Kaya Scodelario might be the world’s finest surly teenager. From her star-making turn as beguiling bad girl Effy Stonem the British series Skins to her latest role as the title character in the twisted thriller The Truth About Emanuel (out January 10), the English actress takes on troubled teens and gives them a startling depth. In the case of Emanuel, Scodelario plays a 17-year-old girl who’s lost her mother and formed a disturbing bond with the woman next door (Jessica Biel), who comes with plenty of her own baggage.
Scodelario spoke to DuJour about finding strong characters, her gender-bending dream role and just why nobody asks her to babysit.
Playing Emanuel can’t have been easy. This is a tricky, twisted film. What made the part appealing?
As I was casually reading it, I just sort of fell in love with it. It was a magical script. It’s a different and exciting female role for me compared to 90% of the other scripts that come through.
How was it different?
It can seem like 90% of scripts involve some sort of nudity or being a pretty girl or the best friend. There’s not necessarily a juicy female lead role. This script had three, which I thought was amazing and very exciting. That was why I really loved it.
Your character finds an in with her neighbor, who’s a new mom and a bit of a ringer for Emanuel’s own late mother. Have you yourself ever done time as a babysitter?
No! No one ever trusted me with their kids. I always wanted to, especially watching American films. They make it look really fun and crazy. My two best friends have children and I’m around them a lot, but they’ve never asked me—they probably think I’d set fire to the house or something like that.
How do you prepare to play someone who’s got Emanuel’s unique set of issues?
I looked at it as a protective thing. I’m very protective of my own mother. She raised me alone and suffered severe depression for most of her life, so I really protect her and I look after her. Sometimes I do have to bite my tongue and let her think she’s right even though she’s not, because that’s just the way of doing it. I kind of tapped into that need, when you love someone so much and care about them so much that you would do anything to keep them happy. I think that’s how Emanuel goes with it. She doesn’t see anything outside the two of them.
Now, at one point Emanuel meets a boy on public transportation. Would you ever be brave enough to do the same?
Oh, God, no! In London we don’t speak to people on public transportation at all. It’s very much like New York, where everyone keeps their eyes down and doesn’t speak to anyone and keeps to themselves. I wouldn’t be brave enough to do that at all!
A lot of the roles we’ve seen you in do involve complicated young women. Is that something you look for?
I’ve always been quite headstrong; my mom raised me to be a strong woman and get the most out of life. I don’t want to play easy characters. I want to do parts that are going to interest people and and make them have a discussion. I would never be comfortable playing the girl next door. I’m quite dark upstairs anyway, and it just helps get it out if I’m playing that character—it’s like a therapy for me. I find it incredibly boring just playing an average girl who doesn’t really do much.
So what’s a dream role for you?
There are a couple. I’ve always wanted to play a young Keith Richards, which would be interesting. Really, I’m obsessed with the Rolling Stones and with Keith in particular. I’d love the opportunity to play him. Or the other one is I’d like to play a Bond girl, but I’d like to be the Bond girl that eventually kills James Bond.