Jessica Gunning glammed up and (inset) in character for The Outlaws

The Outlaws star Jessica Gunning – from humiliating early audition to Baby Reindeer fame

'Can anyone lift her?'

The Outlaws star Jessica Gunning is back on our screens as season three of the hit comedy starts today (May 30) – and she previously shared her worst-ever audition experience.

Jessica Gunning reprises her role as Community Payback Officer Diane Pemberley for the series, which first aired in 2021. The British actress has had quite a year so far, receiving international recognition for her role as the stalker Martha in hit Netflix drama Baby Reindeer.

Here’s everything you need to know about The Outlaws star Jessica Gunning and her “awful” early audition experience.

Jessica Gunning in a red dress with suited Baby Reindeer co-star Richard Gadd at the BAFTAs
Jessica, pictured with her Baby Reindeer co-star Richard Gadd, has had an exciting 2024 so far (Credit: Cover Images)

How old is Jessica Gunning?

At the time of writing, Jessica Gunning (sometimes credited as Jess) is 38 years old. She was born on New Year’s Day 1986 in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire.

Jessica attended Holmfirth High School, before turning her sights towards acting. She told the SAG-AFTRA Foundation that her drama school audition process wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, however.

She said: “I once auditioned for a drama school, and we had to get put up into pairs and labelled A and B. I thought it was going to be an easygoing thing, but they ended up making us do the wheelbarrow game.

“The girl I got put with looked like – have you seen the original Matilda? She looked like that little girl who gets thrown over – she had to lift me up! She couldn’t even lift one leg.

“So everyone was like: ‘Can anyone lift her?’ And they got this big, muscly rugby player who was like: ‘I’ll give it a try.’ And everyone was like: ‘You can do it!’ And I was like: ‘How is this showing if I’m a good actor or not?’ So that was awful. And I didn’t get in.”

Fortunately, Jessica later attended the Rose Bruford school in Sidcup, South-East London, which hosts famous alumni including Gary Oldman and Kerry Godliman. Jessica graduated in 2007.

What TV shows and movies has Jessica Gunning been in?

Jessica made her first TV appearance in 2008 on short-lived BBC Three variety series It’s Adam and Shelley. That same year, she made a guest appearance on Doctor Who alongside David Tennant, Catherine Tate and Sarah Lancashire.

From 2009, Jessica played the role of Angela in the UK version of US favourite Law and Order. She portrayed Angela through eight seasons until 2014.

In 2012, Jessica starred alongside MyAnna Buring and Sam Clafin in the BBC Two drama White Heat. The following year she portrayed murder victim Melissa in the BBC One drama What Remains.

Sky Atlantic horror Fortitude followed in 2015, in which Jessica portrayed Shirley, one of the victims of a peculiar illness taking over the isolated arctic town of Fortitude.

David Mitchell and Robert Webb sitcom Back was Jessica’s next big role in 2017. For the role of barmaid Jan, Jessica exercised her comedy chops. She’d go on to star in other sitcoms including Trollied in 2018, and, of course, The Outlaws from 2021.

Most recently, Jessica achieved global fame as creepy stalker Martha in Netflix hit series Baby Reindeer. Based on real events, Martha is a Scottish former-lawyer who becomes obsessed with Donny, played by Richard Gadd.

Jessica Gunning holding her whistle in The Outlaws, with Harry Trevaldwyn standing beside her
Jessica is back to portraying Diane Pemberley after a busy 2024 (Credit: BBC / Big Talk)

Does Jessica Gunning have a husband? Is she married?

Jessica keeps her love life private, and the star does not have any public social media accounts.

However, she is a LGBTQ+ ally, after her performance as miner’s wife-turned-MP Siân James in the 2014 film Pride. The drama explored the real-life events that led to the 1984 alliance between miners and LGBTQ+ activists. Speaking to BBC Radio Wales, Jessica said the film was “a beautiful thing to be a part of”.

What is Jessica Gunning’s height?

According to reports, Jessica is 5ft 3in tall (1.6m).

While she looks small on screen, this is partly due to co-star Stephen Merchant‘s incredible height! He is a whopping 6ft 7in tall (2.01m), which is enough to make most of us look short in comparison.

Jessica Gunning stars in The Outlaws season 3

Set in Bristol, The Outlaws follows a group of strangers who must complete a Community Payback sentence together. Supervising them is Community Payback Officer Diane Pemberley (Jessica Gunning), a larger-than-life character with a somewhat inflated sense of authority.

Season 3 marks some big changes for both character and actress. Diane is now a fully trained Police Community Support Officer, and is even training her own protege – new character Stan, played by Harry Trevaldwyn.

Meanwhile, Jessica shared that for the first time she’s been involved in writing the scripts for the new series. She said: “I felt very lucky that I was in the writers’ room […] I co-wrote an episode with Stephen, episode five.

“It’s been really exciting to be a part of helping draft the storyline for series three and get to know the characters more than I did before.”

The Outlaws season 3 returns to BBC One on Thursday, May 30 at 9pm.

Read more: The fallout of Netflix series Baby Reindeer as woman accused of being ‘real-life stalker’ threatens to sue in rant

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Susan Brett
TV Writer