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The Outlaws proves Jessica Gunning should be celebrated for so much more than Baby Reindeer

Jessica Gunning in The Outlaws and Baby Reindeer
Baby Reindeer star Jessica Gunning next returns to screens in The Outlaws (Picture: BBC/ Netflix)

After becoming the most talked about actress of 2024 in smash-hit Netflix series Baby Reindeer, Jessica Gunning’s next role is worlds away from crazed stalker Martha.

In April, the Yorkshire-born actress, 38, stunned audiences with her starring role in Richard Gadd’s black comedy, in which she played a woman terrorising comedian Donny Dunn after she turned up to his pub penniless and he handed her a free Diet Coke.

Her performance was hailed as ‘mesmerising’, even more so once viewers discovered her likeness to the woman claiming to be the ‘real Martha’, Fiona Harvey.

Gunning’s next performance couldn’t be a bigger leap. She’s back as police officer Diane Pemberley in season three of Stephen Merchant’s West Country comedy thriller The Outlaws.

Set in Bristol, the first season saw seven strangers from different walks of life forced together to complete a Community Payback sentence, with some of the leading stars including Stephen, Eleanor Tomlinson and Chistopher Walken.

However, when they discovered a bag full of money, they were dragged into the dealings of a dangerous criminal.

Jessica Gunning as Martha in Baby Reindeer
The actress was recently praised for her performance in Richard Gadd’s series, in which she played stalker Martha (Picture: Ed Miller/Netflix / Avalon)
Harry Trevaldwyn as Stan and Jessica Gunning as Diane in The Outlaws
This week she returns to her role as Diane in the BBC comedy series (Picture: BBC/ Big Talk/ Alistair Heap)

This time around they had been happily moving on with their lives, but face even more dodgy dealings when their former friend Rani (Rhianne Barreto) turns up with a dead body begging for their help.

At the same time, Diane is determined to not only prove her authority over the group, but that she has what it takes to take the leap and become a police officer after stepping into the role of a PCSO.

The only problem is – she’s completely oblivious.

Jessica Gunning in a red dress on the red carpet
The actress’ range of roles have been impressive (Picture: Karwai Tang/WireImage)

Plenty of laughs abound as the group do their best to hide the dead body from their supervisor and her new right-hand-man Stan (Harry Trevaldwyn).

Gunning quite rightly became a household name in Baby Reindeer, with her performance as Martha astonishing, both somehow terrorising and warm.

In years to come when we remember why Baby Reindeer became such a triumph, as well as Richard Gadd’s bravery for re-telling his own trauma and the subsequent chaos surrounding ‘the Real Martha’, so much of its success is also down to Gunning.

But recognition as one of the best actors in the UK right now has been a long time coming.

Gunning started her career at The National Theatre and went on to appear in an episode of Doctor Who, but perhaps the first time she really made an impression was as brash Australian backpacker Shona in a particularly memorable episode of Inside No. 9 titled La Couchette.

Jessica Gunning in Doctor Who
She appeared in a 2009 episode of Doctor Who (Picture: BBC)
Jessica Gunning as Shona and Jack Whitehall as Hugo in Inside No. 9
She also starred in Inside No. 9 alongside Jack Whitehall (Picture: BBC/Sophie Mutevelian)

The comedy horror series which among is fiercely loyal fans is one of the most celebrated shows in recent memory because of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s impressive story-telling in 30 minute standalone episodes full of mind-bending rug pulls, but also because of its acclaimed cast.

Shearsmith and Pemberton have admitted there are queues of actors begging for parts in Inside No. 9, but it’s not that easy. Gunning starred opposite Jack Whitehall, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Mark Benton but was the standout star.

In the third season of The Outlaws, which is already criminally underrated, her talents have been clearly recognised again.

While you may have been sleeping with one eye open since Martha haunted a record number of viewers on Netflix, in The Outlaws Gunning’s quips as Diane will have you in fits of laugher.

As she said last season: ‘I’m a former bad girl who turned my life around 360 degrees.’

Gunning already has the likeability of a national treasure, which it feels like she’ll be called regularly in the not-too-distant future.

Diane is absolutely a character who, like Martha, will stay with viewers for weeks, months or even years to come, but for much less terrifying reasons as she attempts yet somehow constantly bungles the most basic of tasks.

Jessica Gunning as Diane in The Outlaws
Diane is a PCSO determined to prove her talents in The Outlaws (Picture: BBC)

Even acting next to one of the country’s biggest names in comedy (Stephen not only co-wrote and co-directed The Office, but Extras and Life’s Too Short as well), Gunning stands on her own and is one of the stand-out stars in the BBC comedy, which is rolled out internationally by Amazon Prime Video.

When given the original scripts for the show several years ago, Gunning didn’t realise it wasn’t a drama and once admitted she’d performed the audition in that vein, but still managed to leave the casting table in ‘fits of laughter’.

This season she also co-wrote an episode (the fifth), speaking about the experience at a recent Q & A.

‘I loved it. It is such a great ensemble show and I think we all know the characters so well now and being invited to the writer’s room, I got to see it behind-the-scenes and the consideration that gets taken into all of our character’s journeys and how well the writers know them,’ she said.

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‘Watching Stephen at work and seeing how intricate it is. It was amazing to watch.’

Speaking about bringing her on board, Stephen explained he’d read a film script she’d written and was impressed by her work behind-the-scenes too.

‘I knew she could write, and she was so enthusiastic about the show and has a great instinct and the writing was a dimension that she was interested in,’ he said.

Asked about playing comedic character Diane, she said: ‘It’s so fun. I loved every minute.’

Jessica Gunning on Lorraine
Gunning said returning to The Outlaws was a relief after the ‘intense atmosphere’ of Baby Reindeer (Picture: Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock)

‘Not to spoil but this season she is kind of integral in helping to solve certain things,’ she said.

However, Stephen jumped in to jokingly comment it was a ‘convenient’ development after she joined the writer’s room.

In a recent interview with Radio Times, Jessica said returning to The Outlaws was ‘really nice to go back to after the intense atmosphere of Baby Reindeer’.

Although there’s every chance audiences will always remember Jessica for her stand-out (and possibly award-winning to come) performance in Baby Reindeer, her return to The Outlaws makes clear she deserve every success that’s come her way, with fans likely to be itching to see what role she takes on next.

The Outlaws season 3 returns tonight at 9pm on BBC One.

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