Bad news: You have until today to see Kaya Scodelario’s American big screen debut, The Truth About Emanuel, at the Gaslamp. The good news is you can watch it tonight on VOD.
The camera loves Kaya Scodelario, and in return she’s favored audiences with some of the most commanding small screen closeups of recent vintage. I’m old enough to be Kaya’s fath...brother. A guy my age with so many movies to watch has no business being sucked in by any TV show, first and foremost the wildly popular E4 teen drama, Skins. Needless to say I’ve seen every episode.
Back in high school, three friends and I would pull out a battered deck of cards and play a few hands of crazy eights during our lunch break. One of my fellow card sharks must have had a lazy tongue because for some long forgotten reason, the name of the game somehow managed to morph into “Ka-Ya.”
Flash forward 30-something years. It’s the birthday of John Laftsidis, the only one of my former lunch mates who I’m still in touch with. Because I’m too cheap to buy a card, I Google “Ka-Ya” in hopes that something funny turns up to send him. Interspersed between pictures of Bob Marley — I sent John a link to his song, "Kaya," the year before — are images of this beautiful, incredibly evocative face wearing a cigarette and gallons of badly applied mascara.
Kaya as Effy Stonem in Skins.
I had to know more and wind up tracking down every season of Skins. That’s how “Ka-Ya” eventually led me to Kaya.
Do I risk sharing this admittedly sappy and sentimental anecdote? Kaya will either find it endearing or clam up tighter than Effy on the first season of Skins. Let’s begin with her reaction to my tale of Junior year whimsy.
Kaya Scodelario (Laughing): That’s brilliant. That’s got to be one of the best stories I ever heard.
Scott Marks: It took weeks to arrange this interview. You're harder to track down than a laugh in an Adam Sandler picture.
KS (Laughing): Very funny.
SM: I was told you were in Africa over the holidays. Was it work or were you there on vacation?
KS: In Africa?
SM: That’s what the publicist’s email said.
KS: I was up the coast of Africa in a place called the Canary Islands. I was there with my mom. I took her away for a couple of months. It was just me and her doing something a little bit different on Christmas.
SM: How nice. Growing up, what kind of films did you watch?
KS: I was really into watching films that I wasn’t supposed to be watching. I loved Boogie Nights growing up and Face/Off and things like that. I just found movies interesting. The first film that really impacted me was Kids, which I guess was the Skins of its generation. It really affected me. That one made me want to tell stories and understand the power of film.
SM: You were 14 when the casting call for an inexperienced actor to star in a new series called Skins. How did you happen upon the show?
KS: I was walking home from school and they were having an open audition. I thought I'd have a look because I always wanted to act, but I didn't know how you do that. It seemed like it was out of my reach. The director saw me outside and he came over and asked if I would audition. And I did. And I got extremely lucky.
SM: For the first season of Skins you play a near catatonic mute who handily steals every scene she’s in. At what point in the proceedings did you learn that the writers were going to ax every character save Effy?
KS: For a long time I didn't think it was going to happen. I thought it was just going to end. My mom told me it was going to happen and I thought that she was just saying that to keep me happy so I wouldn't cry. (Laughing.) It wasn't until they started auditioning people that I realized it was serious. For a long time I thought my mother was just bullshitting me so I wouldn't get depressed.
SM: What do you credit with Effy’s enormous appeal?
KS: She's one of those girls who didn't fit in but who still has the confidence to be happy with who she is. In England that was a big thing at the time. We had the student riots because they raised the fees at the university and there were all these kids running around that didn’t know what they were supposed to do. In America you had beautiful blonde cheerleaders who were good in school, something we couldn’t really relate to as much. I think Skins changed that a little bit.
SM: At the risk of sounding like a reporter from Tiger Beat, will there be a Skins movie?
KS: I don’t know. I feel that it’s kinda wrapped up. We did a final two-part mini-film…
KS: You are a fan.
SM: Of course.
KS: It was such an important time for everyone back then that I don’t know if it would work anymore.
SM: I’ve read that you were the subject of bullying growing up and suffered from low self-esteem on account of it. Welcome to the club.
KS (Laughing): Exactly!
SM: How do you deal with fame and the constant recognition it brings?
KS: I don't deal with it. You just make it a thing. It doesn't define you as a person. I go to the same pubs, I have the same friends, I do the same day to day things. I’m not afraid to go out without makeup. Once you start thinking of yourself as famous, that's when it can start to affect you. It’s a really difficult question. There’s a part of every job that you don’t like and there’s a part where you just have to get on with it. I'm lucky enough to have a job that I love ninety percent of. I can’t really complain.
SM: What’s the ten percent you don’t like?
KS: The being famous part. Having to be a style icon or role model or those things you don’t feel like you are. It’s especially true for an actress. The public expects women to be wearing the best clothes from various designers. We’re actresses, not models, and it's a different thing. They try and keep you in a box.
SM: Kaya Scodelario is a great name for a movie star, but one that in the era of branding and social media may be difficult for some people to remember. Were you a product of the studio system, Louis B. Mayer would have probably changed your name to Kathy Rose. Was any thought ever given to changing your name?
KS: No! I’m very proud of my name. It’s my mom’s surname and she raised me. She’d have killed me if I changed it. And I’m told my name is a card game that I never even heard of.
SM (Laughing): See! You’re a trend-setter and a game of skill all rolled into one! Most people remember Moon as a one-man show. I had forgotten that you made your big screen debut in the film playing Sam Rockwell’s daughter. How did you make the segue from Skins to Moon?
14-year-old Kaya lands on Moon.
KS: It was my second ever audition after Skins. I was petrified. My mom made me go because she knew that I was scared to do it. I’m really glad I went. Meeting Sam at the time — I was only 14 so I couldn’t really appreciate it. I look back now and realize this its one of the greats. He was so normal and so nice, but I was young enough where I couldn’t get overwhelmed by it all. It was a great learning experience.
SM: The Truth About Emanuel is a very strange film that I think demands a lot from its viewers. What was your reaction to the script the first time you read through it?
KS: I found it very interesting. I had to read through it twice which is a good thing when a script demands that much attention. I met with (director) Francesca (Gregorini) and we had an honest conversation with each other and that kind of sold it to me. Knowing how much she cared about the project and the courage of her heart sold me on it. She really wanted to tell this story and after meeting her, so did I.
SM: What is it about Emanuel that appealed to you and what qualities in your personal life did you bring to the character?
KS: She’s like most girls my age who know what it means to be an adult, but are not quite sure if they are. You don’t have the excuse of being a teenage fuck up anymore and you have to make decisions about your life. She just doesn’t want to do it; there is nothing that interests her. Than can be quite scary for anyone, especially the way society is nowadays where you want to have everything carved out straight away.
SM: I’m a stickler for unnecessary romantic subplots, but I enjoyed your on-screen bus rendezvous with Aneurin Barnard.
KS: I think it was important to show that side of her. She can be moody and quite aggressive, but there is still that teenage girl in her that wants a little flirt with the cute boy she meets on the bus. It also shows a side of her that her parents will never see. It's a romantic subplot that’s completely different from everything else going on.
The Truth About Emanuel official trailer
SM: You also show a bit of a flair for comedy. My favorite scene in the movie is when you hide the doll behind the door to keep your step-mother from seeing it. Everything I’ve seen you in to date has been fairly dramatic. How do you think you’d fare in a comedic role?
KS: I don’t find myself funny at all. (Laughs.) I did really enjoy playing that scene. It might be fun to one day do something comedic, but I don’t think I’m funny at all.
SM: I’ve seen every episode of Skins and I swear this is the most I’ve ever heard your voice. Who needs dialogue when your have a face that speaks volumes?
KS: Thank you so much, Scott. And if ever I get to meet you, you’re going to have to teach me how to play “Ka-Ya.”
SM: I'm shuffling now.