the job, and they just so happened to be women. I feel very proud to be part of a show that is part of this wave of inclusion and of representation. We have an amazing team of cameramen and women, ADs, directors, costume ... everyone. I felt very proud to be part of a show that really had equal representation in every department.

There are a lot of different genres mixing in this show. How would you explain what genre this is or what this show is about?

To me, what really stuck with me was the idea of about identity, and it's about trusting your instincts and deciding, "I've gone through life and I need to trust myself more and to believe in myself." I think Myfanwy has this amazing opportunity to reinvent herself because she has no past. Sometimes the past stops us from doing things because we may be influenced by outside sources, and that kind of is really, to me, very very interesting. I've just turned 30, I'm re-evaluating certain things and learning to trust myself and to realize that I have a voice, to voice my concerns and to stand up for myself. It was a really interesting thing playing that character and learning to have that confidence.

The Rook airs Sundays on STARZ.