To say the past year has been a banner one for Mia McKenna-Bruce would be an understatement: she was cast in the breakthrough lead role of UK indie feature How To Have Sex, which filmed in Malia, Crete last October and November, and won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes Film Festival in May. In December, McKenna-Bruce and her actor fiancé Tom Leach discovered they are expecting their first child.

The Cannes experience was “just crazy”, she says. “It’s going to take me a while to process, it was so overwhelming, and all we could ever wish for.” As for the shoot itself, under the guidance of debut feature writer/director Molly Manning Walker, “It was the most supportive set I’ve ever been on, and the most authentic and truthful thing we could make.”

McKenna-Bruce plays a teen on her first party holiday, presenting a cheerful mask that cracks after a couple of early sexual experiences that slide between manipulation and abuse. The film follows on from her performance in Netflix’s 2022 Persuasion adaptation — the film’s hilarious standout as a self-involved character who clings to delusions of victimhood.

Born and raised in southeast London, McKenna-Bruce began her professional career aged eight, playing one of the ballet girls in the Billy Elliot stage musical. The next decade saw multiple screen roles including The Dumping Ground series of TV shows, adapted from books by bestselling author Jacqueline Wilson and centred around a children’s home. The child actress then stepped away from her career, returning from eight months in Australia aged 19 to start again, rebuilding via a part-time drama course at London’s Capital Screen Arts. Roles followed in TV’s The Witcher and Vampire Academy and UK indie film Kindling.

While her screen roles have been mighty varied, McKenna-Bruce spots one recurring theme in that “you realise this initial person that you meet isn’t who is actually underneath”. Now keen to add some action into the mix, she cites the “inspiring” example of Florence Pugh, with whom she naturally invites comparison.

McKenna-Bruce is excited about impending motherhood, and new opportunities when she returns to work. “My agents made a good point — as a parent, you open up so much more of yourself. Getting to apply that to work will hopefully mean I get to do even more amazing things.”

Contact: Molly Cowan, 42