OTB Meets The New Skins Cast

It’s a grey Wednesday morning and I’ve arrived at the suitably hip Queen of Hoxton bar in East London where I will soon be acquainted with the much anticipated ‘third generation’ 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 ‘like’ been broken, but I can now tick off ‘see the nipple of a Skins cast member’ from my list of things to do before I die (I’ll 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; it’s going to be hyper, thoughtful and always up for a good time.

Meet the new cast: Alex Arnold (Rich), Dakota Blue Richards (Franky), Sean Teale (Nick), Sebastian De Souza (Matty), Will Merrick (Aloysius), Laya Lewis (Liv), Freya Mavor (Mini) and Jessica Sula (Grace)
From left to right: Alex Arnold (Rich), Dakota Blue Richards (Franky), Sean Teale (Nick), Sebastian De Souza (Matty), Will Merrick (Aloysius), Laya Lewis (Liv), Freya Mavor (Minnie) and Jessica Sula (Grace)

Mini: Wants to rule the roost and be the centre of attention.
Liv: Mini’s best friend and polar opposite. Wild and impulsive.
Grace: The ‘quiet one’. A real sweetie who falls in love with someone unexpected.
Franky: The androgynous new girl. Knows her own mind and won’t let Mini get to her.
Rich: Slayer worshipping metalhead.
Alo: “Farm boy, pot-head, porn connoisseur.â€? He has a big heart and is Rich’s best mate.
Nick: Mini’s ‘accessory’ boyfriend. He’s good looking and popular.
Matty: ‘The enigma’. 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, “they get high, get drunk, get laid and get up in time for college the next day.â€? Rolls nicely off the tongue, doesn’t 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. It’s 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: “I was in school – I got in trouble! (Mimicking a stern teacher voice) ‘Get off your phone!’â€?

Most of the cast attended the open auditions and were chosen from over 7,000 hopefuls – certainly no mean feat. Laya said of the competitive audition process: “It was torture… you’d have a conversation with someone and be like, ‘what part are you going for?’ and they’d be like, ‘Liv’ (her character) and I’d be like ‘argh!’â€?

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 – based on one solitary image – that the cast were “crap actorsâ€?. He shrugs, “you try not to take it to heartâ€?. Speaking about the pressure to live up to previous much-loved characters, he reasoned, “they’re big shoes to fill but it’s 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 series’ three and four: “I had jelly legs, like – ‘I love you’… (and then) oh wait, I’m 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 didn’t ever go into acting for fame and when I ask how they’ve prepared themselves for the stop-you-in-the-supermarket recognition that will follow, she quips, “um… I dyed my hair!â€? (Her hair is brunette in the series but is now bottle blonde).

What’s 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: “It was one of those cringing ‘happy family’ thingsâ€?, says Sean.

Sebastian De Souza agrees: “The 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 ‘n’ roll.â€? Media savvy already it would seem, Sean backs him up and chips in, “strictly professional.â€?

With Skins famed for its risqué 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 “behind pillowsâ€?, as Freya Mavor says. Freya plays ‘queen bee’ Mini, and states that she has had no acting experience, “apart from, you know, ‘ye olde school plays’â€?. She says she heard about the casting on the bus and as a massive Skins fan, “popped alongâ€?. She adds in her self-deprecating way: “Well, ‘popped’ is hardly the word because I went all the way to Bristol!â€? (She is from Edinburgh originally).

In what I’m sure was an innocent Freudian slip, Freya recalls that stand-up comic Chris Addison was one of her favourite people to work with. “He was just like the biggest joy to play with… play with!?â€? At this point, she and Dakota burst into fits of giggles before she clarifies, “no! Act with!â€? Other cameos include Kelly Brook, whom Freya filmed with on her first day: “Everyone had their jaws by their knees!â€?

Speaking of innuendo, there’s plenty of it with Will ‘I want to get my nipple pierced’ Merrick (hence showing us his nipple, to see if it ‘has enough skin’ or some strange logic like that) and Alexander ‘analogy King’ 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 wasn’t actually. (To Will) I mean, with me and you there wasn’t – luckily.
Will: We’ve woken up in bed together a few times wearing a sailor’s hat…
Alex (through mock gritted teeth): “Don’t say thatâ€?

What sort of things did they get you to do in the audition?

Alex (mock serious): Literally – naked… No, they didn’t. 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 I’ve just been talking about …
Will: I wasn’t listening.
Alex: Great.

Who got the raw deal when it came to embarrassing scenes?

Alex (to Will): It was you but it was like, cut quite fine… Well it wasn’t necessarily (with) a kitchen knife, it was probably a machete.

I see in the character synopsis that Alo’s favourite hobbies are listed as ‘weed and wanking?’ Now there’s something to tell your mum…

Will (insisting): He’s much deeper than that.
Alex: Shallow Alo!
Will: He’s just a teenage boy, he likes weed and wanking – who doesn’t?

How would you describe the relationship between Rich and Alo?

Alex: Like a puppy and its owner… I’m 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 can’t it? I think that’s a good analogy isn’t it? That’s a great analogy. I’m great. Let’s just go with ‘I’m great’.

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; she’s so good. She’s so professional and determined.
Alex: She speaks French as well.
Will: She’s 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 that’s left to find out, is what will they be buying with their first pay cheques? Ever serious in their responses, Alex answers, “probably a packet of wine gumsâ€? while Will opts for, “a drum stickâ€?.

That’s teenagers for you – easily pleased.