love is a maze and life is a riddle for actress kaya scodelario
She rose to fame at fourteen as the beautiful teenage tearaway Effy in cult TV show Skins, but Kaya Scodelario’s got something else up her sleeve as she stars as the only girl in upcoming blockbuster, The Maze Runner.
Just before our interview, Kaya Scodelario postsa photo for her 200,000 followers on Instagram; she's gesturing in the air mid-sentence, food in gob,as she eats lunch with her agent on the tiny balcony of the Mayfair Hotel she's been put up in. The city stretches away beneath her, and she seems so naturally part of it.
When we meet, she gives me a huge smile and thenrushes out for a quick cigarette. She's wearing shorts and a loose T-shirt and her hair tumbles down - even more fiercely beautiful in the flesh than on screen. She is only 5 foot 6, but she has long foal-like legs, which she curls beneath her and when her big eyes lock on yours, it's like they can read your mind.
Though she has a Kristen Stewart look about her, she's naturally more animated and exuberant than Stewart's Bella Swan persona. "You're going to have to shut me up," she says. "I'm a chatterbox." Before I've even asked a question about her new film,she asks about my tattoo and then, without prompting, reveals some of her own.
From casting agents to directors and producers, the film industry hates tattoos. They can't be visible when Kaya's playing a role, so they either have to be hidden or photoshopped out. Kaya has eight, and counting, and they are all spontaneous; whenever she goes somewhere new in the world, she gets inked - Thailand, Amsterdam, New York, Brazil. "Whenever it feels right," she says.
It's clear, immediately, that Kaya isn't like other film stars of her generation, with their poised and carefully distanced politeness. Raised by a single mother in Holloway Road, Kaya owes her fame, and intense following, to her role as the troubled, mostly silent and effortlessly seductive Effy Stonem in E4's cult show Skins. She may be selling her new Hollywood blockbuster in an exclusive London hotel, her agent tapping away on a MacBook in the same room and a hair and make-up girl hanging out in the suite next to us, but when Kaya talks about keeping her feet on the ground, of doing things her own way and living the life she wants to live, it's difficult not to believe her.
It may be because Kaya wasn't raised to be a film star. In fact, by the sound of it, she hasn't had it that easy. Kaya (Kaya Rose Humphrey on her birth certificate) was born in Sussex in 1992; her mum, Katia, had just moved to the UK from Brazil. When Kaya was three months old, she was taken to London, where her mum found them a council home and worked as a cleaner and then a secretary and Kaya was raised bilingual - English and Portuguese. Her parents divorced when she was small and she grew up with little memory of her dad. He didn't get in touch until very recently - it turns out he had a business in Vietnam - and he died soon after. She was badly bullied at school and admits to being deeply shy, insecure and unsure of herself growing up.
At only 22, secondary school must still be a fresh memory for her, so it's startling how far she's come from that repressive time - from being a kid who got face spasms after being pushed about by her so-called mates, to a starlet who spent the last year in the Deep South of America playing one of the lead roles in The Maze Runner, a multi-multi-multi-million dollar 20th Century Fox franchise based on a best-selling literary series by James Dashner. Fox have decided that The Maze Runner is going to be the next The Hunger Games - a high-concept, high-action ensemble drama, with lots of hot 20-somethings playing teenagers in peril. And they've decided Kaya is their new Jennifer Lawrence.
It sounds like she had a blast on set: The Maze Runner was shot in a small town called Baton Rouge in Louisiana and "On the weekends we'd get a bright pink party bus to come and pick us up," she says. "It had furry leopard print walls and a stripper pole, and we'd get them to take us to New Orleans for some fun." Kaya does not confirm or deny the suggestion that her fellow cast members - including Will Poulter, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Dylan O'Brien - had a go on the pole.
Kaya saw the completed film the night before our interview. "I hate watching myself," she says. "It's weird. It doesn't get any easier. It's a very personal thing. You kind of want to do the film and then forget about it, and then you see it again a year later and you end up hating yourself."
It's a recurring theme for her: doubt, panic, the fear that somehow she can't do it. "I cry, I want to go home, I feel uncomfortable," she says of the first day on a new shoot, or of having to attend premieres. When, as a 14-year-old, she got to the Skins audition, she lost her nerve and decided against going in. Calming herself, she lit up a fag and got talking to another guy. It was Bryan Elsley, one of the show's creators. He must have seen the way she can roll her eyes as she blows out smoke. He must have seen that layer of attitude and core of vulnerability. He cast her as Effy straight away.
She admits that a lot of people still fail to distinguish Kaya from Effy, and maybe - in that period in her life - there wasn't such a huge gap between them. She has admitted, in previous interviews, to the trouble a bunch of making-it teenagers living away from their parents get up to. "We were out every night and we all slept with each other," she once said.
But any doubts about her acting ability should have been laid to rest when she was cast as Cathy Earnshaw in Andrea Arnold's adaption of Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë's only novel, which she wrote in her twenties before she died at 30, just after seeing the book published under a man's name — Ellis Bell.
Yet the same thing happened; on the day of the audition, Kaya freaked out and turned her phone off, missing her slot. Arnold saw something in her and cast her anyway (with Carey Mulligan, Gemma Arterton and Keira Knightley all rumoured to be in the running), and Kaya responded with a performance hair-raising in its intensity and as wild as the moors, in which pain, anger, obsessive love and betrayal are all communicated through purposeful strides, lingering looks and stares off into the horizon, wisps of her hair flying in the wind. "I feel electric, so alive, really free when I'm performing," she says.
But she was glad, as she always is, to get back to "the rough bit" of Holloway Road. Kaya sees herself as a Londoner, before anything else. "It's an instinctive thing," she says. When she was going out with her Skins co-star Jack O'Connell, who made waves with Starred Up this year, she spent two years living in Glossop, the small Pennine town near Manchester. "I just couldn't do it. I needed the big city," she says. "I'd sit there and think about it. I got the train back every weekend."
A quick glance at Kaya's Instagram feed and you get that impression - a London girl closely tied to the rhythm of family and the gossip among girlfriends, to getting the tube into town with her old and loyal crowd and heading to her local Wetherspoons. If in one photo she's cajoling Pierce Brosnan into a selfie on a film set in Australia, or dancing with her boyfriend on a beach in Thailand, in the next she's crashed out on the sofa with her dog Arnie.
The only other place that holds a sense of belonging for her is Brazil. "My instincts are Brazilian," she says. "I have the polite, quiet English side, but I'm fiery like a Brazilian." She has a sprawling family in Rio and when she visits, "I just feel like it's my culture, like I fit."
She hopes, one day, to make a Brazilian film. But for now she's comfortable seeing what happens with this acting thing, even as Hollywood starts taking notice. For all her exuberance and her happy-go-lucky spirit, you get the impression that those doubts still linger like ghosts. And maybe they always will, even when her face adorns every red bus in London, and she can no longer walk down Holloway Road without being stopped to sign autographs. Maybe they'll remain forever, doubts like mazes she has to run through. Maybe it's what makes her so fantastically exciting to watch on screen, however much she hates it.
Text Tom Seymour
Photography Nick Dorey
Styling Jack Borkett
Hair Stephen Lowe.
Make up Lucy Burt at D+V Management using Chanel Les Beiges Healthy Glow Fluid and A/W 2014.
Nail technician Sabrina Gayle at LMC Worldwide.
Photography assistance James Donovan, Stefan Ebelewicz.
Digital technician David Imms.
Styling assistance Kate Iorga.
Set design Hana Al Sayed at D+V Management.
Set assistance Daisy Azis.
Shot at Spring Studios London.