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By Helena on March 06, 2024 with 0 Comments

COUNTRY AND TOWN HOUSE – Ahead of the release of Guy Ritchie’s new series The Gentlemen, Kaya Scodelario stars on the latest cover of Country & Town House, and speaks to Amy Wakeham about her ‘no arseholes policy’, surviving in a male-dominated industry, how she still gets imposter syndrome – and why we’re still obsessed with Effy, all these years later.

We all love an It Girl. Exactly what makes them ‘it’ can be hard to define – a combination of looks, charisma and style, perhaps – but we can certainly spot them a mile off.

Kaya Scodelario has been an It Girl for 17 years, ever since she made her on-screen debut at the age of 14, striding down a suburban Bristol street in a tartan kilt and smudged eyeliner. Effy in Skins has cast a spell over every generation of teenagers since, with her raven hair, huge blue eyes, and give-no-shits attitude.

It was a role that changed Kaya’s life, putting her on a trajectory that has blasted through Hollywood, blockbusters and indie films, before ending up here, today, in the lobby of the Standard Hotel in King’s Cross. She appears in a trench coat and ankle boots, fresh from a two-day press junket. In person she’s warm, open and straight-talking, with a north London twang to her accent – she was raised just up the road in Camden Town by her single mum. We’re meeting to talk about her role in The Gentlemen, Guy Ritchie’s new Netflix series spin-off of his 2019 film of the same name. But before we get to that, we must start at the very beginning – with Effy.

I love that people still bring her up. I’m very proud of her. And I’m very proud of that show,’ says Kaya, who had zero formal training before she accepted the role. Why does she think the character and the show still resonate, almost two decades after it was first released?

At the time it was the first show that wasn’t a moral story. It wasn’t “teenager does drugs equals bad”. It was asking the audience to make the decisions for themselves,’ she says. ‘It never talked down to its audience, because our writers were actually young people, and because we were the age of the characters [we were playing]. There wasn’t a writers’ room of old white men. There were young people, and people of colour and women. It was way ahead of its time.’

She stayed on Skins for four seasons, before going on to star in blockbusters such as The Maze Runner (2014) and Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017), Netflix’s Ted Bundy series Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) and Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021). In the middle of it all, she had two children with actor Benjamin Walker, and before she returned home to film This Is Christmas (2022), she hadn’t worked in the UK for over a decade.

The Gentlemen, then, is a real homecoming. The series follows Eddie Horniman (Theo James), who unexpectedly inherits his father’s peerage and sizeable country estate – only to discover it’s sitting on the largest cannabis farm in Europe.

In it, her character, Susie, is ‘an absolute boss’. She runs her dad’s (played in a cameo by Ray Winstone) criminal empire with confidence and cool-headed charisma, teaching Theo’s Eddie the ropes with ease. What drew Kaya to the character?

She’s a grown-up woman. I’ve spent a lot of my career playing teenagers and young women that were lost or trying to find their path,’ she explains. ‘Susie is already this machine: she’s good at her job, she commands every space that she moves into. And I thought that that would be so much fun to embody.’

The series has everything you expect from Guy Ritchie: gangsters, guns, drugs and quick-paced quips. Despite loving her character, initially Kaya had reservations about what the male-dominated set would be like. ‘But I’ve spent so long in these environments, they don’t scare me anymore,’ she says. ‘It’s very important for me that work is a safe place and a productive environment. I have a no arseholes policy – I don’t care how famous you are, how big an actor or director you are. If you’re a dick, I’m not going to do it anymore. And luckily, no one was a dick.

Ritchie’s directing style is famously spontaneous – he’s a big fan of on-the-spot improvisation. ‘It was a unique experience,’ says Kaya. ‘I’ve never worked with a director who, on the first day, told us to un-memorise our lines and change everything last minute. Which was terrifying, because acting 101 is “know your lines’’. So there was a little adjustment while I was trying to figure out his style, but once I let go of control and trusted him, I was able to go along on the journey with him.

Another highlight of shooting was Susie’s wardrobe, created by costume designer Loulou Bontemps. As an underworld kingpin (should that be queenpin?), Susie is dressed to the nines for all occasions.

We developed this idea [through the costumes] that she’s a chameleon because she goes through these two worlds: aristocratic high society and the underground gangster world,’ explains Kaya. ‘In the country, she dresses in tweeds and berets, and when she’s in London, in the boxing gym, she’s a bit more Kate Moss, with platform heels and sparkles.’

For Susie’s accent, Kaya found inspiration close to home. ‘I built upon my north London roots,’ she says. ‘A lot of the kids I went to school with were quite working class… I based her accent and her energy on two of my friends’ mums. They were the scariest people I knew, but also the loveliest.’

Her Brazilian background – Kaya’s mum is from Brazil, and she says she considers herself ‘a Londoner first, then Brazilian, then British’ – is central to the other project she’s been working on, a miniseries called Senna that’s based on the life of Ayrton Senna da Silva, the Brazilian F1 racing legend.

For a very long time I’ve wanted to tell a Brazilian story,’ Kaya explains. ‘A lot of my culture, my music, my food, my emotions are very connected to that side of me. It’s an incredible story and for so many Brazilians Senna is an absolute hero. So to get to be a small part of that story is really exciting for me.

With that ticked off, Kaya’s also keen to be involved on a project from the very beginning. ‘I want to produce, I want to work with directors, I want to be involved from start to finish on a project. And I think that’s what, after having 17 years of experience on set, I can bring. I still get imposter syndrome – I think, “I’m a girl, a woman, only 30, they won’t take me seriously.” But I’ve been around this for so long that I do know what I’m talking about and I have to bring out some Beyoncé energy and be like, “No, I deserve to be here.”’

However, for now she’s back in London, juggling press for The Gentlemen, childcare – it’s half term when we speak, and she has to take her son to gymnastics camp – London Fashion Week and the Baftas. ‘I’ll soon get itchy feet though,’ she says. ‘I love working. I love being exhausted. I love doing 18-hour days. My therapist would say it’s some sort of weird form of self-deprivation. But it’s all I know. I grew up with a parent who was an immigrant and had to work hard all the time.’

To relax, she has ‘really got into hot yoga’, and she loves taking her old dog – ‘the most consistent man in my life’ – for walks on Hampstead Heath, which she calls her ‘special place’. Kaya also loves ‘nothing more than going to the pub with my friends and talking for hours. That’s so much more interesting than going to some chichi party with actors telling me how hard their lives are. I’d much rather be around real people.’ The original cool girl may have grown up – but she’s still got ‘it’.

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