Widely known in the U.K. for her breakout turn as a troubled teen in the controversial hit series “Skins”, 25-year-old Kaya Scodelario has made a captivating transition to the big screen since her departure from the series. The actress, who began and solidified her film career with the lead role in “The Maze Runner” franchise, was recently featured alongside Johnny Depp in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean installation franchise, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”. Here, she talks to us about how her unlikely ascent into her acting career, her experiences as a woman in the film industry, and how she hopes to change the landscape of Hollywood and make diverse roles for women the norm.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Could you tell us about your childhood?
I grew up in London and I started acting when I was 14-years-old. I always loved doing school plays and small things like that, but I didn’t think it would be possible to actually make a career out of it. It just wasn’t something I thought was feasible. But when I was 14, I went for an audition on a TV show in England called Skins—it’s about kids growing up and coming of age, and their focus was to audition and select real people and real teenagers to portray these characters, so I figured it was worth a shot. So I auditioned and I got the role. I was really lucky.
What were you like as a kid?
When I was young, I was very shy and very quiet. I liked to watch movies most of the time and I wasn’t very outgoing. But I really did enjoy acting; it was the one thing that helped me come outside of myself.
Did you have anyone that you look up to when you were younger?
I always look up to my mom. My mom was my best friend growing up—she was my biggest fan and supporter.
What’s motherhood like?
It’s lovely! It has been the greatest gift in the world to me. I love being a mom, I love having my own family. I didn’t have a large family growing up—it was just me and my mom. I find it so gratifying and nice how that I am in a place where I can now expand my family with my own little addition. He travels everywhere with me, and I enjoy teaching him about the world and the different cultures. He is a very remarkable little boy.
Tell us about your career. What inspired you to become an actress? How did you discover your talent?
I didn’t have a lot of confidence growing up—I was introverted, shy, insecure, and it didn’t help that I was bullied a lot in school. So as a kid growing up, I had this overall sense of lacking confidence.
But acting was the only thing that I ever felt good at, it was the only thing that made me feel worthwhile and alive. When I was 11, I was put on production of Oliver Twist, and I auditioned for a boy’s role and they wouldn't let the girls audition. They gave me one line to say, and I was really upset as I wanted to do more than just have this secondary, minute part. So I did my one line and said it as well as I could. I guess they liked me, because then they asked me if would audition for Oliver, so I did and I got the part. I played Oliver Twist! I remember feeling so happy and thinking that I was finally doing something that means something to me, and I just felt good about myself for.
I always thought that acting would just be a hobby I enjoy, and that I would have a normal job when I grew up. I was just certain I couldn’t have a career in acting. But Skins was the reason why I managed to get into a career.
Tell us about your character, Carina Smyth, in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales".
She’s an astronomer and an orphan, and she’s very strong, very independent, and has an adventurous soul. She’s on a mission to find a hidden treasure because she believed her father has left her a map to find this hidden treasure. Along the way she bumps into Jack Sparrow and realizes that he is also searching for the same thing, as long as Henry, and they are all coming together to try and find the Trident of Poseidon.
What has been the most challenging and rewarding part about playing her?
The most challenging was probably when I broke my shoulder while I was filming. I did not want to stop working, I just wanted to get the job done so that we could finish the project so that I could go home. I was trying to keep working with a broken shoulder, and I had to swim in the ocean at one point too, and it was so tough for me. Luckily, they did not make me do it too many times.
As for the most rewarding thing about playing Carina was that I got to portray an intelligent, multifaceted woman who had real depth to her. I hope that it will inspire not only little girls, but hopefully little boys as well—that an intelligent woman is not something to be feared or to be gawked at, but someone to revere and to admire, just like any other male character. I hope that the next generation will be used to seeing these types of characters and representations of women in film regularly.
How did you prepare for the role? Do you have certain methods that you live by?
I do a lot of pre-production work, and do a lot of backstory and research, I analyze the scenes and I work with the dialogue. I try to rely on instincts and subtlety, the energy of the set, and the actor you’re working with. I don’t like to have too much. I think it’s good to have a balance of it feeling natural.
It’s refreshing to see a female Disney character like Carina Smyth that isn’t typecasted into the typical ‘damsel in distress’ role. What do you think that speaks to in terms of the industry as a whole? Do you think these types of female characters with less conventional feminine tropes will more or less become the norm?
I don’t go for roles that are two-dimensional. They are all layered and none of my roles are damsel in distresses, so it is really cool that we are starting to reflect that in the movies now. It is refreshing, but it’s also becoming more and more common, which is great. We have really cool female roles at the moment, however I believe we still have a very long way to go and I’m proud and glad I get to be part of the change.
As the only woman in an otherwise all-male cast of actors (Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem), were there any gender double-standards or challenges you had to face?
No, I really was treated equally with the same amount of respect, the same amount of courtesy. I never felt like the only woman on set. I just felt like a colleague, and that’s all we want in this industry. We just want to be treated equal, and it’s not difficult, and they definitely did that for me. I was involved with the creative side just as everyone was and I was taken seriously for my input. I was very much myself and was grateful to be in an environment and with other reputable actors who made me feel respected.
The idea that men can be sexually attractive throughout their entire lives, while women rapidly lose their sex appeal as they age, is one of the most insidious double standards in our culture. What are your thoughts on the ageist double standards of Hollywood? Do you see this changing in the near future?
I think so. I think what’s great is that we are having this conversation about it now, because people aren’t really speaking up about the fact that many actresses seem to be casted in roles older than they are, or have been told that they are too old for a role. The more we talk about it, the more people will realize that it does not need to be this way and that we can develop and create roles for women that are diverse in their breadth and depth. I hope to work long and hard for many many years and hopefully by the time when I’m in my 50’s, we won’t still see the age divide and these double standards in movies.
What would you say is the best piece of advice anyone has given to you about pursuing this line of creative work?
My mom taught me at a very early age that beauty is not the most important thing in the world. Always be kind, polite, and humble and treat everyone around you with thanks. Because beauty does not last forever, but feelings do.
What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?
Personally, I just want to spend as much time as I can with my family and walk my dog. Professionally I would really like to produce, I would like to tell my own story, and given an opportunity, create and share stories that are impactful and resonate with people.