Created by father and son team Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain, Skins is the ground-breaking UK series, featuring Nicholas Hoult and Dev Patel, about a group of friends who navigate complex relationships and the difficulties of daily life in their formative years. It’s raw and edgy, and depicts the sex and drugs that is present in the lives of the teenagers that it follows. Now, Elsley is bringing his hit series across the seas, as the writer/executive producer on the adapted version that will start airing on MTV in January 2011.
During an exclusive interview with Collider, newcomers Jesse Carere, Daniel Flaherty, Ron Mustafaa and Britne Oldford talked about the chemistry between this ensemble cast, keeping things as true to the teenage experience as possible, and maintaining a level of edginess that the original series is known for. Check out what they had to say after the jump. You can watch the just released trailer here.
How did you initially get involved with Skins?
BRITNE OLDFORD: I was actually told by a friend of mine at 10:30 pm, the night before the open call in Toronto. She was like, “Hey, there’s this show called Skins, and they’re coming to the States and to Canada.” I was really nervous about going, but she convinced me, so I went. I wore a Pokemon t-shirt to make sure that I stood out, and now I’m here.
RON MUSTAFAA: For me, it was the same process. There was a giant open call audition in Toronto. It was really early and there was a huge line-up. They took in 25 or 30 kids together at once and told us to do a scene in groups of five, and then, at the end, they would pick out one or two people from each group, give them sides and ask them to come back the next day. From there, it just kept going and going. I had five or six auditions. That’s where all the Toronto kids met. They put us on screen to see how we’d look together as friends. Then, we had to wait it out. It was weird and scary because we didn’t know what was going on, but it worked out for the best.
DANIEL FLAHERTY: I live in the U.S., so I went to the New York open call and it was at the YMCA on Bowery Street. The whole day, I was just walking up and down the street, waiting to go because there was such a long line. I finally went in with one of the groups and was in there for about five minutes, didn’t get a callback and then left. About three weeks later, my agent called me up and said, “I got you a private audition for Skins.” I had just watched the whole first season of the BBC show and I really loved it, so I was really excited to go back to the audition. And then, it just happened and I got a callback. It was awesome.
JESSE CARERE: My story is similar to everybody’s, but I had never had acting experience before. My sister was at Much Music for Much On Demand in Canada and they handed out a flier. She brought it home ‘cause she knew I had always had an interest in acting, to some extent, but I never really pursued it because of the money. It was a big open call with a huge line-up and I got a callback, and then I thought it would be over because I had no idea about the business. But, it just kept going for months.
MUSTAFAA: We knew he was going to be Chris.
OLDFORD: We knew it as soon as we saw him.
MUSTAFAA: We were like, “You’ve got this man. Don’t even worry about it. Just go in there and talk.”
CARERE: We found out on Christmas Eve.
MUSTAFAA: It was so crazy! It was the best Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten.
OLDFORD: I found out in January. It took me a little longer.
CARERE: At that point, we were still nervous because nothing was set yet. We still had to do the pilot and get accepted by MTV. It was a huge process. It’s awesome.
When you go on a big call like that, are you just doing it for the experience or do you think you really have a chance to get noticed over everybody that’s there?
MUSTAFAA: Honestly, for me, I went in and was like, “I’m just going to give this a shot.” I had been acting for awhile doing commercial stuff, and I really loved the show, so I wanted to give it a shot. It was in Toronto, so I went in for the experience, but you still have to try your best and do well. From there, it just picked up. Obviously, there’s some luck involved and a lot of things going into it, but I just take it one step at a time, and it worked out.
Can you talk about the characters that you’re playing and how they fit into the story?
CARERE: I’m playing Chris, who’s pretty much the same as the U.K. version. He’s a little bit ghetto, but he’s still the same pill-popping animal who loves to have sex with girls, teachers and whatnot.
OLDFORD: My character is Cadie. She’s going to be much different from Cassie in the original. She loves pills and just wants more pills. Her mood is that she’ll be crazy-happy one minute, and then she’ll want people to leave her alone the next minute. The whole thing is, “Is she crazy or is she not crazy?” I’m really excited to play her because Hannah Murray’s character, Cassie, in the original was one of my favorite characters. Of course, Cadie is going to be a lot different, but I hope she has the same affect on people.
MUSTAFAA: I’m playing a character named Abbud, who’s really religious. He values his religion highly, which says no sex and no drugs. He’s just supposed to be in the mosque to pray, five times a day. He does that and believes in that, but he also loves his girls and he loves popping pills with his friends and he likes a lot of sex. He tries to get a lot of sex, but he usually doesn’t. When I watched the original, Anwar, who was played by Dev Patel, I thought what he was doing was sick. He almost had a split personality, in a way. At home, he’d be this good kid that respects his parents, but then, when he’s with his friends, he likes to get wild. I’m not really like him, to that extent, but it’s fun to let loose, once in awhile.
FLAHERTY: I play Stanley, and he’s the same. He’s a virgin, he never cleans his room, he doesn’t really care about anything and he’s in love with Michelle (Rachel Thevenard), Tony’s (James Newman) girlfriend. Our characters are kind of the same, but there are going to be a lot of things that are different. The viewers will be in for a surprise.
CARERE: We don’t know what will happen with our characters, so we can’t say too much about what’s going on because we don’t have any idea.
FLAHERTY: We’re still developing our own characters, as we go.
MUSTAFAA: We’re trying to understand them.
OLDFORD: At the end, it’s just all about the friendships that we all have with each other.
FLAHERTY: We definitely are taking these characters and making them our own.
MUSTAFAA: (Show creator) Bryan Elsley even told us to stop watching it after we got the parts because they didn’t want us to copy the characters.
CARERE: I think everyone’s characters, aside from Britne, are the same. But, in terms of us, I hope America is not expecting the same thing from the U.K. Every different actor brings new things to the project. There are different elements with it, even with the writers. The first episode to introduce us might be the same, but Bryan even said that it’s going to change throughout the series.
Have they asked you guys for a lot of input, in developing these characters?
CARERE: Bryan has talked to us, but they have a Skins contributors group, which is a bunch of 15- to 18-year-old kids who put their input in about their lives.
FLAHERTY: It’s genuine American stories from teenagers, which is really cool and special.
MUSTAFAA: And, Bryan always does ask us our thoughts about stuff, and you can always tell him and share ideas. He involves everybody, which is what’s so amazing about Bryan. He’s not like, “This is what I want,” and then it’s done. He’s really open.
FLAHERTY: They ask us things like, “What do you think your character would do in this situation?” They do ask us for our input because they really want us to portray our characters in a real way.
Do you feel comfortable with going off the page then, when you’re working?
MUSTAFAA: Yeah, we still have to stick to the wording, but we add in our own little flare to it and, if they don’t like it, then we can always try something new.
FLAHERTY: You want to make your character as natural as possible and I think the way to do that is to add your own character into the lines that you’re given. I think any actor does that.
What’s it been like to have Bryan Elsley there, since he’s also the creator of the original U.K. series?
OLDFORD: He’s like the Papa Bear. As soon as he walks into the room, I feel at peace because I know that everything’s okay, he’ll take care of us and he knows what he’s doing.
FLAHERTY: He knows exactly what he wants.
OLDFORD: He’s so wise and he just makes us feel so comfortable.
MUSTAFAA: He’s a really quiet guy, but when he speaks, everyone listens ‘cause it’s so important. He knows Skins. He lives and breathes it. He loves the show, and that’s why we love it even more. He has so much passion for it.
OLDFORD: It motivates us even more.
CARERE: For all of the U.K. people, Bryan is in charge of this whole thing. He’s going to make Skins what it is. It’s not going to change or be watered down. People have been like, “Oh, MTV and the U.S. are going to ruin it.” No. Expect the same thing.
OLDFORD: It’s going to be absolutely incredible.
CARERE: The main guy who fathered that is doing the same thing with us.
MUSTAFAA: He has a lot of the same people behind it, too. The scripts are not being written by older 50-year-olds. They’re being written by 20-year-olds.
OLDFORD: All we really want is to make this an incredible show, and we definitely know that it will be. I’m trying to be as positive as possible, but I think it will be great.
MUSTAFAA: Bryan told us to just have fun making the show, not worry about what’s going to happen with it and just go with the ride. It’s going great so far.
How edgy will the show get and how far can you push things on MTV?
OLDFORD: We don’t actually know.
MUSTAFAA: We can’t say for sure, but definitely expect swear words ‘cause they will be there, I believe.
OLDFORD: But, they will most likely be bleeped out.
FLAHERTY: You should expect Skins. I know it can’t be as edgy, but it’s very real. Skins is so intriguing because it’s not like you’re watching a scripted show. You’re watching a group of friends and you’re watching their lives unravel before your eyes. You see that friendship and you want to watch them every week because you’re so intrigued by it. If the edginess is there, it will be really intriguing, but even if it’s not, you’re still going to watch because you want to see that friendship and you want to see what happens with these kids.
MUSTAFAA: That’s what makes it appealing and so human. It’s just so real.
OLDFORD: Also, it’s not glamorized, which is really important. Of course, things are magnified because it’s television, so what do you expect? But, it magnifies the friendship and the relationships.
CARERE: You can’t say you don’t know someone in your real life that’s not like your character. I definitely know a couple people like our characters. In that sense, I believe it’s almost taking really exaggerated people, who do exist, and putting them together and making them best friends. The characters are real and the relationships are real.
MUSTAFAA: And, you can always relate to the characters and learn from their mistakes. You can see how their lives unravel and not always feel excluded. There are other people who are going through the same thing. It might not be popping pills, but it might be getting into a fight with your parents or getting bad marks in school. There’s always someone you can relate to. That’s what makes Skins.
Have you guys spent a lot of time getting to know each other, so that you can form that on screen friendship?
MUSTAFAA: Yeah, we’ve become a family. When we filmed the pilot in Toronto, we would hang out after filming, even after 12 hours on set. We’ve honestly become a tight family.
CARERE: We connected the day we met. We went in a circle and said the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to us, and the stories were really true to the storyline of Skins.
OLDFORD: No, we’re not that crazy.
FLAHERTY: I think it really helped break the ice too. You’re forced into a group with all these kids and you’re saying the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you, it really just breaks the ice right away. The exercises we’ve done and the rehearsals we’ve done really just helped us become tight friends, and I think that’s going to be really great for the show too because we already are a group of friends.
MUSTAFAA: Hopefully, you will see that chemistry on screen. We’re not judgmental when we’re telling these stories. These friends don’t judge. They’re your friends for a reason. Even the cast doesn’t judge each other or have vendettas against each other.
OLDFORD: We’re just a bunch of kids that are being thrown into this world and we just want to have as much fun as possible. We love it.
Will you continue to film in Toronto? What does that location bring to the show?
OLDFORD: We are going to be filming in Toronto, from what I know. It’s like a watered down version of New York. It’s really cool, and just a great place to be. I’m from there, so I love it. The thing about Toronto is that it’s so versatile. There are so many different areas in it, that look like different places, that you can set almost anything there.
CARERE: We don’t have a setting for the show. It’s an eastern city.
OLDFORD: We have the water, but we also have the downtown scene, and then we have forests everywhere. It’s a really good city.
Are you guys prepared for the attention you’ll get from this show?
OLDFORD: I’m preparing myself for it. For me, it’s mostly about the craft because I was a theater major in high school, which I just graduated, and I minored in vocals. I don’t know. Whatever happens, happens. I’m just going along for the ride. If things take off after this, that would be incredible, but if they don’t, so be it. It will definitely be crazy.
CARERE: It’s going to be awesome.
MUSTAFAA: It should be sick. For me, hopefully this works out as a career. I love acting and I think it’s great to just let loose on screen and not have anyone judge you because it’s acting and you’re portraying someone else. You get to live a life that you don’t regularly get to live. In society, you’re always judged. With Skins, you go out and have fun while doing the show. Hopefully, it works out because I want to pursue acting, for sure.