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Kaya Scodelario Takes Hollywood by the Helm

With a star role in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film, the UK starlet doesn’t need a telescope to see big things ahead

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When Kaya Scodelario was growing up in London, she had what might be called an awakening. “Suddenly it became okay to be from a different culture, and to sound different from everyone else,” she recalled. The impetus? Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“I admired him growing up because my mom had a thick Brazilian accent,” said 25-year-old Scodelario. “So hearing him speak in a thick accent sort of inspired me. I didn’t have any friends with parents with a foreign accent.” 

Back then, a young girl might have had to take lessons in self-empowerment from an Austrian macho-man. But now, with a lead role in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Scodelario has a chance to play an action hero herself. Her character, Carina Smyth, is a heroine that 2017 hath wrought: A brilliant astronomer in a backwards British colony who must repeatedly assert that understanding science does not, in fact, make her a witch. Nary a damsel in distress, Smyth is capable of saving her own skin, while her would-be saviors—including love interest Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaite)—fumble over her.

While the Pirates franchise’s fifth installment may possess the hallmarks of a woke, post-Beauty and the Beast blockbuster, the film’s prescient timing is the silver lining of a three-year production hindered by delays. “We had two hurricanes come through and destroy the set, so we had to rebuild everything,” said Scodelario. In that time, the actress got married and had a child with husband Benjamin Walker, whom she met on the set of the forthcoming period fantasy, The King’s Daughter.

“Luckily, I wasn’t pregnant at all during the shooting. I got pregnant a year after [I’d] completed [my scenes], so I didn’t have to deal with morning sickness or anything like that.” The pregnancy did, however, prevent an official passing of the torch between Scodelario and her predecessor Keira Knightley, whose appearance in one scene was shot long after Scodelario’s. “I actually never got to meet her because I was nine months pregnant when they shot her for it. They actually shot it on my due date,” She laughed. “So I couldn’t be there. But she lives in my neighborhood and I’ve been hoping to bump into her to thank her. I really admired her as a kid.”

Scodelario was 13 when the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was released, an onscreen rollercoaster featuring petty seafaring criminals (chief among them, of course, Johnny Depp’s inimitable Jack Sparrow) that became a multi-billion dollar franchise. A year later, Scodelario had her own debut—in the cult teen soap, Skins, as seminal manic pixie dream-girl Effy Stonem.

Effy’s bad girl mythology earned Scodelario transatlantic fandom that translated naturally into two high-profile turns in the YA sci-fi franchise The Maze Runner, Scodelario’s first major role after the series ended in 2013. And Scodelario isn’t the only Skins alum who’s made the cross-pond hop to Hollywood: Nicholas Hoult, who played Effy’s brother for two seasons, has been in three X-Men movies; Dev Patel was nominated for an Oscar, and Daniel Kaluuya starred in 2017’s reigning breakout film, Get Out.

“We all had a little screening [of Get Out] in London. I loved it, and I’m so proud of Daniel.” Scodelario said. “I can’t tell you how talented I think he is.” But even with that many stars in the mix, Scodelario and her Skins crew maintain their squad-dom: “We have a group chat where we message all the time. When we see each other, we’ll talk about work in the first 10 minutes and then for the next four hours we’ll talk about normal stuff.”

It was on the Maze Runner set that Scodelario’s audition process for Pirates began. “I had the Maze Runner boys help me record [my audition tape],” she said. “Thomas Brodie-Sangster played Jack Sparrow.” But her first scene with the real Jack Sparrow didn’t go quite as planned. “The first day, I couldn’t stop laughing,” Scodelario says. “[Johnny Depp] was in costume and he was improvising. He does each [take] about 50 different ways, and each one is absolutely hilarious. After a while I realized I’d just been laughing for 20 minutes straight. I thought they were going to fire me.” 

Suffice to say they didn’t, and Scodelario survived the six-month shoot on Australia’s Gold Coast unscathed. Well, almost. “I got a tick under my skin, and I didn’t realize until it had been there for a week. Johnny found it quite disgusting,” she said. But Scodelario has always had a soft spot for the surprises that science has in store—on Earth and beyond. Little did she know, she’d been preparing for the role of headstrong astronomer Carina Smyth since childhood. “I’ve always been interested in astronomy, since I was a little kid,” she said. “And I have a personal connection to it because my father was into astronomy and would talk to me about it, so it was a great opportunity to revisit that.” In more ways than one, it seems, Scodelario’s path to Pirates was written in the stars.