Looking back on a decade of the cult series
This week marks 10 years since neon-splattered teen drama Skins first aired on UK TV. An instant hit, the cult E4 show followed the lives of a group of wild teenagers as they navigated the emotional pitfalls of young adulthood. What set it apart from the glossy US dramas of the time (think Gilmore Girls and The OC) was it’s unabashed approach to portraying young people’s lives as they were – chaotic, booze-fuelled, sex-obsessed, and in some cases drug-addled. Set in Bristol, Skins quickly became many bored school kids bible for having a good time. It even spawned the buzz-phrase ‘that’s so Skins‘ – used to describe any situation that faintly resembled one of the messy house parties from the series.
Later generations of the show failed to excite viewers like the first did, and while teenagers might have moved on, so had the cast. Dev Patel scored roles in Oscar-winner Slumdog Millionaire and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; while Nicholas Hoult has gone on to appear in Mad Max: Fury Road, Kill Your Friends and even date Jennifer Lawrence. Joe Dempsie and Hannah Murray have both been busy filming HBO smash Game Of Thrones for the last few years. It’s an impressive strike rate for a small budget drama that didn’t originally air on terrestrial television.
To celebrate the series’ tenth birthday, we chatted to original cast member April Pearson (who played Michelle) about smashing up hotel rooms, growing up on TV and getting wankered in Lithuania.
How did you get the gig on Skins?
“I was quite lucky, really. Jane Ripley (casting director) came to my school. She wanted posh girls to play the posh girl in series one – she wasn’t looking for main characters. Anyway, she watched my drama class and asked if I wanted to audition. Obviously I said yes and eventually got cast.”
Who did you meet during the process?
“Mike [Bailey], who played Sid, and I were the first to be cast and the two of us went to all of the other auditions with various other people – Nick [Hoult] was the last coin in the purse.”
Do you remember the first time you met Nicholas Hoult?
“Yeah, because we had to do a full-on snog. We hadn’t really even spoken to each other. It was literally: ‘Hi, this is the guy playing Tony. Get on with it’. It was very intense. It wasn’t like they were lining them up one by one though. That would’ve been great!”
Did you hang out off screen as well?
“All the time. Some of us were from Bristol, where the series was shot, so we went home after filming. The rest stayed in a hotel and smashed the place up. We knew how to have fun.”
Were there real life Skins parties too?
“Oh god, so many. We were always at it. I remember when we went to Lithuania to film the Russia episodes, that was mad. We were in a sky bar and Joe Dempsie introduced me to Disaronno, I’d never had it before. That’s all I remember and I put it down to him completely. He was a bit older than me and I was completely blinded by him. I thought he was really cool.
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“Most of the time the best memories are little things that seem silly now. Like changing all of the framed pictures in the hotel room. We thought we were anarchic crazy teenagers, but really we were just doing what every other teen did.”
What was it like going back to your school friends after filming? Did they expect you to have changed?
“Nah, they knew I was still a geek. I was the head girl of my school and probably the least cool of all my friends. I think they were a bit disappointed actually. The poster for the first series – I’m sat on the toilet sucking a lollipop – went up on the billboard outside my school. That didn’t go down well with the teachers…”
What was it like filming the house party scenes – did they just let you smash the place up?
“We had scenarios that needed to be shot that revolved around story plot points. But most of the time they let us dictate things. The weirdest thing was most of the parties were shot in silence. They put music over the top of it later. It was like a silent disco but with more license to throw stuff around.”
Do you still see any of the others?
“Oh no, they’re Hollywood stars now. I think a lot of them do still hang out, but I don’t see them as much as I would like to. When Skins finished I wasn’t ready to jump straight into moving to London and going to auditions all the time, so I took a bit of time.”
Why do you think the series produced so many big names?
“There hadn’t really been a series before Skins that put young people as the central characters. It showcased what talented actors they were, and I think the storylines you were given were really meaty, there was a lot for us to do. We weren’t just the son of, or the daughter of, or the girlfriend of, we were really in charge of those storylines. After Skins, casting agents started to think: ‘Well, if they can do that, they might have a go at doing this’ and young people were given more opportunity. Now Dev’s just got an Oscar nomination, which is crazy.”
Could you tell he was going to be big?
“Dev was always flying backwards and forwards from India during the second series because he was filming ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. He called it ‘this little film with Danny Boyle’. So I think his success was a surprise even to himself. I’m sure he’s absolutely over the moon with his nomination, but he’s very down to earth. I reckon he’ll probably just take his mum to the Oscars.”
Why do you think the later generations weren’t quite as well-received as yours was?
“I think it’s difficult for a TV show to stay current, relevant and new for seven series. There aren’t many that keep that kind of momentum gong all the way to the end. The first is always going to be new, fresh and the most exciting. Once you’ve had that explosion of something that no one’s ever seen before it’s difficult to top that. I hope it’s not because teenagers have stopped going out or having fun like we did.”
The US version was even less well-received and there were loads of complaints. Why do you think Americans didn’t get it?
“I think the fact that American guests often ask Graham Norton if they can say damn on screen tells the whole story. We were swearing, taking drugs and having sex, which must have been too shocking for them to have seen on screen. It was shocking even for British audiences, but I think for some reason we’re a bit more liberal and amenable to seeing that stuff as a creative thing, and for accepting that it does happen. In America maybe they try and pretend that it doesn’t.”
If you had to pick one moment from the whole experience that will always stay with you, what would it be?
“It’s sad, but Chris’ funeral. When we’re all standing on top of the hill, the fireworks are going off behind us and we’re all standing in a line holding hands. I feel bad because Joe obviously wasn’t in that as his character was dead but it was still an amazing moment. It was like we’d arrived. I’ll always remember that.”
All seven seasons of Skins are available to watch now on All 4.