What does it feel like to be an actress that has helped shape the outlook within youth groups blossoming in the millennium? An actress that has grown up to take on mammoth film franchises such as Pirates of the Caribbean and The Maze Runner, becoming a recognised face in film’s history? For someone who has achieved so much, Kaya Scodelario cuts a refreshing figure in a landscape riddled with ego. Within heartbeats of meeting, she has enveloped us in a feeling of welcome, her relaxed demeanour immediately putting one at ease and her friendly visage suggesting a sense of joviality, sincerity, and companionship. We meet at Soho House 76 Dean Street in London, where I find her tucked away in the dining room, amid the dark azure walls and the heavy leather furnishings. Scodelario orders a steak and chips, requesting béarnaise on the side. She has dazzling eyes and an enigmatic smile—both warm and worldly on her familiar face. She is an ideal embodiment of modern cinema, a woman unafraid to speak her mind, who has worked hard from the bottom up, devoid of any notions or graces. Her focus is on presenting film figures of depth and drive, with convincing characterisation and sincerity. The interest in her own on-screen image is of no interest to Scodelario, and she hopes her audience will realise that, too: “I hope that they would see that I am not perfect!” she reveals. “I hope that they feel the story, and realise that that’s important, not what the actress looks like in the movie.”
While her looks are certainly never a driving factor for Scodelario, clothes have played a part in shaping her most lauded character, Effy Stonem of Skins. It is hard not to reminisce about her careening entrance in season two of the British drama, with her fishnet tights, lace-up boots, and kohl-rimmed eyes surmising her swagger into the hearts of teens everywhere. With her ripped-up, reworked, and altogether rowdy ensembles, her dress came to denote her wild antics, identity, and attitude. While it was a guise, a character she embodied for the show, off-screen Scodelario holds a certain effortlessness in her attire, citing Kate Moss as a style icon. Much like the grande dame of London fashion, Scodelario is as relaxed in tee and trainers as she was in an impeccable pink mid-length frock and a swept-up chignon at Chanel’s Paris Fashion Week showcase. As she sits with us at lunch, a rose gold Cartier Love bracelet twinkles on her wrist. With the original design created in 1969, the affectionate name and elegant finish is well noted: I can’t help but feel the woman in front of me has grown into herself—her own skin—after more than a decade in the global spotlight.
We are here to talk about her life as she knows it, and the path her life is on. With her raven hair tucked behind her ears, she laughs with an honest gush, and answers effusively to all posed questions. Scodelario is extremely verbal about her working class background, proud of her roots and of her Brazilian mother who raised her on her own. While school was difficult due to her dyslexia, Kaya was keen on drama, and revelled in the school plays.
When her teacher received an e-mail about the upcoming audition for a new teenage TV show, Scodelario went along. She auditioned for Skins, lying about her age and claiming to be older than 14, only to be told they were looking for someone younger. “They wanted to get real teenagers because they wanted that energy of kids that were actually going through these things,” Scodelario divulges. “There is something so raw about your teenage years. It is scientifically proven that you do go a bit nuts during your teens, so when you feel things, such as falling in love for the first time, it really is that dramatic. They really wanted to get that emotion out of us and didn’t want actors that were trained.” By hiring the cast through an open call, the TV producers dished up hearty dinners of realness with characters still discussed about, 10 years on.
Having had a baby boy just over a year ago, Scodelario is balancing the reality of a newborn with the work pressures in the film industry. “It’s incredibly hard, and it’s tough, but I look at my situation and I am so lucky that I can take my son to work with me. My husband is a co-parent, with absolutely no issue being the mum.” I mention a recent protest of women speaking out against the conditions for working mothers, and she sagely nods at the sad reality many women face. “It is such an old idea that being a mother means you have to give up your life and your career,” she expresses. “Being a mother is only going to improve my work because I have this entirely new life experience that I can bring. It’s hard for me to complain as I see my friends who really have to work and can’t bring their kids with them, and struggle with that. I am fortunate that I can breastfeed in the make-up chair, and I can have him in the trailer with a friend while I am on set. I am determined to prove to him, especially because he is a boy, that mum worked, and is no different to dad.”
This early education of her son really hits home with Scodelario, having recently joined the growing fleet of men and women revealing experiences of sexual abuse, harassment, and assault via the recent #MeToo movement. “I want to establish within him from a very young age that men and women are the same. That’s a huge thing we need to start educating ourselves on because we educate our daughters on how to dress, and to not get drunk, which are all victim blaming,” she says. “It is really important to educate him on consent and what that means. It is something I feel very strongly about, as does my husband.” She highlights her reticence on coming forward, but the relief in also sharing the weight of great sadness these distressing situations incur. Was she proud of her decision? “It was the scariest thing I have done in a really long time, but what I took from it was that those women inspired me about something I was so terrified of for 13 years. Just seeing them be that brave inspired me to do something. My husband is proud of me, I hope my son will be proud of me, and I have the sense I have taken away the power from that predator in some way.” While in no way an easy decision, Scodelario surmises, “You have to have a voice so that more and more can be done.”
Scodelario still seems struck by disbelief for where she is today. The word “fortunate” returns time and again, a woman humbled by the unique turns her life has taken, as well as the serendipitous sequence of events. At one point, she laughs and says she is fearful one day someone will catch her out, and send her far away from the dream she’s been living. And what a dream it has been.
In 2013, the actress starred in Luca Guadagnino’s Walking Stories romantic comedy for Salvatore Ferragamo, before gracing the front rows of London and Paris Fashion Weeks—the latest being Chanel’s Cruise ’18 show in Paris.
Perhaps feeling a certain responsibility to give back to the community that first supported her forays into a very new world, in the long term she would like to found her own company that supports women of all ages in acting. “As an actress, I know there is this supposed time limit,” she says. “When I hit 30, I won’t be as ‘good’ an actress as I was the year before, which is insane.”
As a woman, an actor, a mother, and a Londoner, Scodelario is exactly what you see on the tin—a straight shooter with integrity, grit, talent, and a beautiful spirit. “When I was a kid, I thought actors had to be perfect,” she laments. “They couldn’t have any faults, they had to be role models. Now, there are more open female voices, and people realise that we are normal. We do eat chips, swear, and mess up!” The ordinary is where she finds the extraordinary, be it taking her baby on the London Tube or gracing the cameras in a Loewe gown—Scodelario in a nutshell.
Go behind-the-scenes of the December Cover shoot right here:
Photography: Rachell Smith
Styling: Alexandra Fullerton
Videography: Mark Glenister
Hair: Earl SimmsHair: Earl Simms/Caren Agency using Hair by Sam McKnight
Make-up: Mary Greenwell/Premier Hair and Makeup
Manicure: Jessica Thompson/Eighteen Management using Gelish
Digital imaging: Love Retouch
Production: The Production Factory
Styling assistant: Marina de Magalhaes
Photography assistants: Luis Calderon; Cameron Smith
Location: Savoy Theatre, London