Like most aspiring actors,
April Pearson has had to wait a long time for her big break. She'd been
acting in the theatre for 14 years before she got her big break on TV,
starring as 17-year-old Michelle in E4's new flagship drama Skins. Yet
this is not another case of a thirtysomething being (mis-) cast as a
teenager. Instead, the producers (the team behind Shameless) have been
scrupulous about only casting teenagers in the lead roles. Teens playing
teens: What a novelty!
This can only mean that Pearson
started acting practically the moment she was conceived. She laughingly
acknowledges that she first joined a drama group at the absurdly tiny
age of three. Whether it's experience or just natural talent, her time
in amateur dramatics has served her well, if her mature and funny performance
as the sexually precocious but vulnerable teenager Michelle is anything
to go by.
Ahead of the launch of Skins,
she talks about her experiences filming her first TV show, why Skins
is just what young adults have been waiting for, and what it's like
to stick your tongue down the throat of a perfect stranger.
So how on earth did you end
up joining a theatre group at the age of three?
[Laughs] There was a new drama group starting up in Bristol, and I was
one of the founder members, and I've just kind of stuck with it ever
since. Obviously I've never done TV before, but I've done lots of plays
at school and with my drama group.
How does a three-year-old
decide they want to get into theatre?
My mum was friends with one of my three-year-old friends' mums, and
she wanted to set up a drama group for young children, so I got into
it through my mum, really. I think it was a kind of outlet for my childish
So did you have any idea
what acting in front of the cameras would be like?
Not at all. I didn't know the names for any of the jobs on set like
the gaffer or the grip or whatever, or how it all worked or anything.
Both my parents had worked in TV at some point, and my dad still does,
on Casualty. But I'm pretty experienced at getting on stage and not
being nervous, and at adopting a role.
So how did you end up landing
the role of Michelle?
The casting director came to my school, and I got my first audition
there. She was looking around Bristol schools for possible cast members,
and my drama teacher said I should have a go, so I spoke to the casting
director, and went for another couple of auditions, and got the part.
It must have been a thrilling
thing to find out. How did you hear?
Hannah [Murray, who plays Cassie] and I were the first to find out that
we'd got the parts, and it was really weird. I hadn't expected it at
all. But obviously the producers thought I was right for the part, so
it was an incredible shock as much as anything.
Do you want to go on and
make a career as an actor?
I always have, yeah. I didn't know I'd start so young. I thought I'd
go through the drama school route, and learn more about the profession.
I think I'm incredibly lucky to have started my chosen career so young.
There are a lot of teen dramas
out there. Why should people watch Skins?
I think it's the show that teenagers have been waiting for. It's not
coy, it's not got any boundaries, everything is in it. It's not been
created to suit or please parents, it's been created for 16-24-year-olds
to watch, and I think that's very important. And it's written by young
people and starring young people. If you're a 40-year-old, you might
not be quite as in touch with the language and the culture of teenagers.
And it was great, as well, that we were allowed to change lines if we
didn't think they sounded right. When we got on set, they were perfectly
happy to listen to us and to see what we could come up with.
What sort of a character
do you play?
Michelle is 17, she's friends with the rest of the gang, she goes out
with Tony, who is the love of her life, and is almost a trophy husband,
in a way. She's got the hottest guy in school and she's not going to
let him go, even if she knows that he's not always the nicest of guys.
She's got a pretty rough life at home, her mother's been married seven
times in the last three years, and she doesn't get much attention from
her, so she seeks that from boys by wearing short skirts and low-cut
Is it embarrassing to play
a character who flaunts her sexuality so much, or can you just play
up to it and enjoy it?
It's not something that I would do, but it's quite a fun role to play.
It gives me the chance to be the outgoing, confident girl that I'm not
necessarily always like in my own life. At times you think 'Oh God,
I've been standing on this street for four hours now in a tiny skirt,
what am I doing?' But basically it's cool, I like it.
So there's not much of you
in the character?
I think in any character you have to bring a certain element of yourself,
but I like to think that we do things differently. She's not really
bothered about what she does at school, she's more interested in going
out, and what she looks like. I hope I'm not quite that superficial.
Is Skins an accurate portrayal
of teenage life?
I think it's accurate to the extent that it shows what kind of things
go on in teenagers' lives, but I think it exaggerates it for the purposes
of comedy and entertainment for young people. It's not all about 'this
is what teenagers do, it's very bad'; it's more 'this is what teenagers
do, let's make it funny'. This is a teenage show, and at the end of
the day the whole point of it is to be entertaining. If it was a documentary,
then maybe it would be different, but it's suppose to be light-hearted
and funny. It doesn't directly revolve around drugs and sex anyway,
it's just a part of what they do. Teenagers don't always want to watch
something and be bombarded with 'you mustn't do this, you mustn't do
that' - besides, that'll probably make them rebel and want to do it
A lot of your scenes are
with Nicholas Hoult [Hugh Grant's co-star in About a Boy]. Was he quite
helpful with all of his experience in front of the camera?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, half the time I forgot that Nick was more
experienced than we were, because he's so normal and friendly. But he
always seemed to know what was coming next, which made me feel more
relaxed. My first scene was with him, and he knew all the jargon that
the director would say, and it was part of his everyday life. So that
kind of relaxed me, made it all a bit less scary.
What was it like having to
film the more intimate snogging scenes with him?
Was it embarrassing?
The first few times it was quite tough, because obviously you're thrown
together in this situation, I'd never met him before, and one of the
first things we were asked to do was stick our tongues down each others'
throats. But after a while we got to know each other and became friends,
and it was much easier. It's odd, but when he's Tony and I'm Michelle,
it's just supposed to happen.
When the show transmits,
will you watch it with family members?
Well, I know that my parents have definitely been aware of what's going
on - throughout the whole process they've known about the show's content,
so I don't think I'd be too embarrassed in front of them. They know
what to expect. But grandparents? I think I'd sit there cringing, thinking
'Oh God, please fall asleep.' But it's really not designed for my grandparents,
they're not the target audience, so they'll probably think it's outrageous.
Was it fun to be filming
with people the same age from Bristol?
Yeah, it's been great. None of us really knew each other, but we were
all thrown together and we get on really well. In fact, it's weird that
we haven't seen each other for the last week! When everything's finished,
I'm sure we'd miss each other loads if we didn't see each other.
What was the experience of
filming like? Was it everything you'd hoped it would be?
It's true what everyone says - it's not as glamorous as you think it
is. But the weirdest thing, for me, was the first day we were filming,
it was pouring with rain, and I was standing in a field, and someone
came up to me and held an umbrella over my head. That was very strange
- I felt like I was being treated like a star!
Skins begins on E4 on Thursday
25th January at 10pm.
By Benjie Goodhart