An interview with ‘Big Girl’ star and creator Emily Jane Rooney

“Me and my friends still have arguments about Niall and Harry now.”

By Annabel Jeffery

It’s a dull and rainy afternoon in Plymouth when I speak to Emily Jane Rooney, 23, about her hilarious one-woman show ‘Big Girl’. But Emily’s warm hello is quite the antithesis to the weather. “I’m so sorry, I’ve just realised that I’m on the way to Tesco to get some buns!” she says from outside her home in London, and I immediately know that this interview is going to be far from dull.

‘Big Girl’ is Rooney’s debut solo show, which is hard to believe. Her tremendous confidence and ability to captivate an audience is that of a long-standing and established performer. ‘Big Girl’ was originally due to tour around the UK, but due to the COVID-19 lockdown, Emily has recorded an exciting digital version of the show.

Watching the hour-long “Sofa Edition” from my own home, I feel as though I’m having a catch-up or gossip with a friend. I find myself giggling at regular intervals at Emily’s references and impersonations and pulled into thought by her three poems that evoke more emotion and deeper meaning.

All of this combined creates an hour of complete escapism at a time where we are still slightly limited in social interaction.

When asked to explain the show in her own words, Emily says: “Big Girl came at a time in my life when I was like, ‘What am I doing ?’” Written in 2018, while she was still at the University Of Plymouth studying acting, she goes on to tell me that with ‘Big Girl’ she’s “reflecting upon everything”. This includes growing up as a fat, queer and working-class woman in Essex, and things that she was “quite oblivious to” when she was younger: “I was aware that I was big but I didn’t realise the connotations that came with being a fat person and I think that came with age.”

These taboos are addressed in the four poems performed throughout the show: ‘Big Girl’, ’I Like Myself Bare’, ‘Let’s Talk About Women’ and ‘Untitled’. Each deal with topics of body positivity, identifying as queer, feminism and not knowing what your future holds. These come from Emily’s own emotional experiences with these topics. She explains, “I’ll cry, I’ll be really upset about it, I’ll talk to a friend, I’ll sit down and listen to some sad music and make myself cry more, and then I’ll write about it afterwards, after I have a different perspective on it.”

Whether you’ve experienced them or not, Rooney helps her audience to understand these issues, whether that be through poetry or by being so completely easy to relate to: “I like talking about things that others don’t talk about because I think they are things that are relatable.”

This is also seen through the more easy-going references she makes as we chat: “Everyone you talk to who is 23 will be like: ‘I know my favourite One Direction singer’. My friends and I still have arguments about Niall and Harry now, and we’re adults.”

As I ask Emily about her experience filming ‘Big Girl: The Sofa Edition’ during lockdown, she shares that it was much harder , adding that one of her favourite parts of the live show is “knowing who’s in the room”. 

During the live stage performance, she explains, “People come in and I’m there, giving out biscuits and having a cup of tea, and I just like connecting with people in general… I’m like an old woman that just wants to know about everyone’s life.” She hopes that there will be a chance for one last live performance of ‘Big Girl’ in London in September, dependent on the restrictions on live performances by then.

What’s next for Emily then? As she says at the end of ‘Big Girl’, she doesn’t know, but she “just wants to be happy”. She shares that she is no stranger to the pressure that young people face about being expected to know what you want to do, reiterating “It’s okay to not know what you want to do ever. There’s a song by Baz Lurhmann called ‘Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen’ – listen to it, it’s really good. In it he says that the most interesting people he knows are 40 years old and don’t know what to do with their life, and I’ve always remembered that.”

She jokes “I really like plants, so maybe I’ll be a florist one day.”, before sharing this refreshing advice for people of her generation and younger: ”Try everything, I say this, just try everything.”

‘Big Girl: The Sofa Edition’ will be available to watch at Reading Fringe Digital until the end of August: https://readingfringefestival.co.uk/whats-on/big-girl/

You can also listen to Emily’s recommended song, ‘Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen’, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTJ7AzBIJoI

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