Every year (at least in the last few), it seems there's at least one actress who, while already on many radars, comes to Sundance with a performance that launches her to true stardom. Carey Mulligan, Felicity Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Olsen, Mia Wasikowska and Quvenzhane Wallis all went to Park City as complete or relative unknowns, and left at the top of casting wish-lists. This year, perhaps the most notable Sundance starlet to break out was Kaya Scodelario.
Despite only being 21, the actress has been a familiar face on screen for a while now, thanks to a small role in "Moon," and more importantly, being the only actor to bridge the first two generations of cult UK teen series "Skins." But after several promising performances over the last few years, most notably in Andrea Arnold's "Wuthering Heights," she's truly blown up in 2012, thanks in part to her turn in the Sundance flick "Emanuel & The Truth About Films."
Scodelario toplines Francesca Gregorini's film, in a role once intended for Rooney Mara, as a troubled teenage girl who forms a bond with the mysterious single mother (Jessica Biel) who's just moved in next door. It's a head-turning, star-making piece of work that's sure to mean that she'll be adding a lot more to an already-busy dance card that also includes UK miniseries "Southcliffe," which focuses on a mass shooting, and is directed by "Martha Marcy May Marlene" helmer Sean Durkin, and young adult blockbuster "The Maze Runner."
Just before she went off to shoot the latter, we caught up with Scodelario during Sundance London, where "Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes" was getting its European premiere, to discuss all of the above, and much more. Read on below, beware of some spoilers in certain clearly-marked sections.
It was auditions, I'd heard there was a really good script going around. I read it, and fell in love with it instantly, which is actually quite rare. I read 10, 20 a week, and it's only every now and again you're like, "I really love this." I put myself on tape, because [director Francesca Gregorini] was in America, and then heard back that she was in London and she wanted to meet face to face to get to know me. And we sat down, and had a really cool connection straight away. She's very young at heart, and open and honest, and I'm quite like that as well, so we clicked straight away. And then I auditioned again, got the part and flew out to America.
This is pretty much your first American project, right?
I played American when I was like fourteen, and I was awful, I cringed the whole way through. In "Moon" [in which Scodelario plays Sam Rockwell's daughter]. Luckily I only had two lines, so you can't really tell....
Did you have to do much work on the accent, then?
I really wanted to put some effort into it, and learn the techniques behind the accent. I had an amazing voice coach who helped me, guided me through every scene in the script. And also taught me a lot, technically, about where your tongue is in your mouth and what makes you make certain sounds. It's actually really interesting. I speak fluent Portuguese [Scoldelario's mother is Brazilian], so that might help the shapes in my mouth much more. So I was gonna start ringing up the reception in the hotel and speaking in an American accent, but worried that they'd catch me out, so I pussied out.
I'd love to find a really good Brazilian project, an up and coming director or something. I wouldn't want to do the typical favela story, Brazilian cinema has a lot more to offer than just that.
Was there much research involved in the part, then, aside from the accent?
There was some light research, but I tend to work more instinctually. It's how I started, I don't have a lot of training, so I just tried to immerse myself in the emotion of it. As a young woman, it was very easy to relate to the character of Emanuel. In many ways, she's a typical young girl who's just trying to find her way in life, who has nothing to fight for, and has this sense of longing. And she finds this woman who fills that gap, and she'll do anything to look after it, and anything to protect it. And that was quite easy to understand. And once I started working with Jessica [Biel], and I could see her performance, and where she wanted to take it, it made me feel much more at ease about my direction. But it was very much on the day, on set, rather than sitting in a hotel room Googling stuff for weeks.
What I found impressive about the performance is that once Emanuel decides she's going along with the delusion [Jessica Biel's character has a doll that she treats like a living baby], you're both giving performances that almost make the doll seem alive.
It was really difficult not to. The doll itself weighs the same as a newborn baby, and you had to support it properly, so even between takes, you'd catch yourself swaying back and forth, and rocking it, so it's crazy how instinctual it is. You did straight away start treating it like a real baby. It's quite strange how easily your mind can believe it.
There's also a degree of ambiguity there. Until quite late on, you're wondering if Emanuel or Linda is the deluded one.
We wanted it to slip from reality to fantasy quite easily. Because I think we're people are stressed or going through something, they do that, and Emanuel definitely does that. Especially with the bond with Linda, she's very confused with that, and what that means to her, and we did try and add a bit of that, in terms of what is real and what isn't.
*END SPOILER SECTION*
The underwater fantasy sequences look spectacular. Was that fun to film?
It was a lot of fun, but it's terrifying. The tank was like thirty foot deep, and pitch black. And we had to go down to the bottom to film. And we had to learn how to use a respirator, and how to stabilize your ears, and breathe out so your lungs don't explode. They kept throwing all these rules at me, and I was like, "This is actually really interesting." I really enjoyed it. I actually turned twenty as I was under the water, filming it, so I can say I left my teenage years thirty foot underwater.