Kaya Scodelario Can’t Get Enough of the Bravo-verse

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Lloyd Pursall, Getty Images, Everett Collection, Retailer

Kaya Scodelario has been acting on sets for nearly two decades, ever since she was a 15-year-old playing a hard-partying raver in the U.K. series Skins. “If I were a lawyer,” she says of her 17-year career, “I’d have made partner by now, right?”

When Scodelario first appeared onscreen in 2007, Effy was just a side character — the younger sister of the show’s embattled and floppy-haired heartthrob, Tony Stonem. But by the third season, the series was almost entirely recast to make her character the lead. Skins quickly became a cultural phenomenon in the U.K. and beyond, transforming Scodelario and her castmates (Nicholas Hoult, Dev Patel, Jack O’Connell, Daniel Kaluuya) into teen idols. Worryingly for parents at the time, these characters were on the mood board for how young people wanted to look and act. Today, its influence can be seen in American shows like the hedonistic Euphoria and HBO’s short-lived Gossip Girl reboot, and international projects like Netflix’s Elite and Norwegian teen drama Skam.

After Skins, Scodelario found a home on the big screen. She played the lead in the Maze Runner trilogy, and has appeared in other blockbuster franchises including Pirates of the Caribbean and Resident Evil. Her latest project is Netflix’s The Gentlemen — a TV spinoff of the 2019 Guy Ritchie film of the same name.

The Gentlemen is a high-budget spectacle that explores themes of obscene wealth, family, and class that will be familiar to anyone who has watched Saltburn or Succession. In this show, Britain’s pheasant-shooting elite are the original gangsters. Scodelario plays Susie Glass — a criminal who is running an underground cannabis empire in a uniform of red lipstick and a beret. Following a family tragedy, she brings wealthy nepo-baby Eddie Halstead (Theo James) into her dodgy and dangerous world. Susie is the first female character like this in the Guy Ritchie Cinematic Universe. Where Susie leads, Eddie follows — and we’re never quite sure whether she’s a goodie or a baddie.

When we talk, Scodelario is eating a bowl of spaghetti Bolognese in her living room in North London. (The sauce is left over from the previous day — as someone of Italian heritage, she knows it tastes better that way.) Now 31, she is a mother and her life is very different from her Skins days. On this journey from teenage stardom to working adulthood, the culture around her — Britney Spears, the Bravo-verse, and the beaches of Brazil — has been a constant companion.

What was your route into the Guy Ritchie Cinematic Universe?

I knew instantly that was something I really wanted to do and that I could do something fun with Susie. I also discussed it with the writers, because I wanted to make sure that she wasn’t going to get lost within it. When you sign on to a TV series, you often only get the first two episodes. I was really reassured that they wanted to do something different with her, and to make sure that she was there for the entire time. I had a vision for what she sounded like and who she was going to be from the very beginning. She was quite instinctually already a part of me, which is always exciting.

Susie is in the driver’s seat, isn’t she? She’s not waiting around for a man to tell her what to do next …

What I liked about her was that this isn’t a story about her learning how to be a criminal. She already is. She knows what’s going on. She’s already at the top of the ladder. I thought it was very exciting to get to play a character who starts there already. She’s definitely the leader. It’s interesting, because every time someone asks me about the project who hasn’t seen it yet, they assume that I’m the girlfriend or the wife or the sidekick. I’m very excited for people to see that that’s not the case at all.

There is an incredible scene in the show that involves a chicken costume, feathers, and what I can only describe as a humiliation ritual. It’s funny, weird, and disturbing. What was it like to film that scene?

It was bizarre, and it actually evolved on the day. Guy Ritchie’s style is very much to throw the script out in the morning and figure out what the scene should be. We had the bones of that idea that Freddie needs to be in this vulnerable, humiliating position. On the page, it read as quite funny and ridiculous. What Daniel Ings did with the part is that he found a real darkness in it. By the end, it’s incredibly uncomfortable. It’s the moment where things really take a turn. We’re on this fun ride and we’re learning about how the gangsters operate, and then shit gets real — chicken shit gets real.

There seems to be quite a lot of TV and film at the moment that discuss social class and wealth — much of it is from a British perspective. Why do you think that is?

I think it’s something that is quite fundamentally British. I really love working in America — I’ve spent the majority of my career doing American projects — because Americans don’t see class in the same way we do. They have their own class system, but it’s more about who has money versus what bloodline they’ve been born into. We are now perhaps, as a British society, questioning a little bit more. We’re learning that you’re not defined by the class that you were born into, that you can break through. I think it’s something we’re quite fascinated with that we can all relate to. The key question in the story is: Who are the real criminals here? We may be the ones going to jail, but how did you generate this wealth to begin with? What did your ancestors do to get you here? It’s an exploration of that. It’s a theme that Guy is fascinated by, and one that I’m definitely very fascinated by too.

Did you see Saltburn? What did you think of it?

I loved it. I love Emerald Fennell’s work. It explores the class divide, and I’ve always enjoyed the subject of “eat the rich.” I think there’s so many great movies about the “haves” and “have nots” and what that actually means. Triangle of Sadness is a brilliant example. Parasite is another one. Also, I totally felt like the main guy in Saltburn reminded me of Tony from Skins in 2007.

Skins has had a huge influence on today’s TV. What is it like to have been a part of something that still has a cultural legacy years later?

It’s bizarre. I’m kind of unaware of it most of the time, because I’ve never watched it back. It’s been 15 years since I’ve seen it. But I was at Dishoom the other night, and the server, he was watching it. He was like, “Oh my God, I’m literally streaming it right now.” It’s crazy that people are still interested in it and can still watch it. Even though it’s dated — there were no iPhones or anything. But I’m really proud to have been part of something that has stood the test of time and that people are still discovering. It’s a beautiful thing to know that people are still enjoying something we made a really long time ago.

There was a phase where every girl in my school wanted to look like Effy — in their MySpace profiles and everything. She had quite an aesthetic influence, didn’t she?

I remember a lot of the costumes were made, because it wasn’t a big-budget show at all. There would be T-shirts that they dyed and then cut up and altered. I remember going into Topshop and seeing what was essentially like a copy of one of Effy’s shirts in there, and it was astounding. It definitely did influence fashion. Even today, every now and again, I’ll see a girl walking down the street and I think: Oh my God, she looks like Effy!

Why was Skins such an important training ground for a generation of great actors?

It was all done with open casting. They would just pop up in different places around the country, and teenagers could go and audition. I think they actively wanted to find people who hadn’t been trained, because I think a lot of child actors or teen actors who are trained have a very specific style. But they wanted an edgier style. I think also it was groundbreaking that we were actually the age we were playing. We weren’t actors in our early 20s playing teenagers. We were kids who really were in that exact period of our lives! It was exciting for us. That’s one of the big reasons we’ve continued to work, because we loved the experience. We had a good time.

A lot of people forget that actors are essentially freelancers, right?

Yeah! It’s impossible to get a rental or a credit card or a phone contract. I’m very lucky that I have been able to make a career out of it. I have some friends from Skins who also do other jobs, and they work really hard as well. It’s like any other thing. I think we all did well on Skins because we weren’t mollycoddled. We weren’t treated like “stars.” Especially in Britain, if anything, when we went out on a Saturday night, people would call us wankers. It wasn’t glamorous!

British culture is all about cutting people down to size, isn’t it?

Yeah! So I think we all really understood the “work” of it.

In the 2000s, young women were often treated very brutally by the media. In the U.K., there was the “lad culture” movement around that time, too, which was pretty misogynistic. I read you were named FHM’s 13th sexiest woman in the world when you were just 18. What was it like navigating that?

It was very brutal and it was very tabloid. We were lucky, in some sense, that because we were on Skins, it wasn’t shocking to anyone if they saw us out drinking. I think that probably saved us a lot of tabloid drama, because no one found it strange to see us in the pub. I’ve always enjoyed working in America. When I was 19, I got Maze Runner and I worked in Louisiana for a year. I was able to see that the world was a much bigger place and I could ignore the weird laddish culture that Britain had at that time. I’m relieved that that seems to be over, now that people realize we don’t need to have ratings of women’s bikini bodies on magazine covers every week.

What’s something else you like about American culture?

I love the aspirational side of Americans. I think there’s something beautiful in that you really can aspire to be anything you want to be. If your kid says that they want to be an astronaut, it feels like a possibility. Whereas in Britain, we’re much more likely to go, “Hmm, no one from this family has ever been an astronaut! That’s not going to happen.” I really admire that, and that Americans have enthusiasm for life. I love the sky in America too. I love feeling so small under such a big sky.

Do you use Spotify? Which artist is in the “top one percent” on Spotify Wrapped?

I do! And I still listen to music from my childhood. I love late-’90s, early-2000s R&B. There’s a ton of Britney Spears, there’s a ton of Spice Girls. I also had an indie phase, in the basement as a teenager, with MGMT and Empire of the Sun. I’m quite eclectic, but I guess the top one percent would definitely be Britney.

What’s your favorite Britney album?

Her first one!

You have Brazilian and Italian heritage. What are your favorite places to travel?

I love traveling. It’s my favorite part of the job. My soul is in Brazil. I would love to live there one day. Culturally, I consider myself more Brazilian than I do British because my mum is Brazilian and I was raised with a predominantly Brazilian culture. The food that I cook is Brazilian. The kind of crazy passions that I have, that switch between fury and love, is definitely from my Brazilian side. But I think it’s an incredible country full of people who support each other and are unashamed of love.

Are you a rewatcher? 

I rewatch movies a lot. I read that it’s because people with anxiety like to know what’s coming. Stressful things I can only watch once, even if they’re genius. Like Parasite — it’s my favorite movie ever, but I could only watch it once, because it was so stressful. I can rewatch comfort stuff all the time. I’ll stop whatever I’m doing if I walk past the TV and Four Weddings and a Funeral is on. I love ’90s disaster movies, blockbusters, rom-coms. Those are my go-to comforts.

Who do you keep up with most out of the Skins cast?

We’re like a little crew. Nicholas Hoult, Daniel Kaluuya, Joe Dempsey, Klariza Clayton, Megan Prescott. We joke that we’re trauma-bonded together from our teenage years. Now, we’re having kids and exploring that part of our friendships and helping one another. I was the first to have kids, so now their kids have got my hand-me-downs.

Do you watch reality TV? What are some of your favorite shows?

I love reality TV. It’s my absolute fave. I’m rewatching Real Housewives of New Jersey at the moment, because I listened to a podcast about Teresa Giudice. What an iconic first season! I mean, so much happens. I watch Beverly Hills as well, but I haven’t watched the others yet. I also love Below Deck.

Do you watch all of them? Who is your favorite captain? 

I love Below Deck because I feel like it’s essentially the same as film crews, but on boats! They work really hard and they party really hard and they sleep together, and then they’re all tangled up with each other. I love Sailing Yacht, and I just started the Australian one, Down Under. He’s nice — Captain Jason from Australia. He’s my favorite, because he seems like a good leader, but he’s also quite cute.

Do you set career goals for yourself? As in, “I want to work with this person” or “I want to do this type of work”?

For the last 15 years, it’s just been about paying the bills and whatever comes through. For me, it’s always down to the character, and if I can find something interesting with her and something that is exciting. But I am trying to be better about actually setting goals and putting them out there in the universe. I do have this unique wealth of experience of just being on sets for so many years and seeing how they’re run. I would love to be a part of that, because as an actor, there’s only so much you can do. I’m really interested in the fine mechanics of bringing a project together. Finding directors, writers, young people, people from disadvantaged backgrounds, people who are passionate but haven’t had the door held open for them.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Kaya Scodelario Can’t Get Enough of the Bravo-verse