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Who Is Jessica Gunning: Why Martha From Netflix's Baby Reindeer Looks So Familiar

Netflix's chilling and thought-provoking stalker miniseries "Baby Reindeer" has viewers talking. The fictionalized version of Richard Gadd's real experiences hides a true story that makes the Netflix hit even scarier, and viewers have been paying so much attention to Donny Dunn (Gadd) and Martha Scott (Jessica Gunning) that they're convinced you can hear Martha's real laugh in one clip from Gadd's old stand-up performance. 

The story is about Donny's terrible experiences and Gadd — having personal experience with the subject matter — naturally turns in a believable performance. However, Gunning has at least as much heavy lifting to do as Martha, especially since the role is far from a traditional, villainous stalker, and requires a nuanced turn that portrays Martha as a human being. As anyone who's watched "Baby Reindeer" can attest, the actor does a fantastic job in the challenging role. In case Gunning's convincing performance piqued your interest, here are some movies and shows where you can see her next ... or might already have seen her. 

White Heat (2012)

In 2012, Jessica Gunning was part of the ensemble cast of the BBC Two miniseries "White Heat," which follows the lives of seven people from the mid-1960s to the show's present. She stars alongside folks like Claire Foy, Sam Claflin, and MyAnna Buring. As Orla, her character is a Northern Irish girl who leaves the unstable Belfast to study in London and build a better life. However, she struggles to fit in with the cool crowd. 

Sorcha Cusack plays the older version of the character, but Gunning handles most of the story, appearing in all series episodes. Since she plays the character from her youthful student days to her 40s, the role involves a certain amount of aging prosthetics. She found the experience quite strange during filming. 

"They do this speckling thing which adds lines under the eyes," Gunning told Digital Spy. "We only go up to 43 so we don't look too old, and we don't need a lot of prosthetics, but just hints I think are quite good. It's almost like PVA glue in a way — you smile and then it feels quite tight, just to freeze those wrinkles. It's really weird."

What Remains (2013)

Major British names from Indira Varma to Russell Tovey gathered in 2013 for the four-part BBC mystery drama "What Remains" in 2013, and Jessica Gunning is in the middle of it all. She plays Melissa Young, a young woman who's found dead after two years. The peculiar circumstances of her disappearance and death form the backbone of the miniseries, and the fact that her character is dead in the show's present timeline means that Melissa exists in her own time capsule bubble for much of the time. As such, Gunning is tasked with conveying many important things that the present-day investigators attempt to track down and understand. 

"There were quite a few scenes where it was just me alone in the flat so filling out those actions and telling that story was a challenge that I really enjoyed," Gunning said in an interview with the BBC. "Also mapping out her journey and filling out the gaps because you see her throughout the series as different characters at different stages of her life so it was important to me to enrich those scenes out with as much authenticity and depth as possible."

Apart from this singular acting challenge, "What Remains" also offered Gunning a far more extensive makeup and prosthetics experience than "White Heat" and its light wrinkles did. "I did have to be made up to be three weeks dead which was very surreal," she said. "But we had a really good make-up team on the show who worked on me for about five hours. In the end, it ended up looking amazing and also terrifying at the same time."

Fortitude (2015-2018)

Jessica Gunning dipped her feet in Nordic Noir territory — or, at least, a British, horror-tinted take on the theme — in 2015 when she played the role of Shirley Allerdyce on "Fortitude." The star-studded show features names from Christopher Eccleston and Richard Dormer to Stanley Tucci, Michael Gambon, and "The Killing" star Sofie Gråbøl, so Gunning is in stellar company. What's more, her supporting role is one of the most fascinating in Season 1. 

Shirley is the daughter of the titular small town's cynical doctor, Margaret (Phoebe Nicholls), and her fiancé is Markus (Darren Boyd), a teacher and easily one of the stranger people in Fortitude. She also becomes a central figure in the deadly mystery plaguing the region, and she's responsible for what may very well be the show's single goriest and most terrifying scene, which is saying something.

"Fortitude" is an early example of how good Gunning is at portraying both vulnerable and thoroughly creepy characters, and as such, people who enjoy her work on "Baby Reindeer" may want to check out the show. Just know that you'll probably never look at forks the same way again. 

Back (2017-2021)

Filmed at a leisurely British pace, "Back" Season 1 aired in 2017, and Season 2 premiered in 2021. Jessica Gunning appears on both seasons as Jan, who operates a pub with Mike (Oliver Maltman). 

Created by Simon Blackwell of "Veep" and "Breeders" fame, "Back" is a comedy-drama starring the popular British double act David Mitchell and Robert Webb ("Peep Show," "That Mitchell and Webb Look") as Stephen and Andrew, two foster brothers who attempt to take control of their dead father Laurie's (Matthew Holness) pub. Of course, they also happen to have dramatically different outlooks on life, each other, and their time growing up together, which leads to clashes and soul-searching.

"Back" understandably focuses heavily on Mitchell and Webb's characters and their complex relationship that mixes copious flashbacks to their present-day interactions. Still, Gunning has a prominent role on the show, and it's a fine example of the lighter side of her repertoire. 

The Outlaws (2021-2022)

Apart from Netflix and "Baby Reindeer," the best destination for Jessica Gunning fans who want to check out her recent work is probably Amazon Prime, where you can see her as part of the main cast of Elgin James and Stephen Merchant's crime-themed comedy-drama "The Outlaws." Like "White Heat," the show has a "seven strangers" premise. This time, Gunning isn't the shy one of the bunch. She plays Diane Pemberley, a corrections officer in charge of a group of wildly different people stuck in community service. With the ensemble including folks like Merchant, Christopher Walken, and Darren Boyd, she has her work cut out for her even before the group stumbles upon a huge bag of dirty money. 

During an appearance at the 2024 Creative Cities Convention, Gunning praised her experience working with Merchant. "I love working with Stephen and he does let us add bits [of writing] here and there," she said (via Deadline). "I was lucky enough to be in the writers room for Season 3 and I learned so much behind the scenes. I was honored to be a part of that." The actor also revealed that she didn't know the show had comedic elements when she auditioned, but her deadpan take on the character ended up being a huge success. "I said, 'Oh, I wasn't trying to be funny' and the people auditioning me were in fits. The way Stephen writes his comedic voice is so familiar to me and I knew what he wanted from [the character]."

Jessica Gunning's other roles

A veteran of British TV productions, Jessica Gunning's first appearance on a notable TV show came in 2008 when she played Adipose Industries test subject Stacy in the "Doctor Who" Season 4 premiere, "Partners in Crime." The following year, she joined the European corner of the "Law & Order" universe, playing the relatively minor but frequently recurring character Angela on "Law & Order: UK." She appeared on a total of 29 episodes between 2009 and 2014. 

In 2013, Gunning had a notable role on the hairdressing sitcom "Quick Cuts." In 2016, viewers could spot her in the 19th-century drama "Jericho," while the following year kept her busy on the crime drama front on both "Prime Suspect 1973" and "In the Dark," which reunited her with "White Heat" co-star MyAnna Buring (whom you might know as Tissaia from "The Witcher"). Apart from all these projects, Gunning has amassed a large collection of smaller appearances and guest star roles.