Kaya Scodelario makes a lot of sense as the newest Disney princess. She has the big blue eyes beloved of animators and displays a spunky attitude on screen that inspires hero worship in seven-year-old fledgling feminists. Most importantly, like her Pirates of the Caribbean predecessor, Keira Knightley, Scodelario combines a delicate, aristocratic beauty that gets her cast as 18th-century damsels with the sort of wry humour that delights in subverting such outmoded movie nonsense. Carina Smyth, the orphan and “woman of science” she plays in the new Pirates movie is, Scodelario says: “completely from the other side of the tracks. She’s a survivor, she’s independent, she doesn’t wear these fancy clothes and she’s uncomfortable in all of that. That, for me, was quite easy to tap into.”
Today, after a weekend of Disneyland Paris festivities to launch the new film, Scodelario is recovering in a très exclusive Parisian hotel and, amid the Louis XIV grandeur, she appears barefoot, her hair still wet from the shower, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. Now 25, she has been working since she was 14, but boarding this Disney franchise means showbiz on a different scale. She is still getting used to it: “I mean, you walk on set and there’s 500 extras, and there’s a dog that’s an actor and a rat that’s an actor. I tried to pet the dog and they were like: ‘Please don’t, he’s working.’ That was just like, wow.”
Scodelario first came to notice as the enigmatic tearaway Effy Stonem in Skins. The series, which ran from 2007 to 2013, is now best understood as a much druggier, slightly grubbier, British version of Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club, in that it produced a notable number of actors who have gone on to bigger things. They still get together for Christmas dinners and annual summer barbecues.
“Obviously, it’s weird because Nick [Nicholas Hoult] will turn up and he has just been in X-Men and Daniel [Kaluuya] is in Get Out now – what the hell? But we kind of get that out of the way in the first 10 minutes and then we go straight back to just joking around and being us.”
Was Scodelario the sort of preternaturally self-assured teenager she appeared to be? She screws up her face in incredulity. “Noooooo! It was always fun to play Effy because she was so different from me. I was incredibly shy and insecure as a child; I was bullied, I was dyslexic, I had an immigrant single parent; I was the opposite of that kind of ideal, cool girl thing.”
Scodelario was raised speaking Portuguese by her Brazilian mother. “I consider myself a Londoner first and then I consider myself Brazilian, before I consider myself English,” she says. When she was growing up, the two of them lived on the rougher side of the London borough of Islington, in a council flat that was “always bright yellow, with plants and hammocks, Brazilian music and Brazilian food”.
This partially explains her bizarre childhood obsession with Arnold Schwarzenegger: “It’s because he was the first foreign actor I ever saw in Hollywood movies. He had an accent and, because my mum had an accent, that really inspired me. I used to look through the Radio Times for his name. I had this huge, long Scodelario name that no one else had and he had this huge name … Obviously, as I’ve got older, politically and personally … not so great.”
Since leaving Skins in 2009, Scodelario has appeared in several films, including the adaptations of YA novel series The Maze Runner, but it was her first big, post-Skins career move that seems most revealing. She was cast as Catherine Earnshaw in 2011’s Wuthering Heights, a bold, passionate take on Emily Brontë’s ultimate teen romance, directed by a post-Fish Tank, pre-American Honey Andrea Arnold. “She would say to me: ‘If you come on set and you’re on your period and you’re pissed off, it’s fine; your character is on her period and she’s pissed off.’ To have a director say that openly in front of an entire crew? It was like, yes! This is amazing! That’s the dynamic that a woman can bring to a film set.”
Wuthering Heights trailer – world exclusive video
It is not a dynamic that one imagines encountering on the set of Jerry Bruckheimer’s multimillion-dollar Pirates franchise. So what was the appeal? “The thought of being on set with these actors that have humongous careers [Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem], knowing that I could spend six months learning from them and seeing them work.”
She also had longer-term calculations in mind: “Doing a movie like this means I can finance my own independent movies and, eventually, that’s what I want to do, I want to produce and I want to work with female crews.”
That Disney dollar is not to be sneered at, especially for a “proudly working-class” girl from north London. We’re not quite talking shooting-Hunter-S-Thompson’s-ashes-out-of-a-cannon money yet, but still, she says: “What’s great about these movies is there are opportunities like this, where I say to my friends: ‘Get on the Eurostar, come to this nice hotel in Paris, let’s drink some champagne, we’ll go back to work tomorrow.’”
Since filming ended in summer 2015, Scodelario has grown up even more. She married (Benjamin Walker, the American actor and former son-in-law of Meryl Streep) and has given birth to a son, who is napping in the adjacent room. Family life has only made her more determined: “I feel kind of empowered now in my career because [my son] is important and my work is important for him.”
It has also given her something to chat about with Depp, although she says there was always an easy camaraderie between them. “I think we got on the second I was there because I tried to treat him as a normal person and I had the same sort of conversation I would have had with a person in a pub. I was just like, ‘Well this is a bit mad, isn’t it?’”
Madder for her, perhaps. As the only woman, then aged 23, in an otherwise all-male cast of actors in their 40s, 50s and 60s, she has experienced Hollywood’s gender double-standard in spectacular, swashbuckling action. Doesn’t that annoy her? “It does. It’s like there’s this expiry date for us and it’s such bullshit, because my mind isn’t going to change. If anything, I will grow and I will learn and I will be better.”
But she chooses to look on the bright side and, actually, there is one. “I was concerned that they would want me to play a romantic part against someone in their 50s and that would be heartbreaking. So I was extremely relieved that Brenton [Thwaites, who plays the son of Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner] is only a year older than me. But, yeah, nine out of 10 times, if I read a script, it will be me being with a guy that is twice my age, which is really fucking weird.”
Like a lot of actors, Scodelario is keen to maintain normality. In her case, it doesn’t seem like humblebragging or posturing. It is a useful coping strategy for someone whose day-to-day experiences have changed so drastically in such a short time. She says that is why she has never burned out, despite working almost constantly since childhood: “I always try to live a normal life alongside it as much as possible. On Skins, we only ever filmed for a couple of months in the summer. When I wasn’t on set, I was doing my normal things. My best friends, they’re my friends from school. One is a florist, one is a nursery teacher; they’re completely normal and real.”
She also doesn’t do that annoying actor-in-an-interview thing of feigning gratitude for any professional experience, however objectively miserable. One of the film’s most dazzling sequences involved her clambering up a ginormous ship’s anchor. It looks jaw-dropping in its CGI glory, but what was it like to shoot? “Hell,” says Scodelario simply. “We were in a giant warehouse that was just blue screen all the way around and we were in there for about three weeks. I didn’t see daylight. We had to constantly be wet, so this poor, lovely makeup lady would come over with a cold bottle of spritzer and apologise and then just spray it in my face, periodically, throughout the day.”
She laughs at the absurdity. Remaining down-to-earth in Hollywood is one thing, but remaining down-to-earth while dangling 30ft in the air on a giant prop anchor? That’s an altogether more impressive achievement.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Salazar’s Revenge in the UK) is out on 26 May.
School of Skins alumni
Rebecca Nicholson looks at what they did next
Nicholas Hoult (Tony)
Hoult was a child actor before he became Skins’ narcissist-in-chief Tony, having starred as Hugh Grant’s impossibly wordy sort-of stepson/life coach in About a Boy. After Skins, he headed to Hollywood, appeared in Tom Ford’s directorial debut A Single Man, then became a big-budget action star, as scientist/monster Beast in three X-Men movies and Nux in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Dev Patel (Anwar)
Patel had his initial experience of the Oscars shortly after Skins, when he starred in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, which won best picture in 2009. But this year he ended up as the show’s first Oscar-nominated alumnus, picking up a best supporting actor nod for Lion, in which he co-starred with Nicole Kidman. His next film is Hotel Mumbai, a dramatisation of the terrorist attacks in 2008, which he shot in Adelaide last year.
Daniel Kaluuya (Posh Kenneth)
Not only did Kaluuya write for Skins, he also occasionally dropped in as the criminally underused Posh Kenneth. Since then, he has been in The Fades, Psychoville, a pre-Netflix Black Mirror – he stars in 15 Million Merits, the episode where people ride bikes to gain credits – and appeared in comedy-action such as Johnny English Reborn and Kick-Ass 2. But it was this year’s hit comedy-horror Get Out, the casting of which provoked the ire of Samuel L Jackson, that made him massive. He is about to follow in Hoult’s Marvel footsteps, having been cast in next year’s Black Panther movie.
Kathryn Prescott (Emily)
In the second cycle of Skins, Prescott was one half of TV’s sweetest lesbian couple Naomily (so cute, they got a compound). Since then, she has carved out a steady career in US TV, starring in two seasons of MTV’s teen show Finding Carter, about a girl who discovers the woman she thought was her mother had, in fact, abducted her as a baby, and the 24 spinoff, 24: Legacy.
Jack O’Connell (Cook)
O’Connell shone as the misunderstood bad-boy heartthrob of seasons three and four. The Derby-born actor has since appeared in several Hollywood movies, including Money Monster, alongside George Clooney, and Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, whom he famously taught to say: “Ey up, me duck.” He is about to appear on stage alongside Sienna Miller at the Young Vic, in Benedict Andrews’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and has signed on to play Alexander McQueen in a new biopic of the designer directed by 45 Years’ Andrew Haigh.