“I don’t think any of us got the job and were like ‘ah we’re gonna be an inspiration to a generation’ or anything like that. We just took every day as it came.”
I’m discussing the legacy of the TV show Skins with one of its former stars: actress Kaya Scodelario. It’s 10AM and we’re sequestered in an anteroom of photographic studios located on a North London industrial estate for a shoot on a typically gloomy, overcast day. Scodelario is a genuine surprise, smaller than she appears onscreen; this morning she is wrapped in a huge, black parka, which engulfs her tiny frame. Even with her long dark hair hanging wet around her unmade face, she possesses an elfin-like beauty. She politely asks for a Diet Coke and a croissant as she has her hair and makeup attended to.
I wait for the hair dryer to stop whirring before we delve into conversation. Listening to her pontificate on everything from the current position of women in Hollywood to relationships, it’s hard to believe that she is only 24, but then she has been on British television since she was 14.
It was playing the part of Effy Stonem that Scodelario first made her name, as a part of the second generation of Skins characters – the troubled, wilfully rebellious younger sister to Nicholas Hoult’s Tony. Critically acclaimed, the show became synonymous with the millennial generation because of the frank, often gritty portrayal by non-actors of modern, suburban teenage life with its pitfalls and excesses.
I ask her what kind of impact she thinks the show had in hindsight and whether or not it really characterized her generation.
“I think when you look back on it now, for me what stands out is that it was the first of its kind to not try and give you a moral storyline. A lot of programmes directed at teenagers at the time were sort of ‘here’s the teenager, here’s the mistake, here’s the punishment and now they’re ok’ and Skins didn’t do that. I think that’s why people really responded to it strongly.”
During her time in the show, Scodelario worked through every traumatic storyline imaginable – from divorcing parents and mental breakdown to navigating the difficulties of relationships, the latter being something she says she dealt with concurrently.
“We were all having our hearts broken and discovering love for the first time. It was a very important experience in my life, the first time I had my heart broken. I look back on it now and it’s kind of beautiful, and I definitely wouldn’t have said that at the time but I think it really helped me grow as a woman and as a person.”
It’s a theme that resonates throughout Scodelario’s history, especially as she became a mother last November with her husband, fellow actor Benjamin Walker. In light of this new perspective, I wonder what relationship advice she would give her son upon his first heartbreak. Becoming thoughtful she says, “Someone once said to me, ‘this won’t be the first time’ and I think that’s terrible advice. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my god! Is this life now?’ It’s just going to be a roundabout. I think I want to tell him that as long as he’s a good man and he’s respectful of whichever partner he chooses, that if they don’t respond to that, then that’s just because it’s not meant to be and that there will be someone out there for him. They could be in any corner of the world. I met my husband in Australia and he’s American. There are people out there. Spread your wings a little bit. I don’t know,” she pauses. “I’ll probably just cry.”
Since her Skins days her star has steadily ascended, and Scodelario is on the verge of joining former co-stars Nicholas Hoult, Jack O’Connell, and Dev Patel in becoming a sought-after British star. Yet despite her potential being recognized now, she is still plagued by self-doubt.
“I think I’m the most confident and comfortable in myself when I’m on set, when I’m actually doing the work day-to-day. It’s the only thing I’ve ever felt good at or that means something to me but as far as being a person outside of that, I’m still incredibly not confident at all.”
It is something that she is going to need to develop in the impending future. Following her ongoing role as Teresa in The Maze Runner (2014), she finds herself on the brink of mainstream success after being cast in the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales film, out May 26th, which sees her play Carina Smyth, an aspiring astronomer who fights convention while inadvertently becoming entangled in a feud between Jack Sparrow and Javier Bardem’s villainous Captain Salazar.
While she is heavily complimentary of her co-stars, it was Bardem whose presence resonated most strongly with her as a foreign actor. She confides that seeing him on the big screen endowed her with self-belief as the child of a Brazilian mother who felt like an outsider growing up.
Scodelario has forged a career playing intensely moody, enigmatic women, but unlike previous Pirates heroines, Smyth is a strong, fiercely independent woman from the beginning – a trait that attracted Scodelario to the part.
“It’s such a shame that we still have to describe them as strong female characters because it should just be a female character and she should just be strong.” It’s obvious that this mentality both disturbs and annoys her.
“I think we still have a long way to go and we always will. I watched Arrival last year and I thought it was so amazing how you know she’s clearly the lead and there’s no mention of it. It doesn’t need to be discussed that she happens to be a woman. It just is.” Scodelario says, almost thinking out loud, “I really want to work with more female directors because, of the 19 jobs that I’ve done, only two have been directed by women. I want to see more women in the writing room and the production offices. I want to see women everywhere in the industry.”
After listening to her putting the world to rights, I consider the hectic whirlwind that she finds herself caught up in. There is a forthcoming promotional tour for Pirates in Shanghai, then more filming in South Africa for The Maze Runner. Juggling young motherhood with a mind-boggling schedule cannot be easy.
“There are plenty of mums and actresses out there who have done it, so I’m going to give it my best shot,” Scodelario says, a huge, self-assuring smile spreading across her face. The world is about to be her oyster.
Written by Chantelle Johnson
Photographed by Baud Postma
Styled by Francesca Turner
Hair: Perrine Rougemont for Caren Agency
Makeup: Emma Day for The Wall Group.