Itâs a grey Wednesday morning and Iâve arrived at the suitably hip Queen of Hoxton bar in East London where I will soon be acquainted with the much anticipated âthird generationâ cast of Skins. Three hours later I will emerge blinking into the sunlight, safe in the knowledge that not only has the world record for the most liberal use of the word âlikeâ been broken, but I can now tick off âsee the nipple of a Skins cast memberâ from my list of things to do before I die (Iâll clarify now: the nipple belonged to a male). All will be explained in due course, but for now – brace yourselves, because the fifth series of the BAFTA winning show has finally landed, and if the personalities of its newest recruits are anything to go by; itâs going to be hyper, thoughtful and always up for a good time.
SKINS IN A NUTSHELL..
Mini: Wants to rule the roost and be the centre of attention.
Liv: Miniâs best friend and polar opposite. Wild and impulsive.
Grace: The âquiet oneâ. A real sweetie who falls in love with someone unexpected.
Franky: The androgynous new girl. Knows her own mind and wonât let Mini get to her.
Rich: Slayer worshipping metalhead.
Alo: âFarm boy, pot-head, porn connoisseur.â? He has a big heart and is Richâs best mate.
Nick: Miniâs âaccessoryâ boyfriend. Heâs good looking and popular.
Matty: âThe enigmaâ. Helps out Franky, but no one can figure out where he comes from..
The concept of the show, as ever, follows the lives of eight teenagers in Bristol and in the words of E4, âthey get high, get drunk, get laid and get up in time for college the next day.â? Rolls nicely off the tongue, doesnât it?
First up we meet Jessica Sula who plays Grace, and Laya Lewis aka Liv. Excitable and bubbly, the girls are clearly incredibly excited to have landed such dream roles. Itâs easy to forget that the cast are still so young, but most of them have either just completed their A-Levels or are still in the process. Recalling the phone call that confirmed her role, Jessica says: âI was in school – I got in trouble! (Mimicking a stern teacher voice) âGet off your phone!ââ?
Most of the cast attended the open auditions and were chosen from over 7,000 hopefuls â certainly no mean feat. Laya said of the competitive audition process: âIt was tortureâ¦ youâd have a conversation with someone and be like, âwhat part are you going for?â and theyâd be like, âLivâ (her character) and Iâd be like âargh!ââ?
Whether they look forward to it or not, there is of course an element of being quite literally thrust into the spotlight with a show as high profile as Skins. Sean Teale who plays Nick, admits to going onto an internet forum to see what the response was after the initial cast picture was released. Inevitably, some rather vocal members of the cyber-world had decided already â based on one solitary image – that the cast were âcrap actorsâ?. He shrugs, âyou try not to take it to heartâ?. Speaking about the pressure to live up to previous much-loved characters, he reasoned, âtheyâre big shoes to fill but itâs a different pair of shoes altogether.â?
I ask whether they have met any of the previous cast and Laya jokes about how surreal it was to meet Ollie Barbieri, who played JJ in seriesâ three and four: âI had jelly legs, like – âI love youââ¦ (and then) oh wait, Iâm in it!â?
Dakota Blue Richards plays androgynous oddball Franky and is the more experienced of the group, having made her film debut in 2007 as the lead role in The Golden Compass, alongside Nicole Kidman and Ian McKellen. However, she explains she didnât ever go into acting for fame and when I ask how theyâve prepared themselves for the stop-you-in-the-supermarket recognition that will follow, she quips, âumâ¦ I dyed my hair!â? (Her hair is brunette in the series but is now bottle blonde).
Whatâs great is that there is definitely a sense of comradery and banter between the actors which has come about as a result of them just being thrown together and forced into funny situations: âIt was one of those cringing âhappy familyâ thingsâ?, says Sean.
Sebastian De Souza agrees: âThe dynamic that you get on screen by episode eight is actually interestingly the dynamic that you get off screen – without the sex, drugs and rock ânâ roll.â? Media savvy already it would seem, Sean backs him up and chips in, âstrictly professional.â?
With Skins famed for its risquÃ© scenes of drug use and sex, most of the cast admit that there are certain scenes that, when aired, will have them squirming or hiding âbehind pillowsâ?, as Freya Mavor says. Freya plays âqueen beeâ Mini, and states that she has had no acting experience, âapart from, you know, âye olde school playsââ?. She says she heard about the casting on the bus and as a massive Skins fan, âpopped alongâ?. She adds in her self-deprecating way: âWell, âpoppedâ is hardly the word because I went all the way to Bristol!â? (She is from Edinburgh originally).
In what Iâm sure was an innocent Freudian slip, Freya recalls that stand-up comic Chris Addison was one of her favourite people to work with. âHe was just like the biggest joy to play withâ¦ play with!?â? At this point, she and Dakota burst into fits of giggles before she clarifies, âno! Act with!â? Other cameos include Kelly Brook, whom Freya filmed with on her first day: âEveryone had their jaws by their knees!â?
Speaking of innuendo, thereâs plenty of it with Will âI want to get my nipple piercedâ Merrick (hence showing us his nipple, to see if it âhas enough skinâ or some strange logic like that) and Alexander âanalogy Kingâ Arnold. The pair are touted as the new comedy duo of the show and have a natural banter together off screen too…
Was there any romance on set?
Alex: No there wasnât actually. (To Will) I mean, with me and you there wasnât – luckily.
Will: Weâve woken up in bed together a few times wearing a sailorâs hatâ¦
Alex (through mock gritted teeth): âDonât say thatâ?
What sort of things did they get you to do in the audition?
Alex (mock serious): Literally – nakedâ¦ No, they didnât. Just like, a bit of script. The opening audition was an improv. (Turns to Will) Apparently your one was really funny?
Will: What was?
Alex: Your improv. What Iâve just been talking about â¦
Will: I wasnât listening.
Who got the raw deal when it came to embarrassing scenes?
Alex (to Will): It was you but it was like, cut quite fineâ¦ Well it wasnât necessarily (with) a kitchen knife, it was probably a machete.
I see in the character synopsis that Aloâs favourite hobbies are listed as âweed and wanking?â Now thereâs something to tell your mumâ¦
Will (insisting): Heâs much deeper than that.
Alex: Shallow Alo!
Will: Heâs just a teenage boy, he likes weed and wanking â who doesnât?
How would you describe the relationship between Rich and Alo?
Alex: Like a puppy and its ownerâ¦ Iâm definitely the owner.
Will (agreeing): Yeah.
Alex: The thing is with a puppy and an owner, it can sort of switch round, the dog can bite its owner canât it? I think thatâs a good analogy isnât it? Thatâs a great analogy. Iâm great. Letâs just go with âIâm greatâ.
Two of the most successful people to have come out of Skins are Dev Patel and Nicholas Hoult. If you had to choose anyone from the cast who is destined for Hollywood, who would it be?
Both in unison: Freya Mavor!
Will: Freya is gonna do massive things; sheâs so good. Sheâs so professional and determined.
Alex: She speaks French as well.
Will: Sheâs really fit as well.
So there you have it. The Skins cast, live in the flesh and coming to an E4 screen near you (Thursday 27th Jan, 10pm to be precise).
All thatâs left to find out, is what will they be buying with their first pay cheques? Ever serious in their responses, Alex answers, âprobably a packet of wine gumsâ? while Will opts for, âa drum stickâ?.
Thatâs teenagers for you – easily pleased.