Interview: Kaya Scodelario on Skins, Wuthering Heights and Now Is Good
Former star of teen series Skins stars in Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights
She’s the former star of teen series Skins. Now Kaya Scodelario is tackling the darker role of Catherine in Wuthering Heights, directed by Andrea Arnold. Tom Dawson assesses the 19-year-old’s gothic credentials
You were in line to work with Red Road and Fish Tank director Andrea Arnold on Wuthering Heights, yet you missed your first audition for the role? How come?
‘I was incredibly nervous about doing a period drama. I thought that to play period you had to be English-looking and blonde and very well spoken, and have gone to drama school. I was worried that coming from Skins and having a Brazilian mother that I wouldn’t be able to do it justice.
‘After I missed the first audition Andrea rang me and asked if I wanted to meet up with her. It wasn’t like a typical audition. She just got me to talk about myself. I then went away and watched [Arnold’s last film, the social realist drama] Fish Tank and realised that her version of Wuthering Heights was going to be really dark and interesting.’
The ghostly Cathy is one of literature’s quintessential tormented women. Did you feel under pressure playing such a well-known gothic heroine?
‘I didn’t read the book before shooting the film, and I didn’t watch any of the previous film or TV versions. Andrea said not to drive myself crazy worrying about how somebody did the role 20 years ago. We weren’t even given full scripts, just the lines the day before. Once it came out that the actor playing Heathcliff, James Howson, was black, I realised what a big thing the story was. I realised that this version was going to divide people, but I’d much rather do something that gets people thinking and stirs things up a bit.’
As a 19-year-old in 2011, how did you connect to the 19th century Cathy?
‘To me the story isn’t the fairytale romance that people perceive it to be. It shows that love is a kind of disease. Actually, going to this tiny village in Yorkshire in the middle of nowhere and being surrounded by the moors and the fog and the mud and the rain and the snow really helped in understanding how the teenage Cathy would feel love so intensely. I felt her sense of being trapped in a world where she either marries the wealthy Edgar or runs off with this wild boy Heathcliff. I didn’t want to judge her. Deep down she knows that Heathcliff will kill her, in the sense that her love for him will drive her crazy.’
What was distinctive about the way Andrea Arnold directed you?
‘She does lots of silent takes, where she sets the camera up and you don’t know if it’s rolling or not, and then she asks you to do the line in your head. At first you feel stupid, but it’s a great way of getting the movements of your character. There aren’t any cues or marks. She doesn't want actors to “act” – she wants you to be yourself.’
A subtle film version of a classic novel has got to be very different to a teen-written show like Skins. How did you handle the change?
‘I was terrified before the shoot. I hadn’t worked for a year since finishing Skins [Scodelario played Effy in four seasons of Skins between 2007 and 2010], and the doubts had started to creep in. With Skins I’d had this huge high of working every day with friends and not worrying about auditions: that was the only job I’d ever worked on where everyone genuinely wants everyone else to do well. I was worried that people would say that I was just this Skins girl, who was doing a period thing to make herself looks different.
On the first day on set, when I was just asked to walk in a straight line, I had a panic attack. Within two minutes of speaking to Andrea I was fine.’
What’s in store for the future? Will you carry on pursuing dark material or is now the time for a romantic comedy?
‘I’ve just made a cancer drama, called Now Is Good, directed by Ol Parker and starring Dakota Fanning. We filmed in Brighton and it’s about a girl dying of leukemia, although it’s not as depressing as it sounds.
I’ve also just shot a BBC TV series, Love Life with Billie Piper. It’s set in Margate, which has such a weird atmosphere. Our unit base was at a theme park which burnt down three years ago. We had a great time though, because it was the middle of a heat wave and we got to hang out on the beach.’
Wuthering Heights is on general release from Fri 11 Nov.