• Kaya Scodelario Marie Claire
Credit: Kate Davis Macleod

Kaya Scodelario: ‘I put the breast pump on and was like, “Boys, you’ll have to deal with this”‘

Skins' hedonistic teen has navigated the world of Hollywood blockbusters and become a mother - all by 24. Kaya Scodelario tells us why she's always been a force to be reckoned with

Kaya Scodelario’s performance in the recently released Maze Runner: The Death Cure is impressive. But when you consider that she had given birth to her first child just two months before filming started and was breastfeeding or pumping milk every four hours throughout 18-hour days on set, having relocated to Cape Town for three months, it starts to feel less impressive and, well, more superhuman. Not that Scodelario sees it that way at all.

‘One day I whipped my tit out and put the breast pump on and was like [to her Maze Runner co-stars Dylan O’Brien and Thomas Brodie-Sangster], “Boys, you’re going to have to deal with this,”’ she says in her north London accent, shrugging. ‘No one was weird about it. They know me well enough to know that I would have punched them if they were.’

Normalising breastfeeding was the 25-year-old’s schtick on set of the final movie in the blockbusting action trilogy, and something she often shares with her 1.4m Instagram followers. ‘I mean, you’re doing it 17 times a day – it’s bloody normal. I’m so grateful I’m able to, when many women struggle. It was very hard with the movie, but I was insistent on having a ten-minute break every four hours to pump.’

I can’t help thinking that the assertive, ambitious and outspoken artist formerly known as Effy from Skins (the cult E4 teen drama that launched a legion of British stars from Nicholas Hoult to Dev Patel), who holds her own as the female lead of a male-dominated multi-million-pound action movie franchise, is exactly what Hollywood, post #MeToo, needs.

Kaya Scodelario Marie Claire

It’s early on a crisp winter morning when we meet at a west London studio. She explains this is coincidently where she did her very first shoot, aged 14. I have to admit, she doesn’t look much older than that today; all make-up-free with hair wet from the shower, in skinny jeans, cream Nike trainers and a huge parka that threatens to swallow her up. She has just celebrated her son’s first birthday and is enjoying a bit of ‘life time’ with her husband of two years – and ‘co-parent; there are no gender stereotypes between us’ – American actor Benjamin Walker.

‘You’re breastfeeding 17 times a day – it’s bloody normal. I’m so grateful I’m able to, when many women struggle. It was very hard with the movie, but I was insistent on having a ten-minute break every four hours to pump.’

As well as filming the final Maze Runner last year, Scodelario embarked on a world tour to promote her role in the latest Pirates Of The Caribbean movie and moved the family into a rented house in Crouch End, north London. She is currently preparing for a move to Montreal, Canada, to film US indie movie Die In A Gunfight. It’s no wonder that she’s relishing feeling the ground beneath her feet and spending time with her oldest friends. Scodelario tells me that last night she met up with the ‘little writers’ group’ she gets together with once a fortnight when she’s in London.

‘It’s nice being in a room full of women, even if you’re just drinking wine and talking about EastEnders,’ she says. ‘For us, it’s a safe place where we can discuss the stories we want to tell, and feed off each other’s energy. In ten years, there has only been about two occasions [at work] where the number of women in the room has been equal to the amount of men.’

Kaya Scodelario Marie Claire

I assume her work on money-spinning blockbusters has been strategic to give her the freedom to be choosier with future roles. If only it were that simple, she says. ‘You don’t get paid anywhere near as much as people assume, especially when it’s your first franchise. There’s a set scale, so it definitely wasn’t because of finances.’

She is, however, optimistic about producing her own films in the future. ‘In 90 per cent of the scripts I read, the woman is in her underwear for no reason,’ she sighs. Certainly playing enigmatic hot mess Effy in four seasons of Skins led to ‘a lot of auditions for “the hot high-school girlfriend” and other cringey parts’. But Scodelario stood her ground, which is especially admirable when you factor in she had no prior acting experience.

‘In ten years, there has only been about two occasions [at work] where the number of women in the room has been equal to the amount of men.’

In 2007, aged just 14, she rocked up to the Skins audition on her drama teacher’s suggestion, but was so nervous she decided not to go in. She was smoking a cigarette outside the building when she was spotted by Bryan Elsley, one of the show’s creators. ‘It set the bar high to want to play interesting, layered, tortured women,’ she recalls, but says that after the show ended, ‘there was the fear of, would that be all I could do? I wasn’t trained, and I work very instinctively. I know that good scripts and good parts do exist; so now, let’s make it happen for ourselves.’

I ask if she is surprised by the revelations coming out of Hollywood post-Harvey Weinstein. ‘I’m in awe of the women who have spoken out,’ she says. ‘People are scared of doing it in an office environment, let alone on a world scale, so it’s great that we’re having the conversation. We need to keep on having it and flushing [harassment] out, so it’s not the norm.’

Kaya Scodelario Marie Claire

Although fortunate to not have experienced sexual harassment in her career, Scodelario used the #MeToo hashtag to break her silence about abuse she has suffered closer to home. ‘It’s taken me 13 years to say #MeToo,’ she bravely tweeted in October. ‘He is still protected by “family members” in Brazil. They’ve told lies to papers to try to silence me. No more. #MeToo.’

‘It was something that I’d wanted to talk about for years but I didn’t know how to,’ she explains, adding that she felt particularly vulnerable promoting Maze Runner in Brazil, when extended family members turned up at her hotel to ‘frighten and intimidate’ her.

‘I thought I was OK and, on the surface, I was because I’d survived, but I needed to regain that power,’ she says. ‘[#MeToo] felt like the right moment. I had this support from all these women I’d never met in the online community wanting to take that power back, and that’s what it was for me personally; to say, “I’m no longer afraid of you.”’

Did her mum know what had gone on? ‘It was a one-off incident and she was incredibly there for me… so I did it for her.’ Scodelario also did it for her son. ‘A lot of people say to me, “Do you play strong female roles so that little girls look up to you?” I say, “I do it so little boys will, too.” Now I’m raising a son, I want him to look up to me. Consent is a conversation I’m going to have honestly and openly with him from a very young age.’

Kaya Scodelario Marie Claire

Despite her experience, Scodelario remains vehemently proud of her heritage. An only child, she was raised in a north London council flat by her single mother, speaking Portuguese and surrounded by Brazilian culture, food and music. ‘It’s always been us two,’ she nods. She spoils her mother when she can, most recently with a trip to Doha in Qatar, where Scodelario was speaking at Ajyal Youth Film Festival.

‘It was wonderful because we used to struggle to afford Clacton-on-Sea. Now, I can take her to amazing countries on the other side of the world and she gets treated like a queen.’

Kaya Scodelario as Teresa in The Maze Runner

I wonder if being cast in Skins affected the pair’s you-and-me-against-the-world dynamic. ‘It definitely did,’ she says. ‘I don’t want anyone to think we’ve had a perfect relationship because that’s unrealistic. I moved to Bristol and suddenly had this new group of friends and I was falling in love for the first time [with her co-star Jack O’Connell]. That’s hard for any parent, let alone a parent whose life is their child. There were a few years when it was difficult and we had to reassess our relationship.’

‘I thought I was OK and, on the surface, I was because I’d survived, but I needed to regain that power,’ she says. ‘[#MeToo] felt like the right moment. I had this support from all these women I’d never met in the online community wanting to take that power back, and that’s what it was for me personally; to say, “I’m no longer afraid of you.”’

Scodelario had left home properly by the time she was 16. ‘I rented a shitty little studio flat in Camden Town where people would get drunk and throw bottles at the window, but I loved it,’ she says. ‘It was the Effy years, for sure.’

Kaya Scodelario Marie Claire

Kaya Scodelario is Marie Claire’s March issue cover star

When we meet, the ‘first generation’ of Skins (that’s Nicholas Hoult, Joe Dempsie and Hannah Murray, to name a few) have just had their annual Christmas get-together. ‘I cooked dinner this year – last year, Nick did it at his – but it ended up with the boys taking over and we just sat gossiping in the back,’ she says. ‘We’ve got a strong little group. We’re so close because we’re friends first. I don’t think I’ll ever find that on a job again.’

Kaya Scodelario

Scodelario is still recognised as Effy – ‘every day, every day!’ – ten years on, which isn’t surprising. Skins was both critically acclaimed and controversial, acutely observing millennial sixth-form teenagers and their antics with a rawness that was unprecedented. It wasn’t glamorous like The O.C. or worthy like Dawson’s Creek; it was daring and a little bit dirty, and no one, admits Scodelario, expected it to take off.

‘We used to struggle to afford Clacton-on-Sea. Now, I can take my Mum to amazing countries on the other side of the world and she gets treated like a queen.’

‘We were so dumb about it,’ she says with a laugh. ‘We’d go to Nando’s in a herd of about ten, then try to get into a bar despite half of us being under-age, and be shocked when people recognised us! People must have been like, “What are they doing? Is there a camera rolling?”’

She’s certainly packed a hell of a lot into her 25 years. Was Scodelario secretly yearning to settle down when she met her husband, in 2014, on the set of (yet to be released) The King’s Daughter? ‘So much of my life is unpredictable,’ she explains. ‘I can’t commit to a friend’s birthday party next week because I don’t know where I’ll be. I stress myself out about work and I want to do well… but when we fell in love, I realised what I ultimately wanted was to have that connection with someone. I didn’t want to let the opportunity pass.’

The couple were engaged after a few months of dating and married a year later. Their first kiss was on camera, so they asked the film’s producer to send them the footage to play at their wedding. If it sounds like a fairy tale and that’s because it was. A well deserved one at that.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure is in cinemas now

Photographs by Kate Davis Macleod, styling by Jayne Pickering

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