Jessica Gunning Says Speculation Over the Real-Life Martha From 'Baby Reindeer' Is "Not the Point of the Show"

Meet the British actress being lauded for her performance on 'Baby Reindeer.'

Jessica Gunning as Martha, sitting at a bar in a pub, in 'Baby Reindeer'
(Image credit: Ed Miller/Netflix)

Netflix's stellar true crime series Baby Reindeer introduces British actress Jessica Gunning to a global audience, as she brings an unforgettable character to life. Gunning plays Martha, a troubled woman who receives a moment of kindness when bartender and aspiring comedian Donny Dunn (played by the show's creator Richard Gadd) offers her a drink on the house. The limited series, based on incidents in Gadd's real life, goes on to follow the dynamic between Donny and Martha as the latter's romantic obsession devolves into several months of stalking. 

However, rather than depicting Martha as a singularly evil villain, Gunning's transformative performance shows Martha as a fully nuanced human, who is both capable of harm and in need of psychiatric care and support.

Long before she became an Emmys frontrunner for her performance on the new Netflix hit, which debuted on streaming on April 11, Gunning has been a prolific actress for years. She's appeared in dozens of U.K. series, including a breakout role in a comedy that's set to return this May. Read on to learn more about rising star, including her hopes for what viewers take away from the end of Baby Reindeer

She's a character actress and writer with nearly two decades of experience.

Gunning, 38, is a British actress who began her career in the late '00s and went on to star in a handful of TV series in the U.K., including multi-episode arcs on Law & Order: U.K., Jericho, Prime Suspect: Tennison, Fortitude, and Back. She also appeared in the acclaimed 2014 film Pride, as well as the 2020 period film Summerland.

Jessica Gunning poses in the green room during day two of the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival at BFI Southbank on May 21, 2022 in London, England

Jessica Gunning at BFI & Radio Times Television Festival on May 21, 2022 in London, England.

(Image credit: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

The actress is also currently among the ensemble in the BBC/Prime Video crime comedy series The Outlaws. Helmed by British comedy icon Stephen Merchant, the series follows a group of strangers as they carry out their community service sentences, and Gunning portrays their supervisor. 

The show first premiered in 2021 and it's now onto its third season, which is set to hit streaming on May 31.  

In a recent interview with Deadline, Gunning revealed that she performed double-duty as an actress and writer on the new season, landing her first co-writing credit on the fifth episode of season 3.

"I love working with Stephen [Merchant] and he does let us add bits [of writing] here and there,” she said. “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."

She was Richard Gadd's first choice to play Martha in 'Baby Reindeer.'

When Baby Reindeer creator Richard Gadd began considering who should play the fictional version of his real-life stalker, Gunning was at the top of his list. In an interview with Vanity Fair, he revealed that he "fought for" Gunning to be cast, even when "big name" actresses wanted to land the nuanced role.

"I fought for Jess against the tide, but then she came in one day and knocked everyone away," he told the outlet. "The one thing Jess got straight away was the fact that Martha was a bit cute and a bit odd and a bit empathetic and a bit weird. I felt like Jess believed the reality of Martha in a way, rather than playing the character."

Jessica Gunning as Martha, sitting in a cafe booth, in the netflix series 'baby reindeer'

Donny (Richard Gadd) and Martha (Jessica Gunning) in 'Baby Reindeer.'

(Image credit: Netflix)

In an interview with Dazed, Gunning opened up about the experience filming Baby Reindeer. She revealed that her performance of Martha was so uncanny that Gadd himself was affected at times during filming.

"As soon as I read [the screenplay], I captured the essence of her," she said of crafting her performance. "I think for him, that might have been quite strange as when we were filming, he’d be a bit quiet occasionally, and I’d check in with him and he’d say, ‘I’m so sorry. It just feels like she’s here with me. I feel like I’ve spent the day with her.'"

Gunning also explained that she didn't need to look beyond what Gadd had written about the character when preparing for the role. She added, "I didn’t need to do any more research or he didn’t really need to tell me that much about the real person because it was all there on the page. I’m not doing an impersonation of anyone. I’m just doing my interpretation of who I think she is, and I think by chance, there are similarities."

A post shared by Richard Gadd

A photo posted by mrrichardgadd on

She says that fan speculation on the real-life Martha's identity is "not the point of the show at all."

Since Baby Reindeer has premiered, some fans have speculated on the true identities of Martha and other Baby Reindeer characters, from another one of the showrunner's abusers to his girlfriend Teri played by Nava Mau, leading false allegations to go viral on social media. 

During an appearance on BBC Scotland’s The Edit, Gunning responded to the speculation, saying that she finds it “quite sad” and “not the point of the show at all.”

“If you like the show and you are a fan of it, you should stick with the story of Martha and Donny being what connects you, not trying to do any detective work and find out any real identities," she said.

While speaking with Dazed, the performer also pointed out that Gadd and Netflix went to "huge measures" to protect the identities of the real-life people involved in the situation.

"I think it’s really sad if that is happening because they clearly haven’t watched the show in the right way and haven’t got the message of the show," she told the outlet. "That’s definitely not what our intention was in any way. Huge measures were put in place for nobody to be identified on purpose. Netflix and Richard really didn’t want that. So I think it is a shame. I imagine it’s inevitable because people are fascinated nowadays with true stories, but I would urge people to think of the individuals and not do that."

Contributing Culture Editor

Quinci is a Contributing Culture Editor who writes pieces and helps to strategize editorial content across TV, movies, music, theater, and pop culture. She contributes interviews with talent, as well as SEO content, features, and trend stories. She fell in love with storytelling at a young age, and eventually discovered her love for cultural criticism and amplifying awareness for underrepresented storytellers across the arts. She previously served as a weekend editor for Harper’s Bazaar, where she covered breaking news and live events for the brand’s website, and helped run the brand’s social media platforms, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Her freelance writing has also appeared in outlets including HuffPost, The A.V. Club, Elle, Vulture, Salon, Teen Vogue, and others. Quinci earned her degree in English and Psychology from The University of New Mexico. She was a 2021 Eugene O’Neill Critics Institute fellow, and she is a member of the Television Critics Association. She is currently based in her hometown of Los Angeles. When she isn't writing or checking Twitter way too often, you can find her studying Korean while watching the latest K-drama, recommending her favorite shows and films to family and friends, or giving a concert performance while sitting in L.A. traffic.