Effy Stonem, fragile tearaway-cum-femme fatale with a history of depression, 2007-10Why is your episode called ‘Skins Fire’?
‘In my mind, it’s Effy’s burning desire to get on in life, to get a career and make something of herself.’It sounds like she’s stuck and needs an escape.
‘Yeah – over the last few series it’s always been about getting Effy’s head above water. Now, it’s a different circumstance: she’s been through school and university and is entering the world of work, which is very different and has its own challenges. It’s also about friendship and life, and the things you hang on to and the things you need to let go.’
Is it fair to say that she’s not entirely over some of the demons from previous series?
‘Definitely – it’s impossible to think someone would just get over that, but this isn’t focused on her mental health any more, which I found really interesting. It’s about her as a person. Those demons she had have been focused into her work world. So she’s becoming obsessive and compulsive over something else now.’We know Lily Loveless is back – any other familiar faces?
‘Yes – Katherine Prescott, playing Emily, pops in and out as well.’Did it take you long to get back under Effy’s skin?
‘Not at all! I started panicking, thinking it’s been four years, such a long time ago! So I started rewatching the old series and, once I got to series three, I thought ‘“I’ve got her now – she’s in there somewhere, I just need to let her back out.”’Was it weird watching it back?
‘Really weird – we’d forgotten what had happened, story-wise. For us, it was more looking back on series and remembering when someone farted or something. So watching it and taking out our personal experiences was really strange.’Any reservations about going back?
‘Yeah – she was such an important character for me, and so loved and cared for by the fans that I didn’t want to do it half-heartedly, for the sake of E4 bringing in a few more viewers. I wanted to be sure they’d write an interesting story about her, and they did. There aren’t a lot of programmes focused on young women going through the transition from being a teenager to an adult – it’s such a confusing, difficult time and something I’m going through myself. I really wanted to explore it through a character to help my own development.’What did you think of Effy when you first got the part, compared to how you look at her now?
‘When I first played Effy, I was only 14 – I was just grateful to have a job! And I still am grateful to be in employment. A lot of my friends are finding it very tough out there at the moment. Effy’s always been the other side of me, the braver, more outgoing side that I’ve never really had. It’s been cool to watch her grow and progress.’Having done a few bigger budget films and period dramas, did it feel odd coming back?
‘Not at all. “Skins” has always been about telling stories, and the way it’s focused on young people hasn’t really been done before. The industry and a lot of young people owe a lot to “Skins”, for showing that and making it acceptable. So many great TV shows are doing it now, and it’s not thought of as dangerous or scary.’Did you realise when you were filming the show that it would be this influential – the idea of a “Skins” generation and so on?
‘No, not at all. None of us did, which was the beautiful thing about us. We were a bunch of kids they picked up and gave this opportunity to. None of us were actors, there was no jealousy or rivalry, we were all just friends. So we thought, even if nothing comes out of it, we’ve had the best summer of our lives.’Favourite memories of the show?
‘It was like my university, it’s given me life experience. The best parts were going back to the apartment and having dinner together, or having a drink and talking about all the stuff that teenagers talk about.’Do you still see each other?
‘Yeah, we do. Lily’s one of my best friends, I meet up with the first and second generations a lot.’It must be amazing to see everyone’s careers going in different directions.
‘Yeah, we’re really supportive of each other and genuinely happy for each other. You don’t get that with many casts. I love seeing Nic [Hoult] on the side of buses.’
Did you know Effy had the potential to break out after the first two series?
‘No, not at all. After the second one, we’d just got told it wasn’t coming back and my mum told me they’d called to say they were casting me as the lead in the third series. I was like, “Mum, you don’t have to say that to make me happy!” And I got into an argument with her, because I thought she was just trying to cheer me up. I didn’t really believe it was happening until I turned up to audition people for the third series!’
It’s always looked like a gruelling role to play.
‘Yeah, but I like being pushed. Young actresses need those parts, and that’s why I wanted to return to “Skins”. It’s very rare for a TV show to give a young actress two hours to tell a story.’Was she a character you could learn from in the way she lived her life?
‘Yeah – I got to rebel through her so I didn’t fuck my own life up! [laughs] I got to see how things could go and decide for myself that I didn’t want that. I’d rather keep things steady and focus on my career. “Skins” was never preachy, it never moralised. It just showed the different parts of being a teenager and let you decide for yourself. People really responded to that. Hopefully, I’ve turned out okay.’So it was a cathartic role?
‘Yeah.’Where do you see Effy in ten years time?
‘I don’t know and I don’t want to know. I like that she could go anywhere. You can’t put her in a box. She’s always going to shock you and do the opposite of what you expect.’But if you got the call in ten years time, you’d be in?
‘Probably. I’d be tempted!’‘Skins Fire’, Mon July 1 & July 8, 10pm, E4.
'Skins: series 7' and 'Skins: series 1-7' are available on DVD from August 12.
Cassie Ainsworth, introspective and smart, but crippled by low self-esteem, 2007-8Why is your episode called ‘Skins Pure’?
‘Cassie is seeking some kind of purity, something that will make her life meaningful and worth living. So a lot of that is about relationships – a pure kind of love. Is it inevitable that things get tainted as we get older? All that sounds very fanciful, but purity was a word I thought about a lot while we were filming.’Purity and purification are behind a lot of people’s eating disorders and self-harming as well…
‘That’s a good point, but it’s not what this story’s about. When someone’s been as ill as Cassie, it’s always part of their thinking, but it’s not what this episode really deals with. There’s nothing that ever says she’s better, but nothing to say she isn’t either. There’s an extremity to her character and maybe the same impulses are at work here still, but it’s less self-destructive.’Do we see any other familiar faces?
‘Neil Morrissey comes back to play my dad, but that’s it.’Was it weird having to carry the show yourself this time? Were you missing people?
‘No – I’d be missing them anyway. I still see them anyway and I’ve done other jobs without them! One of the things that excited me was that it would be my story. I don’t know if that sounds spoilt or greedy! But it made it feel like a different experience. I wanted to do something new with a character I’d played before.’How did it feel coming back?
‘It didn’t feel like coming back. It was a different city and hardly any of the same people – just the director, writer, producer and Neil Morrissey. It felt like a new project. Cassie had a lot of stuff by herself or with adults in previous series. She was at her best when you removed her from the group. The others had a lot more work to do on group scenes or relationships. My defining memories of “Skins” professionally were of filming on my own.’Any reservations about going back?
‘Not once the project was explained to me. I was always very clear that I wouldn’t play her for another series or a movie getting the gang back together – that would have felt very artificial and everyone involved in the show was smart enough to realise that it wouldn’t have worked. Once I knew it was a two-hour special about her, I wanted to do it. I know how much I changed between 18 and 23.’Was Cassie a character you could learn from in the way she lived her life?
‘Cassie’s so weighed down by her own thoughts. She’s very introverted and serious and thinks everything through. I overthink things as well and live inside my own head a lot. It was never fun to play her – I always felt incredibly sorry for her. To be her is a weight – there’s a lot of pain and a lot of baggage.’Did it take long to get back under Cassie's skin?
‘She’s in a slightly different place now. There’s more of a detachment and a numbness. She starts the film in London with no friends, not willing to connect with the world at all. I was very anxious about getting it right. After the first week of filming, I asked the director if I was getting it right. He thought it was uncanny. I forget that because I look like her, quite a lot of the work is already done for me!’What does the series mean to you?
‘It’s very important to me because it started my career, doing a job I love. It felt like an impossible dream, originally. And some of the people I met during it are my best friends.’Did you realise it was an influential show?
‘The fact that the show can be used as shorthand, this idea of a “Skins Generation”, is the strangest thing for me. The fact that Nic [Hoult] was involved meant I knew it was a proper thing, but I don’t think any of us knew if anyone would watch it.’What are your favourite memories from the show?
‘Loads. Especially filming Chris’s death – Joe [Dempsie, now a co-star on ‘Game of Thrones’] is such a great actor, and his performance was so good, I stopped thinking and started reacting to what he was doing. That was an amazing moment.’It must be amazing to see everyone’s careers going in different directions.
‘It’s great – I’m so proud of all my friends. There’s nothing nicer than seeing a film or play with one of them in.’How much has being on ‘Skins’ taught you?
‘I didn’t know anything about how a film set works. It was amazing training – on the first day, Dev [Patel] didn’t even know they were going to say action!’Where do you see Cassie in ten years time? Would you be up for playing her again?
‘I think this works really nicely as an end to the show, and I know [series creator] Bryan Elsley feels it’s the end of Cassie’s story. So I don’t imagine she’ll be back. But I do love her, so I’ll never say never.’‘Skins Pure’, Monday July 15 & 22, 10pm, E4.
'Skins: series 7' and 'Skins: series 1-7' are available on DVD from August 12.James Cook, Effy’s ex and self-destructive Jack the Lad with abandonment issues, 2009-10Why is your episode called ‘Skins Rise’?
‘We don’t know what state Cook’s in because of where we left him. There’s no guarantee he’s in one piece. By the time we’ve caught up with him, he’s keeping his head above water – I’d like to call it “afloat”.’Sounds like he's in a bad place, the same self-destructive instincts…
‘Yeah. What’s different now is that he’s on his own. He hasn’t got the safety net of his pals or the dole. He’s on the run from the police, so he can’t afford to screw up. It’s a survival game for the kid.’
He doesn’t thrive on his own, does he? He needs people to feed off.
‘I guess so. He’s had to make do with his own company, which may be his just desserts for some of the errors he’s made on the female front.’Do we see any other familiar faces?
‘Unfortunately not. There was an idea that Effy would appear in a dream sequence, but we didn’t think the audience needed that sort of force-feeding.’Did it take long to get back under Cook's skin?
‘No – everyone thought we were going to do a film, but for various reasons that never took place. We always assumed we’d come back, so I’d never really put him to bed. Out of all the characters I’ve played, Cook is most like me – I’d like to play him again in the future.’Having done plenty of other things since, did it feel odd coming back?
‘No, this felt more like Cook’s show rather than “Skins” itself. And we shot in Manchester, which made it feel new.’Any reservations about going back?
‘None. As long as the script was sound, and as soon as I found out Jamie Brittain was writing it – Jamie’s one of the few people who knows Cook better than me. So no, no reservations.’What did you think of Cook when you first played him compared to now?
‘It was less clear to me who he was at the time. We were told that the writers would try and play to our strengths as actors, which is how me and Cook became similar. I know from the production point of view, they wanted Cook to be more repulsive. They wanted someone uglier. I was quite flattered they changed their minds when they cast me, and thought it might be fun to see if he was successful with women, which he turned out to be! But I didn’t know Cook the man. I played Cook the kid, and now he’s verging on adulthood. I’d get on with him.’Was Cook a character you could learn from in the way he lived his life? Kaya said Effy was a character she could rebel through.
‘I hear that. I’m a year or two older than Cook, so I found I was reverting – he was making mistakes I thought I’d learnt from. It was sometimes a bit hazardous going back two steps rather than progressing and learning. I was drawing from my own personal experience, which was useful.’But it must have been difficult having to go back to places and experiences you maybe would rather forget.
‘Sort of. But that’s the best way to put performances across. It was good for my confidence, knowing I’d already experienced similar things. I learnt from my mistakes and had to mature when Cook didn’t, which did turn into a bit of mindfuckery. I consider him a very honorable and decent character, but he’s maybe not the prime candidate for your daughter to be introducing to you, know what I mean?’It always looked like an exhausting role to play, to be that ‘on’ all the time.
‘I guess so. I had youth on my side then, though… Now, he’s not a kid any more, he’s not bouncing off the walls like he used to. I wanted to understand how he’d matured.’You’re both feeling your age…
‘I guess – but at 22, that’s not saying much.’What are your favourite memories from working on the show?
‘So many. There had to be a certain amount of professionalism on set. But doing publicity, we were just pissing about while they took photos and did interviews. We still meet up. I’m trying to get in touch with Kaya to excuse myself for not being there the last time they met up. Hopefully they’ll consider the fact that I was working as a valid excuse, but that’s up to them… And if you’re talking memories, well, it was two years of being out and under the influence of alcohol, so its hard to recall everything.’
It must be amazing to see everyone’s careers going in different directions.
‘You’re not wrong. But it’s quite damn hard to see where they’re not at the same time. Everyone on the set was talented and deserves a shot in their career. But that’s not the way it pans out sometimes. It’s a tough industry.’Where do you see Cook in ten years time?
‘Hard to call. If “Skins” continues, I’d love to write and direct it – it’s a great platform for trial and error. I hope Cook finds some form of stability – all this running around is doing him nae good.’Is it a role you'd happily be identified with for ever more?
‘Yeah. I’m always conscious about being typecast, but I’m getting work that contradicts that. Cook’s the easiest role for me to play, because he’s in my comfort zone. I hear Cook spoken about very highly, which means all the work you put in was worth it.’Why has he struck such a chord?
‘He’s abrasive and outspoken, and has a lack of regard for his own personal safety. Maybe it’s a bit alarming that kids like that about him, but there you go. And he’s funny.’‘Skins Rise’, Mon July 29 & August 5, 10pm, E4.
'Skins: series 7' and 'Skins: series 1-7' are available on DVD from August 12.