Minor spoilers ahead.
Perhaps few fans went into Sex Education season 3 expecting to fall in love with Moordale’s resident mean girl, Ruby Matthews. Yes, our beloved protagonist, Otis (Asa Butterfield), had fallen under her spell, but Otis can be a bit impulsive, can’t he? Yet his instincts were proven impeccable when Ruby waltzed out of the finale as one of the season’s highlights, a hilarious and multi-faceted character no longer defined by her snobbery or shallow remarks. That development is entirely thanks to actress Mimi Keene, one of the hit Netflix dramedy’s most overlooked talents—until now.
“I’m excited about this new element to Ruby, in the sense that you find out a lot more of who she is behind the bravado of, ‘I’m perfect. Everything in my life is brilliant. I’m better than you,’” Keene explained in an interview with Glamour. “Otis helps get her to open up.”
But it’s Keene’s own intuition as an actress that makes Ruby, once a foil to Maeve’s (Emma Mackey) deadpan intellectualism, into a love interest of surprising emotional resonance. By the time episode 8 rolls around, her relationship with Otis—or, rather, lack thereof—is one of the season’s most heart-wrenching developments. As talk around the 23-year-old’s rising star bubbles up, here’s what to know about her burgeoning career.
Keene was born and raised in southern England.
The now London-based actress has spent her entire life in England, but she grew up specifically in Hertfordshire, a county just north of the capital. The region is home to a little more than a million people, and is perhaps best known for the landmark St. Albans Cathedral, which features some of the area’s most stunning architecture, dating back to the 11th century—and likely founded in the 8th century.
She attended the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts.
Keene studied at the renowned London performing arts school, which has been in business for 110 years, from 2009 to 2014. Other well-known alumni include Naomi Campbell, Russell Brand, Lesley Manville, Julianne Hough, and Tracey Ullman.
Her acting debut was at the Royal Court Theater.
The Sex Education star’s professional stage debut was in the 2010 play Kin, written about a girls’ boarding school in the 1990s. Guardian theater critic Michael Billington called the plot “one of the best arguments for state education I have come across.”
Keene played the 10-year-old Janey, an ironically Ruby-lite character with a rather alarming bullying streak. Billington wrote of the performance: “Mimi Keene as Janey and Ciara Southwood as Mimi, watched over by Annette Badland as a perceptive teacher, are unnervingly good.”
She first attracted attention for her role in EastEnders.
From 2013 to 2015, Keene accelerated her rise with a performance in the beloved (and notorious) British soap opera EastEnders. She played Cindy Williams, a character first introduced in 1998 and played by no fewer than four different actresses over the course of 17 years. The character was best known for a storyline in which she becomes pregnant at 14, and later for her suspected involvement in a murder case. It wouldn’t be a soap opera without those tropes, after all!
She and Ruby have one key characteristic in common: They both love to dress up.
Keene admits she and Ruby don’t share much in the way of personality traits, but they do share a sharp eye for fashion, especially when it comes to dressing up in unusual venues. “I like to dress up and wear heels in very inappropriate places, which Ruby loves to do as well,” Keene says. “That’s probably one of the most fun parts of playing her, and this season is no different. She has some incredible outfits.”
Her real-life dog appears in Sex Education season 3.
If you fell in love with Ruby’s pup—whom she apparently keeps in her locker throughout the school day—you’ll be pleased to learn the actress’s real-life canine friend, Baby, portrays herself in the series.
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“I’ve been trying to land her a role for the past three years, and she’s just landed it this season,” Keene told Glamour, later telling RadioTimes, “I’m a proud mother. I’ve been trying to get her in since season one – I’ve been, like, slowly, slowly, bringing her with me every day, letting everyone get to know her.”
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