Jemma Moore: ‘Being Cast As Jess Li Was A Dream Come True’

By Olivia Emily

2 months ago

We sat down with Jemma Moore to talk all things Red Eye

Red Eye is the thriller of the moment, airing weekly on ITV for six weeks. Led by Richard Armitage, it sees the collision of three worlds, and three women: DC Hana Li (Jing Lusi), her half sister journalist Jess Li (Jemma Moore) and MI5’s Madeline Delaney (Lesley Sharp). In her breakout role, we sat down with Jemma to get the inside scoop on the series.

Jemma Moore as Jess Li in Red Eye

Jemma Moore as Jess Li in Red Eye. © ITV

Interview: Jemma Moore On Starring As Jess Li In Red Eye

Hi Jemma, how’s life going at the moment?

Life has been treating me well, thanks for asking! Things have been a bit hectic with moving to a new house, but I am grateful for the sunny weather allowing me to take more trips to the countryside and seaside with my little dog, Percy.

You’re currently starring in Red Eye – can you give us an elevator pitch for the show?

Red Eye is told over an adrenaline-filled six parts. It is the collision of three worlds – DC Hana Li (Jing Lusi), Journalist Jess Li (played by me) and MI5’s Madeline Delaney (Lesley Sharp). All three women are thrown into the same life-threatening conspiracy when a British doctor (Richard Armitage) is arrested for murder upon flying home from Beijing.

You play Jess Li – can you describe her?

Absolutely! Jess is a bit cheeky and always pushing boundaries, especially when it comes to her career in journalism – she’s constantly fighting to make a name for herself. I love that she’s not afraid to show her frustration and even some rage. It’s something we rarely get to see on screens with female characters. At her core, Jess is just a human with flaws. She’s incredibly resilient, stubborn and at times a bit naïve. She acts impulsively without considering the consequences but has a lot of heart, especially when it comes to her family. Being on the cusp of being a journalist, Jess has to use her charm and persuasion skills to get people to open up to her; finding that delicate balance between selling herself and getting the answers she needs. I can say she’s not afraid to break a few rules to get what she wants! At the core, she’s driven by the desire to fight for the truth. What makes Jess such a dynamic and compelling character to play are her many layers. Layers of determination, vulnerability, laser beam focus and persistence to get her hands on a full story.

What was it like playing her?

Oh my gosh… It was absolutely amazing! When I first read the script and saw this character, in this world, with all these other incredible East and South East Asian (ESEA) characters, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Peter A Dowling (the writer), wrote this incredibly gripping thriller with this East Asian family’s story intertwined within it and…an East Asian lead. It felt groundbreaking for the UK TV industry. I was thrilled that ITV, Sony Pictures and Bad Wolf were making this show and actually wrote them a letter after my recall explaining that even if I did not get the role, I was so grateful this show was being made and how much that meant to the ESEA community. So being cast as Jess Li was a dream come true. From working with Executive Producer, Lachlan Mackinnon, and casting director, Caroline Stewart, in the auditions to collaborating with director, Kieron Hawkes, on set, it really was an incredible experience. I felt like I got to step into the shoes of this smart, driven, complex character and it was just so challenging and fun.

How did you get into character/prepare for the role?

As the plane scenes were filmed first, I had some time to research and really delve into the character. I worked closely with my amazing acting coach, Miriam Lucia, who always helps me tap into the inner workings of my characters with such a curious and detailed lens. Together, we explored where Jess came from, where she fit into this world and what motivated her. We played around with different aspects of her personality and added layers of depth as the show went on. I really enjoy the research aspect of my job and getting into the mindset of a character.

On first read, I noticed that Jess was working in a very male-dominated industry and due to her age and previous mistakes, no-one would take her seriously. So, I wanted to learn more about how women operate in these types of environments. I spent time reading about highly respected female journalists and the specific skillset they needed to succeed. I listened to interviews with renowned journalists like Alex Crawford and Marie Colvin. I also talked to a really cool journalist who gave me a firsthand account of what it’s like to work in the journalism field in the UK. It was incredibly eye-opening and fascinating to observe their drive and determination. I couldn’t help but notice how much it related to acting – the constant knocking on doors and facing rejection. So, I guess you could say my preparation for this role involved a mix of research and drawing on my own life experiences.

Any memorable moments from rehearsals or filming?

Oh, there were definitely loads! One of my favourites was filming a driving scene where Lesley Sharp showed off her amazing driving skills. Seriously, she can drive in six-inch heels! But for safety reasons of course, she also had a stunt driver, the incredible Lucy. In this scene, we had to spin out of a car park, and someone accidentally hit the radio button and ‘YMCA’ came on at full blast. I couldn’t help but start singing along in the back of the car, with my co-stars, it was hilarious! There was another scene where I had to wear a Hi Vis jacket and we ended up doing multiple takes, some with the jacket and some without. It became a running joke between me and Kieron (the director) that we were going to have to shoot the entire series with one take in the Hi Vis and one without. On my last day of filming, I showed up wearing a Hi Vis suit to prank Kieron – it went down a treat!

We were working with such a great group of people, a lot of whom I am still really close with, who genuinely cared about the show and wanted to make something exciting. There’s so much attention to detail in every department, I think it’s going to be really cool and I hope the viewers really enjoy it. I also had an amazing stunt double Rachel Thorpe, who made me look incredible!

What was the cast dynamic? Who was your favourite person to work with?

The cast dynamic was wonderful! Everyone was so lovely to work with. I was just messaging Cash Holland: we only worked together for one day and got on really well, so we still keep in touch. Richard and I talked a lot about food and would constantly make ourselves hungry on set. Lesley Sharp (who is the most stylish lady I know) would discuss the ins and outs of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills with me. When I first heard Jing was going to play my sister, I was so excited as she was someone I looked up to and I couldn’t wait to be working with another ESEA actor on this groundbreaking show. 

Some of my favourite scenes were with Peter Guinnes; he was so interesting, beautifully collaborative and just had such an art to his craft. In between takes we’d talk about historical documentaries whilst eating fruit and cherry tomatoes from a cherry tomato plant he had on his balcony.

Jemma in a brown suit

Photographer: Jemima Marriott
Styling: Tilly Wheating (Suit: Rejina Pyo)
Make-up: Sara Hill
Hair: Chad Maxwell

Are you still in touch with any of your co-stars?

Absolutely! In fact, just the other day, I had dinner with Dan Li and Xiangyi Tan, along with my wonderful mum and friends, before attending a special screening of the show with some of the cast including Jing, Daphne Cheung, Aidan Cheung, Richie Cheung and Abert Kueh. Jingan Young, writer of episode four and consultant, was also there. It was a real celebration of ESEA talent and a great experience to celebrate the success of the show together. 

I am also friends with many members of the crew who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make Red Eye possible. Charlie Swain, who I now live with, Elsa Anderson, Kassie Obi, Joel Rich, Yumi Li-Vi…the list goes on. I truly hope to have the opportunity to work with all of them again in the future.

Are there any other thrillers out there that you drew on for inspiration?

I actually took some inspiration from a couple of thrillers that really stuck with me. One was of course Flight Plan, by our very own writer Peter A Dowling. I loved how contained it was and kept the audience guessing about who was behind it all. The suspense and nonstop drive of Jodie Foster’s character, Kyle Pratt, was something I connected to with Jess; that unstoppable search for the truth. I also drew inspiration from Nightcrawler, directed by Dan Gilroy. That movie had some intense moments of someone relentlessly pursuing their story, and I wanted to explore if Jess shared any parallels to the level of determination and ruthlessness in Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Louis ‘Lou’ Bloom.

What has been your favourite project to date?

Honestly, I have to say that this project has been my absolute favourite so far. Working with the talented team at Bad Wolf, ITV, and Sony Pictures has been a dream come true. I’ve learned and grown so much as an actor, thanks to the invaluable guidance of Kieron Hawkes. He really helped me embrace my role as Jess and helped shape her to who you see on the screen. On and off-set, he also taught me so much about photography and cameras and sent me a list of must-watch movies. He was a dream to work with. 

The whole experience was filled with creative, kind, and generous people – including our very talented Director of Photography, Oli Russell, who made every shot look incredible. He made setting up each scene an enjoyable process and also taught me loads. It truly was a fun and fulfilling journey, and I feel like I’ve grown as a performer as well as a person because of this. I couldn’t have asked for more.

Any roles in the pipeline that you’re excited about? (If you’re allowed to tell us!)

I actually just wrapped up shooting a sci-fi movie called Moonquake written by Nicole Bartlett and directed by Tom Paton. It was such a fun experience, especially because most of the scenes were set in space. It was definitely a unique challenge to convey emotions and tell a story with just my face in a space suit!

Who has been your favourite actor to work with in the past?

I remember when I was just starting out in the industry, I got an opportunity to work on The Double directed by Richard Ayoade. It was a very small supporting role – blink and you miss me in the trailer – but I got to spend a few days on set with Paddy Considine and that was an incredible experience for me. He was such a kind and down-to-earth person, and I found myself learning a lot from observing his acting process.

Which co-star did you learn the most from?

I learned a lot from both Lesley Sharp and Richard Armitage. They are such pros, both on and off-screen. Richard was amazing at finding that perfect balance between having fun between takes and then completely transforming into his character as soon as the camera started rolling. It was fascinating to watch. And Lesley has this incredible gravitas and stillness to her performance, with such a rich internal monologue. Whenever we had scenes together, it was like playing tennis with a truly talented player – it pushes you to elevate your own performance.

What’s your dream role?

My dream role would have to be something that combines my love for fantasy and period pieces. It would be a dream to portray a character that exists in a world that’s a blend of both genres. Can you imagine the intricate costumes and sets? It would be like stepping into a storybook!

Jemma Moore as Jess Li in Red Eye

Jemma Moore as Jess Li in Red Eye. © ITV

What’s a genre you’d like to do more of?

I’m definitely drawn to rom coms! I just adore comedy and I actually had the chance to dabble in the romantic side of things in a Netflix movie called Flashback. It was written and directed by the talented Jed Shepherd. But if I had my way, I would love to dive deeper into that genre, where I can play someone in love but still get to bring in some silly and fun elements.

What’s your interior design style?

I’d say Mid-Century Modern… Whether I achieve that, who knows!

How do you find balance in your personal and work lives?

Finding balance between my personal and work life is always a priority for me. Of course there are times when work demands a lot of my time and energy, especially when unexpected tasks or projects pop up, but I always make sure to carve out space for my loved ones and myself. I do things like try to see my parents at least once a week for a nice meal together. I also make an effort to plan coffee dates or dog walks with my friends and of course, regular date nights with my boyfriend Sandro. It can be easy to get caught up in the pressures of success and productivity, so it’s crucial for me to stay connected with my community and the people who matter to me. I do this through my involvement in various creative communities, such as the Milk Tea Films screenings or my own Mixed ESEA WhatsApp group, where we come together to share stories and ideas over some delicious food. And as someone who is Neurodivergent, I also value my alone time and make sure to prioritise it for my own self-care and well-being. I’m constantly making small adjustments to make sure I’m taking care of myself while also pursuing my goals and passions in my work. It’s not always easy though!

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

Ha, a cheese taster! But, my mum told me that wasn’t a viable option… I’m still hoping one day I might be able to dip my toe into that industry.

If you could give advice to your 15-year-old self, what would it be?

Give yourself grace. Take responsibility for your mistakes, be kind to yourself so you can show kindness to others and remember to be silly and curious.

How can we all live a little bit better?

One thing that I’ve found to be really helpful is getting outside and spending time in nature. It’s like a refreshing tonic for the soul. I also personally like to listen to ‘Everybody’s Free’ by Baz Luhrmann while meditating. It may sound corny, but there’s actually some great advice in that song.

Anything fun in the pipeline – professionally or personally?

Moonquake as I mentioned earlier acting wise, and then I am writing a feature film.

A close up of Jemma

Photographer: Jemima Marriott
Styling: Tilly Wheating (Suit: The Deck; Heels: Jennifer Chamandi; Ring: Minka; Earrings: Lylie)
Make-up: Sara Hill
Hair: Chad Maxwell

Jemma Moore Recommends…

I’m currently watching… Fallout on Amazon Prime – it’s so good!

What I’m reading… Mongrel by Hanako Footman

The last thing I watched (and loved) was… Shōgun

What I’m most looking forward to seeing… Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers

Favourite film of all time… Lord of the Rings

Favourite song of all time… ‘Africa’ by TOTO

Band/singer I always have on repeat… Taylor Swift… She’s the greatest love storyteller of our time!

My ultimate cultural recommendation… Any baked goods from Chinatown Bakery

Cultural guilty pleasure… Gogglebox


Jemma Moore stars in Red Eye on ITV.