PROSTITUTE, police officer, gang leader, junkie and now aspiring nun. Edinburgh-actress Emma Hartley-Miller has certainly run the gamut of characters since leaving drama school in 2005.
Roles in Emmerdale, Doctors, Waterloo Road, The Royal Today and Coronation Street have also made the 27-year-old, who returns home to Edinburgh this week, a favourite with soap fans.
It was here in the Capital that Emma first caught the acting bug. Taking a break from rehearsals for 27, a co-production between the Royal Lyceum and National Theatre of Scotland, which opens at the Grindlay Street theatre tomorrow, she recalls, “My school choir was chosen to play the children in Joseph And The Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Playhouse, when I was in P6. I was Pink No 4 and Philip Schofield was Joseph. I can still remember the feeling of being in that.”
Laughing she admits, “It was mainly nerves, but that was what started it all. After that I did some amateur dramatics, mostly musicals, but it wasn’t until I joined the Lyceum Youth Theatre that I realised you could do acting as a career.”
Despite her time with the Lyceum, Emma never did get to play the theatre’s main stage.
“No, I never got to go on the actual Lyceum stage,” she confirms, “and it’s so funny because for years my mum has been saying, ‘Oh, it would be so lovely if you worked at the Lyceum because you could stay at home. So this role means quite a lot to me.”
Brought up in Blackhall, Emma, who attended Blackhall Primary and the Royal High, cites her granny as her greatest inspiration.
“My granny was always into acting. She was a very dramatic person. She had actually won a place at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama when she was young but her mum didn’t give her the letter. So she never got to do it. She was a great inspiration all through my life.”
That inspiration has seen the actress seldom out of work over the last six years. Emmerdale came calling first. For a job that was supposed to last one episode, Emma donned a police constable’s uniform. That was in 2007, however, so impressed were producers that when a later story line called for a police presence, Emma was recalled and PC Charlotte Beecham became a semi-regular character for the next two years.
“That was my first TV job, so it was quite a big deal when I got it.”
In the break between her first Emmerdale appearance and her return, Emma found herself on the famous cobbled streets of Corrie as a ‘Female Record Shop Assistant’.
“From there I ended up doing quite a lot in quick succession, Waterloo Road, The Royal Today, and then I went back into Corrie as adoption social worker Dawn Coghill,” she recalls, adding that finding yourself working with famous faces can be a surreal experience.
“When I’m on set I have little moments when I recall memories of watching someone on telly as a child, and then going, ‘Oh! I’m working with them’.
“I remember working with Anne Charleston who played Madge in Neighbours. She introduced herself saying, ‘Hi I’m Anne....’ and I just remember thinking , ‘Oh my god! I used to watch you all the time. My mum couldn’t get me away from the TV for my dinner because I was watching Neighbours.
“So, when you realise that you are working with iconic figures like that, it is a little bizarre. It’s not a case of being starstruck, more one of, ‘This is weird. I’ve watched you on telly most of my life’.”
Right now, Emma is preparing to play her latest creation, aspiring nun Audrey Marie Hague in 27.
“She’s a bit of a waif and a stray. She gets taken in by the nuns who look after her.”
In Bafta Award-winning playwright Morgan’s 27, Dr Richard Garfield has given Ursula, the mother superior in waiting of a convent, a difficult choice. Given the opportunity to take part in his revolutionary scientific study, which requires the nuns to bequeath their brains to allow scientists to explore and potentially unlock the mysteries of Alzheimer’s and dementia, Ursula must weigh up preserving her faith against embracing science.
“There’s a lot of laughter in 27. People have an image of what nuns are and that will be blown out of the water hopefully.”
It’s a very different role to the one Emma will be seen playing in cinemas later this month when she appears in the urban thriller Sket.
“In Waterloo Road I played a bit of a thief. In Doctors I was a drug addict and prostitute. So Sket just adds to my mum’s delight,” she laughs.
“She’s constantly waiting for Jane Austen and it’s just not happened yet.
“Every time I get a job she asks, ‘Is it a period drama?’ ‘No mum, today I’m playing a gang leader who is seriously messed up and violent.’
“It’s a double whammy but I’m missing my red carpet as the premiere of Sket is on Saturday and our first preview is tomorrow, so I’ll be on stage.” With a smile she adds, “I actually want people to come to 27 to see that I actually don’t look as rough as I do in Sket.”
27, Royal Lyceum, Grindlay Street, tomorrow- 12 November, £14.50-£29, 0131-248 4848