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Interview: Kaya Scodelario On ‘Emanuel & The Truth About Fishes,’ Sean Durkin’s ‘Southcliffe’ & Her Return To ‘Skins’

Interview: Kaya Scodelario On 'Emanuel & The Truth About Fishes,' Sean Durkin's 'Southcliffe' & Her Return To 'Skins'

Every year (at least in the last few), it seems there’s at least one actress who, while already on many radars, comes to Sundance with a performance that launches her to true stardom. Carey Mulligan, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Olsen, Mia Wasikowska and Quvenzhane Wallis all went to Park City as complete or relative unknowns, and left at the top of casting wish-lists. This year, perhaps the most notable Sundance starlet to break out was Kaya Scodelario.

Despite only being 21, the actress has been a familiar face on screen for a while now, thanks to a small role in “Moon,” and more importantly, being the only actor to bridge the first two generations of cult UK teen series “Skins.” But after several promising performances over the last few years, most notably in Andrea Arnold‘s “Wuthering Heights,” she’s truly blown up in 2012, thanks in part to her turn in the Sundance flick “Emanuel & The Truth About Films.”

Scodelario toplines Francesca Gregorini‘s film, in a role once intended for Rooney Mara, as a troubled teenage girl who forms a bond with the mysterious single mother (Jessica Biel) who’s just moved in next door. It’s a head-turning, star-making piece of work that’s sure to mean that she’ll be adding a lot more to an already-busy dance card that also includes UK miniseries Southcliffe,” which focuses on a mass shooting, and is directed by “Martha Marcy May Marlene” helmer Sean Durkin, and young adult blockbuster “The Maze Runner.”

Just before she went off to shoot the latter, we caught up with Scodelario during Sundance London, where “Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes” was getting its European premiere, to discuss all of the above, and much more. Read on below, beware of some spoilers in certain clearly-marked sections.

How did you come into contact with “Emanuel & The Truth About Fishes”? Did you have to audition, or did they offer you a part? 
It was auditions, I’d heard there was a really good script going around. I read it, and fell in love with it instantly, which is actually quite rare. I read 10, 20 a week, and it’s only every now and again you’re like, “I really love this.” I put myself on tape, because [director Francesca Gregorini] was in America, and then heard back that she was in London and she wanted to meet face to face to get to know me. And we sat down, and had a really cool connection straight away. She’s very young at heart, and open and honest, and I’m quite like that as well, so we clicked straight away. And then I auditioned again, got the part and flew out to America.

This is pretty much your first American project, right?
I played American when I was like fourteen, and I was awful, I cringed the whole way through. In “Moon” [in which Scodelario plays Sam Rockwell‘s daughter]. Luckily I only had two lines, so you can’t really tell….

Did you have to do much work on the accent, then? 
I really wanted to put some effort into it, and learn the techniques behind the accent. I had an amazing voice coach who helped me, guided me through every scene in the script. And also taught me a lot, technically, about where your tongue is in your mouth and what makes you make certain sounds. It’s actually really interesting. I speak fluent Portuguese [Scoldelario’s mother is Brazilian], so that might help the shapes in my mouth much more. So I was gonna start ringing up the reception in the hotel and speaking in an American accent, but worried that they’d catch me out, so I pussied out.

Would you ever like to act in Portuguese at some point?
I’d love to find a really good Brazilian project, an up and coming director or something. I wouldn’t want to do the typical favela story, Brazilian cinema has a lot more to offer than just that.

Was there much research involved in the part, then, aside from the accent?
There was some light research, but I tend to work more instinctually. It’s how I started, I don’t have a lot of training, so I just tried to immerse myself in the emotion of it. As a young woman, it was very easy to relate to the character of Emanuel. In many ways, she’s a typical young girl who’s just trying to find her way in life, who has nothing to fight for, and has this sense of longing. And she finds this woman who fills that gap, and she’ll do anything to look after it, and anything to protect it. And that was quite easy to understand. And once I started working with Jessica [Biel], and I could see her performance, and where she wanted to take it, it made me feel much more at ease about my direction. But it was very much on the day, on set, rather than sitting in a hotel room Googling stuff for weeks.


What I found impressive about the performance is that once Emanuel decides she’s going along with the delusion [Jessica Biel’s character has a doll that she treats like a living baby], you’re both giving performances that almost make the doll seem alive.
It was really difficult not to. The doll itself weighs the same as a newborn baby, and you had to support it properly, so even between takes, you’d catch yourself swaying back and forth, and rocking it, so it’s crazy how instinctual it is. You did straight away start treating it like a real baby. It’s quite strange how easily your mind can believe it.

There’s also a degree of ambiguity there. Until quite late on, you’re wondering if Emanuel or Linda is the deluded one. 
We wanted it to slip from reality to fantasy quite easily. Because I think we’re people are stressed or going through something, they do that, and Emanuel definitely does that. Especially with the bond with Linda, she’s very confused with that, and what that means to her, and we did try and add a bit of that, in terms of what is real and what isn’t.


The underwater fantasy sequences look spectacular. Was that fun to film?
It was a lot of fun, but it’s terrifying. The tank was like thirty foot deep, and pitch black. And we had to go down to the bottom to film. And we had to learn how to use a respirator, and how to stabilize your ears, and breathe out so your lungs don’t explode. They kept throwing all these rules at me, and I was like, “This is actually really interesting.” I really enjoyed it. I actually turned twenty as I was under the water, filming it, so I can say I left my teenage years thirty foot underwater.

Your next film is going to be a bit of a chance of pace, it’s “The Maze Runner.”
I leave in a couple of days to start shooting that in Louisiana. It’s my first real studio job, and it’s actually something really cool. It’s not your romantic love triangle typical trilogy thing, it’s very edgy, it’s quite scary, action-packed. It’s the first one of that sort of films aimed at a male audience, which I think is really cool, I think a lot of young guys are going to relate to it. And it’s the director [Wes Ball]’s first feature, he’s only ever done a short before, and he’s been given this massive trilogy to do, and he’s basically going to do whatever the fuck he wants with it. Like he announced that I was in it over Twitter, I just love that. He’s just gonna do it his own way.

I’m the only female in the cast, and she kind of appears a quarter of the way through the film, and is kind of the catalyst of everything going wrong, and all the secrets being exposed and everything falling to pieces. Which is great! I get to do loads of running and killing and jumping around and things, which I’ve never done before, I’ve never done action and physical things, so I’m looking forward to pushing myself to see if I can stop eating fry ups and get healthy. 

The film has the potential to be huge. Are you ready for that sort of new level of fame that comes with a studio franchise movie?
I think I’ve learnt over the last five years that this job is unbelievably unpredictable. So the thing you think is going to be huge ends up not being huge at all, and the most minute thing you do is talked about for the rest of your life, so I try not to have any expectations at all. I think that helps, if you’re just focusing on the project at hand. Personally, I’m grateful to be employed, a lot of my friends aren’t. The way the country’s being run at the moment, it’s very difficult for the youth to find employment and to have a career, so right now, I’m just grateful I can go to work, and build a career. So whatever comes of it comes of it, and I’ll tackle that when I come to it.

Before that, we’ll be seeing you in “Southcliffe”. What was it like working with Sean Durkin on that?
Amazing. The guy’s incredible, I’ve been so lucky to work with such amazing directors. The way he shoots, it’s the most relaxed, happy set I’ve ever been on, from the actors to the caterers, everyone is happy. “Southcliffe” is extremely dark, it’s an extremely depressing, intense story, but the shoot was like being at Disneyland. It was unbelievably different from what we were filming. He’s a briliant director, he knows exactly what he wants, and thinks completely outside the box. He was such a pleasure to work with.

I’m one of the victims of Sean Harris‘ character [who perpetrates a mass shooting in a British seaside town]. The episode I’m mostly in is flashing back and forth from my death to beforehand, and it’s more about how my family are dealing with that, and the impression it has on my parent’s lives.

Durkin’s only the latest in a pretty impressive set of directors you’ve worked with; people like Duncan Jones, Andrea Arnold. Is it the filmmaker that draws you to a project?
First is the script, always. But having an incredible director is so important, and having someone you get on with too. It doesn’t matter to me if they have a huge body of work, if they’re hugely successful or if they’ve won awards, it’s who they are and what their vision is. I’ve been really lucky, I’ve never had to work with a director I haven’t got on with. It’s such an important bond, you have to feel completely comfortable with a person, you have to be willing to say what you want to say, and be on the same page with them. When I am auditioning, I tend to ask to speak to the director, and find out what they want from the character. ‘Cause you want to help them get their point across, and get their creativity on the screen.

Do you have a sort of list of directors that you’d like to work with down the line?
I could say the stereotypical Quentin Tarantinos of the world, but I love the idea of finding a director that’s completely unknown. Just breaking out, and doing it their own way. But I’d love to do a Tarantino film too!

So you’ve gone from a Sundance movie, to a Channel 4 miniseries, to a big studio tentpole. Is that how you’d like your career to be going forward? Jumping back and forth from film to TV, from US to UK.
To be sure. TV’s where I’ve come from, and I’d never turn my back on it. It’s amazing we’re getting so many actors to do British TV. “Broadchurch,” for example, got nine million viewers or something, and Olivia Colman is incredible in it. I love that Nick Hoult is coming back to do a BBC1 programme. I’d definitely want to come back and do British TV, ’cause I think we have some amazing British TV, but we also have a lot of easy, shit TV, reality shows, cheaply made, and I really believe in keeping TV strong, and keeping drama strong, and making it feel cinematic and like a good budget, and decent writers have gone into it. It doesn’t all have to be easy mundane stuff. I don’t think i could move to LA and just do that side of things, I’d always have to come back here.

You mentioned Nick Hoult there. And between him, and people like Dev Patel, Joe Dempsie, Hannah Murray, Jack O’Connell, Luke Pasqualino, a lot of the “Skins” actors have gone on to great things since they left the show. Did it feel like you were a special group of people when you shot the series?
I don’t think any of us felt that way at the time. But I think the reason why so many of us have done well and continued to work is that we went into “Skins” not as actors, but as kids, normal kids that had normal lives, but with a passion to act. And we got lucky to be on a show that was groundbreaking and exciting and different, and that really gave us a motivation and a passion and an urge to work, to really want to fight for it. None of us really expected it to just come into our laps, we were never like that. Everyone moved to London, and got flats and voice coaches and stuff, ’cause we knew what life was like before, and we didn’t want to go back to that. And that’s why so many of us have done well, is that we all genuinely wanted to, and it’s a part of us now.

Do you still hang out together?
Yeah, we’re all very very close. I don’t think I’ll ever make a group of friends on a set like we did with “Skins.” We all try to meet up at least once a month. Both generations, and the generations have kind of crossed, one of the girls from the third generation is going out with Nick Hoult’s best friend, so the groups have just joined together, and now it’s just one huge “Skins” group, which is really nice.

They’re wrapping up the show soon, I think. Are you going to go back before it finishes?
Yeah, we did a mini film-for-TV episode, in two parts, with just Effie’s character, and then Jack O’Connell did one for his character, and Hannah Murray did one for Cassie, so we did these mini films that will be aired in July, I think. So we’re trying to focus on that age between coming out of teenagehood and coming into adulthood, and what it needs to be an adult, and how you define yourself, what path you take. But that for sure will be the final goodbye.

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