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Mia McKenna-Bruce talks BAFTA nomination, motherhood and breakout role in How to Have Sex - Exclusive

The actress is up against Jacob Elordi and Phoebe Dynevor for the EE Rising Star Award

Mia McKenna-Bruce
Nicky Morris
Nicky MorrisTV and film writer
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Life has been a "whirlwind" for Mia McKenna-Bruce lately. Having starred in the critically acclaimed teen drama How to Have Sex, which took the Cannes Film Festival by storm last year, she now finds herself in the running for BAFTA's EE Rising Star Award for up-and-coming talent.

The film, which received an eight-minute standing ovation and won the festival's coveted Un Certain Regard Award, follows three 16-year-old girls who excitedly embark on a rites-of-passage party holiday in Malia to celebrate the end of their GCSEs. But when they cross paths with a group of boys, the story takes a dark turn, exploring the blurred lines between consent and sexual assault. 

As the buzz around this year's ceremony builds, Mia sat down for an exclusive interview with HELLO!, about the film, her BAFTA nod, and how she stays grounded. 

WATCH: Mia stars in How to Have Sex

"Since the film went to Cannes, it's gone from strength to strength. It's amazing," says Mia, 26, who's having her breakout moment after spending her teen years on the child cast of the CBBC show Tracy Beaker Returns and its spinoff The Dumping Ground, before landing roles in Netflix's Jane Austin adaptation Persuasion, and Peacock's fantasy horror series, Vampire Academy

"When I first read the script, I thought I would have loved a film like this when I was younger," says the actress, who stars as Tara, a carefree teen hoping to lose her virginity on the girls' trip. While she succeeds in her mission, Tara finds the experience isn't quite what she'd imagined. 

Mia McKenna-Bruce© MUBI
Mia McKenna-Bruce as Tara in How to Have Sex

Mia's not the only one who wishes she could have seen the film when she was younger. Since the premiere, the actress has been inundated with messages from cinema-goers applauding the themes of consent and peer pressure. 

"A lot of people have been thanking us because the film has given them space to have these conversations when they wouldn't have known how to broach the subject before. I thought it would be a lot of younger people but it's generations above ours as well," she says, explaining that the film has sparked a reaction from those finally confronting bottled-up feelings about sexual experiences in their teens.

Mia McKenna-Bruce in How to Have Sex© MUBI
Mia stars alongside Shaun Thomas in the film

Did Mia know she was making such an important film at the time? "I don't know if we went into it knowing we were, but throughout the process of filming it and seeing how it was affecting everyone on set, that's when we realised how important it was. We were in this bubble and forgot that anyone else was going to see this film. So this whole aftermath has just been insane."

"Insane" is also the word she uses to describe her BAFTA nomination. "It's a dream come true, of course! It doesn't feel real," says Mia, who's going up against the likes of Bridgerton breakout star Phoebe Dynevor and Saltburn actor Jacob Elordi for the accolade.

Mia Mckenna-Bruce© Getty
Mia at the Vanity Fair EE BAFTA Rising Star Party

The past year has marked defining moments in both Mia's career and personal life, having welcomed her first child, a baby boy, with her fiancé Tom Leach, also an actor, in August last year. 

Has becoming a mum changed Mia's approach to work? "Yeah, definitely," she says. "It's made me realise that I need to say no to some stuff and not be working relentlessly. I need some time at home with my son. 

Mia McKenna-Bruce© David Reiss
Mia began her career as a child actor

"I've put a lot of pressure on myself to be working consistently and now I've got this other love in my life as well."

While Mia's star is inevitably on the rise following her BAFTA nod, don't expect her to let the fame go to her head. She says her secret to staying grounded is "having really good people around me", and credits her start as a child actor on Tracy Beaker for helping her keep a level head. 

Mia McKenna-Bruce© David Reiss
Mia welcomed her first child in August last year

"We were a group of around 13 under-16-year-olds, all trying to navigate growing up and we got to do that together," says Mia, who would spend half the year filming and the other half back at school, "trying to slip back into these friendship groups that were moving on without us".

"We were this real family and didn't take any of it for granted and I think I kept that with me all the way along."

HOW TO HAVE SEX is streaming on MUBI now.

Voting for the EE Rising Star Award is now open at ee.co.uk/BAFTA until 12pm GMT on Friday 16th February 2024. The winner will be announced at the EE BAFTA Film Awards on Sunday 18th February 2024. The EE Rising Star Award is the only category at the EE BAFTA Film Awards to be voted for by the public, reinforcing EE’s commitment to become the UK’s most personal, customer-focused brand by providing the nation with an opportunity to have their voice heard.

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