Since finding her acting feet in British teen soap Skins, Kaya Scodelario has notched up roles in a low-budget British sci-fi (Moon), a mega-bucks Hollywood blockbuster (Clash of the Titans) and now an art-house period drama. LWLies sat down with Scodelario recently to discuss the gravity of taking on the female lead in Andrea Arnold’s atmospheric Wuthering Heights.
Have you seen the film yet? What did you think?
I really liked it! It was weird because I never received a full script, we were given the lines the day before shooting. So watching the film was the first time I knew what was going on in the rest of the film! So it was really cool to watch. I took some friends as well, who I know would never have gone to see it if I wasn’t in it. They’d think, ‘That’s not my thing,’ and they really enjoyed it. It was nice to know that a younger generation enjoyed it.
It’s not your average period romp is it?
No, not at all. I like to think that Andrea’s kind of created this new genre, where it feels very modern, it’s not stuck to the rules. Everyone thought period drama had to be done a certain way and that’s the only way it can be done, people have to walk very slowly and speak properly, there has to be lots of sunshine and flowers. Andrea’s just turned that on its head completely and I love that she’s done that. It was wicked.
It felt like it could almost be modern day…
Yeah, exactly, that’s what was cool – it was kind of timeless.
Why did you only get your lines the day before filming?
It was a lot to do with helping the younger kids, obviously this was their first job so Andrea didn’t want to overwhelm them with a whole script. And I think she just likes things to be very fresh, and you to go into it very open. She asked me not to read the book or see any of the adaptations, so I think she just likes people to not know what they’re doing, go into it completely open-minded. Which is what I want people to do with the film, to go into it completely fresh not thinking about anyone else in it. It was a good way of working, it was different. It’s nice to push yourself and do thinks in a different way.
Was it difficult to learn your lines that quickly?
No, there’s not a lot of dialogue in the film which helps! Surprisingly, I thought I would, but it kind of worked out okay in the end, thank god.
You have quite an emotional role to play, did you get lots of direction there?
I think Andrea wanted me to do it how I wanted to do it. It was never, ‘You have to cry in this scene.’ It was more, if you feel like crying, cry, if you don’t, don’t. it was one of the lines that Heathcliff said to me that really affected me on a personal level, that brought the emotion out quite naturally. I feel quite upset and we cut, and I said to Andrea, ‘I really feel like this should be quite an intense moment for her.’ She kind of slips into this mental illness, she goes a bit crazy, and I wanted to show that in the scene in the kitchen when Heathcliff and Edgar are fighting. I got James, who played Heathcliff, to sit behind the camera and just scream abuse at me for 10 minutes. On a personal level as me, not as Cathy, cos I just wanted to go a bit crazy for a while.
Did he know you well enough to throw some good things at you?
No, I think it’s easy, it was better than he didn’t know me. It kind of takes you back to the playground, that kind of little things that people say can really affect you. ‘Oh, you’re so skinny’, all of these things that you have personal issues with just come out quite naturally. It was strange, it took me two days to get back to normal. But I was glad I did it. It felt right to be in that scene.
It’s James’ first film as well. How was that?
At first it was difficult, I’m not going to pretend it was all great. There were certain days that he didn’t want to be there, he didn’t want to act, but it was really beautiful to watch him grow into it, to grow into wanting to do well. Every day he’d come in and be a bit more on the ball, more focussed. It was nice to watch him develop as an actor. It was wicked to see. I can’t imagine what it was like for him, although I was 14 when I started on Skins and I felt completely out of place, I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there, everyone was a lot older than me, I felt very insecure about it. So I knew what he was going through. But I didn’t want to be too sensitive with him, I knew I had to push him. There was a scene where I had to slap him, and he didn’t want me to actually slap him, he wanted me to pretend. I said, ‘I ‘m not going to pretend! Cos I’m screaming at you, I’m not going to be able to go from screaming at you to pretending to slap you, so I’m going to hit you.’
He was like, ‘No, no, don’t fucking do that,’ and we got into a bit of an argument over it. I said to him, ‘Trust me, I’m going to hit you harder than I’ve ever hit anyone in my life, and you’re going to like it because you’re going to prefer your performance! It’ll be a natural performance.’ He was like ‘Arrrgh’ being a proper man about it, and Andrea was like, ‘Hit him hard!’ I slapped him, and honestly I’ve never heard a sound like it in my life. It was so hard to keep a straight face. I thought, ‘Oh God, he’s going to punch me now!’ He came up to me afterwards in typical manly style and was like, ‘Yeah that was good, you were right.’
So you didn’t give him too many tips?
Andrea cast him for who was, and that’s all he needed to be. He’s quite wild. It’s a really intimidating thing, my background is very similar to his. You grow up on an estate and you’re in this bubble. Being on a film set, you don’t learn about that at school, you don’t know those jobs are available. It’s a strange industry, quite hidden I think. To be pushed into it must’ve been terrifying for him. He did so well to do it. Especially the little kids as well. The kids were beautiful cos they had this sort of the way kids are, they don’t feel any pressure. Just like, yeah this is fun, they don’t stress themselves, which you tend to do when you get older. They had that complete natural go for it vibe that really rippled through the set and made everyone relax a lot more.
Were you on set with the kids a lot, then, even though you don’t share scenes?
I was around them a lot for pre-production, I love them. I loved Shannon [Beer] to pieces, I wish she was my little sister. She’s what I wish I could’ve been like. She’s gobby, she’s confident, she’s a naughty little kid, but she knows who she is as a person, and she’s comfortable with that. I really like that about her.
It must’ve been weird sharing a character with another actress. Did you work together creating the character?
No, Andrea didn’t want us to. Very strangely. She didn’t want us to get technical with it, or sit down and have little things that we both do. She’s a big believer of just letting things happen, and doing the edit and finding those moments. Natural looks that you give without noticing. She just let us go with the flow.
You don’t look massively similar…
No. Well, it was funny, Shannon was like, ‘You don’t look like me!’ I don’t, but I don’t think that matters.
How was shooting Wuthering Heights different from shooting Skins?
It’s hard. Obviously it was different, but it wasn’t so much so that I particularly noticed it. With Skins, it wasn’t a job at all. It was me growing up, it was my university, the crew knew me since I was 14, they were like family to me. I think Effy helped me personally gain confidence. I enjoyed playing her because it took me out of my depression that I had myself, my subconscious and all that. It gave me a bit more confidence and a bit more fun. Leaving her behind was quite hard, quite scary. She was like this cloak that I’d wear, I would feel cool, even though deep down I’m not at all. It was very scary to leave, but Skins as a whole was this very, very strange thing that happened that wasn’t work. Leaving that, any job would’ve been different. You realise, ‘This is work, I have to behave, be professional.’
You mentioned feeling depressed when you were younger. Was Cathy a slight exorcism where those feelings are concerned?
Yeah, I guess so. Filming the whole Effy mental illness stuff took me to a place. My mum suffers from depression, she has her whole life, and doing that storyline with Effy helped me understand it a lot more. With Cathy again, I always tend to get the crazy roles! I like interesting parts, I couldn’t ever be one of those actresses where they look pretty and their hair looks great all the time, I hate that. What’s the point of being an actor if you just want to look nice all the time? I love the fact that I’m not wearing any make-up at all in Wuthering Heights, my cheeks are pink and my nose looks like Rudolph. I love it! I’d rather throw myself into someone and completely lose me as a person for a while, I love the psychology behind it all. I find it really fascinating.