On the controversial MTV television series Skins, actress Sofia Black-D’Elia plays Tea, the 16-year-old, openly gay cheerleader who is as big a mystery to herself as she is everyone else. This wild card is as beautiful and confident as they come on the surface, but also has the same self-doubt that is normal for any teenager her age.
During a recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Sofia Black-D’Elia talked about being a fan of the BBC series that Skins was adapted from, the honor of working with the original show’s creator, bonding with her co-stars, how she loves Tea’s honesty, dealing with the criticism that the show has already received, and being a role model for other teens looking to be confident in their own sexuality. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
SOFIA BLACK-D’ELIA: I think I always knew. I went to a dance school when I was younger and I really loved being in front of people and performing. And then, as I got older, I became obsessed with films and just really put all of my energy into acting, in the hopes that, one day, it would be able to be possible.
How did you get involved with Skins?
BLACK-D’ELIA: It was just another one of the auditions that my agency had sent me on. But, being a fan of the original show, I definitely went into it with a different mind-set because I was so thrilled to just be able to audition. I really tried to give it my all because it would be such an amazing opportunity.
How did you become aware of the original BBC series?
BLACK-D’ELIA: I watched it online. It was one of those things that just spread around really easily. As soon as someone heard about it and saw how amazing it was, they would tell everyone they knew. And so, a lot of my friends were fans and had gotten me into it earlier. I had been watching Season 3 or Season 4 while I was auditioning. I was a big fan of Generation 2, so it was really cool.
At what point did you meet your co-stars? Was it during the auditioning process, or after you were all cast?
BLACK-D’ELIA: For the Canadians, I actually hadn’t met them until the first day of us being up in Canada to film the pilot, back in February, almost a year ago now. But, with James [Newman] and Danny [Flaherty], the other two American cast members, I had met them while they were auditioning. I had just been cast as Tea and came in to read as Michelle for James’ audition for Tony and Danny’s audition for Stanley. I was actually with Danny when he found out he got the part, so we bonded really quickly. And then, the three of us just waited until the pilot to meet everyone else.
Did you guys all bond really quickly, once you had the chance to meet?
BLACK-D’ELIA: Yeah. It was a very strange experience. We were all probably nervous about how the bonding and the cast chemistry would develop, but immediately, when we met each other, something clicked and we were instantly friends. And then, over the course of these past five months, between filming and the aftermath, we’ve become a family and we are each other’s support system and so much more. I couldn’t be luckier and happier to have them with me, throughout all of this. We all feel the same way. None of this would be the same without each other.
What can you say about Tea and how she fits in with this group of friends?
BLACK-D’ELIA: Tea is the wild card because she’s extremely confident and very sure of herself. At least, she thinks she is. And then, like most teenagers, she realizes that maybe she doesn’t know everything and she doesn’t know herself as well as she hoped she did. I think Season 1 is just her trying to figure out who, in fact, she is, which is extremely difficult, as a teenager. I think her storyline is very relatable, in that sense.
Since you aren’t that far from the age of the character you’re playing, did you get to give any input into the development of your character?
BLACK-D’ELIA: I don’t know if I had any input, but I think that each of us, as people, affected the writing, in one way or another. (Show creator/executive producer) Bryan Elsley definitely uses who we are, in real life, a little bit, in writing the characters. But, they’re all up to the writers and the teen advisors and Bryan. I got to watch Tea develop and, once in awhile, if a line didn’t feel comfortable, we had the freedom in saying that. But, for the most part, we really just got to watch our characters and, in playing them, develop them to suit us and fit us, individually.
What’s it been like to have Bryan there, since he created the original series? Has he been key to you guys all discovering who these characters are?
BLACK-D’ELIA: Yeah, Bryan is key in a lot of things. As an actor, he has this great way of just making you feel really comfortable, so that you don’t second guess yourself, but then pushes you, so that you’re never in a safe zone. You’re always pushing your boundaries and going that extra mile. A huge part of that for us is the constant desire to fulfill his expectations and rise to the occasion because he sets the bar very high. It’s just been such an honor to have his advice and his guidance throughout all of this. Once in awhile, he’ll pull you aside for this really inspirational speech that sets you up and gets you going for the next scene or the next day. Bryan was absolutely key in all of us finding our characters, and also finding the actors within ourselves because we’re all so inexperienced. Him being there, as this father figure watching over us, has definitely helped us in finding who we need to be within ourselves, to act and do this show.
What do you like best about Tea and what have been the biggest challenges in playing her?
BLACK-D’ELIA: The thing I like most about Tea is how honest she is with herself. It’s hard for her to deny emotions and feelings, and I really like that about her. She faces things head-on. But, in the same sense, she has this constant battle where half of her wants to run away, and I think that’s really interesting because, out of all the parts of her character, I think I relate to that most. She wants to commit to things or commit to people, but then, there’s a very strong pull inside of her that says, “Run away!” I like that because that’s how so many teenagers are, especially girl teenagers.
The things I found challenging about playing her were the things that weren’t so much like me, which is her confidence and her bravado, and her ability to run with the boys with her tough attitude. Those were the things that I had more of a struggle with. That came with time.
BLACK-D’ELIA: I think people will be most surprised by how flawed she is. I think on the surface, Tea seems to be one of the more put-together characters, kind of like Tony (James Newman), in a sense, where you think that they’re clever and they have everything figured out. But, within one episode, she falls to pieces. I think people will definitely be surprised by that.
How many episodes are in your first season?
Are there other episodes involving your character that you’re really looking forward to viewers getting to see?
BLACK-D’ELIA: Yeah, there are a few. The “Abbud” (Ron Mustafaa) episode and the “Michelle” (Rachel Thevenard) episode are two that are big for Tea. In the “Abbud” episode, her relationship with Abbud comes to a head. For me, that was really exciting, mostly because Ron and I really worked a lot together, in that episode, and it’s just such a fond memory for me. We were all out in the woods for a while and had this really great bonding experience. I’m excited to see how those scenes play out. Also, the “Michelle” episode is when some of the more emotional scenes for Tea will come out. And Rachel blew me away, when working with her, throughout her episode. I’m definitely excited to see everything that we got to do together.
On most shows about teenagers, it usually takes a couple of seasons before they’re doing drugs, having sex and getting in all kinds of crazy trouble, but you guys jumped into it right away, with Episode 1. Was that nerve-wracking at all, or was it just fun to go for it, right from the beginning?
BLACK-D’ELIA: It was fun to go for it, right from the beginning, because it wasn’t just the sex and the drugs that we were diving into, but it was everything, all at once. We’re all very young and it would be easy for writers to give us less ambitious material to work with, but right from the get-go, each one of us had emotional scenes to tackle and things that really pushed us out of our comfort zone. So, from day one on set, we all had to take a breath and then just jump in, which was so exciting and so much fun. It really set us up for what was to come. I think we were so much more prepared for the heavier stuff, later in the season, because we had been doing some heavy stuff, to begin with.
How do you feel about the talk that this show is too sexualizing for teens to watch, especially without their parents? Do you feel that comes more from people who haven’t seen it and just see the flashy commercials and get freaked out about it?
BLACK-D’ELIA: I completely agree. I think that people that are up in arms about it are those people that are watching the promos and seeing the marketing campaign and are running scared. If you stick with it passed the first episode, it’s very obvious that Skins is about so much more than sex. It’s easy for people to cling to that, when the other subject matters at hand are parents not paying attention to their kids and teenagers relying on drugs when they have nothing else to rely on. It’s easier to blame the show for being over-sexualized and relying too heavily on drugs. That’s the easier way out. At its heart, Skins is about so much more than that. It’s about relationships and friendships. With the troubled teens on the show, like Cadie (Britne Oldford), it’s very obvious, in her episode that that steps from her home life and her mother.
The substance of the show, to me, just has such a greater affect than the sex and the drugs, but I understand where they’re coming from because, right now, the only things they have to look at are the pilot and the promos. The pilot is just an introduction to the characters, and that doesn’t really give way to any of the more emotional depth of the show, and the promos are really just about us partying. But, Episodes 2 through 10 have so much more to them and, hopefully, when people see them, they’ll realize that Skins isn’t a show about over-sexualized teens. It’s a show about middle-class teenagers struggling through some of the toughest years of their lives, and some of them, literally, have only each other to rely on.
In my opinion, especially being a fan of the original show, it’s an incredibly important show because it is realistic, in the sense that it’s teenagers being able to watch a show and feel like they know these people, because we do. I went to high school. I know kids like this. If you talk to any teenager, they’ll say, “Yeah, I’ve been around people like this. I know her. Tony is my best friend.” It’s something that a lot of kids will be able to relate to, and I think parents are very afraid of that because maybe that means that they don’t know everything that’s going on.
Was your own family understanding about you playing a character like this?
BLACK-D’ELIA: They’re very understanding. All of our parents saw a couple episodes of the original, so they knew how impressive of a show it was, as far as the writing and acting. And so, immediately, my family was just excited for me to be able to have this complex role, at such a young age. Tea is a dynamic character, as is everyone on the show. As younger performers, that’s really exciting for us, and our parents are very proud of us for being able to be a part of it. Also, at the end of the day, we’re acting. What they see on television isn’t what they’re going to see me doing at home. I have a great relationship with my parents. I was very fortunate that I grew up in a household where we were very honest with each other. They’re aware of what I do with my friends, which is nowhere near as crazy and dramatic as it is on Skins, but that’s because that’s me and not Tea. They’re very supportive and they very easily see the line between acting and reality.
Is there anyone that you didn’t get to work with too much in Season 1, that you’re hoping to get to work with more, if the show returns for Season 2?
BLACK-D’ELIA: Absolutely! I get so wrapped up in talking about the relationships that are very prominent for my character in Season 1 that I forget that there are characters on the show that I would actually really love to be able to work with more. Britne [Oldford], who plays Cadie, and Jesse [Carere], who plays Chris, are the two I probably had the least amount of scenes with, but I would love to be able to have some more in Season 2.
Are you already getting recognized by fans? Is it difficult to have to adjust to being less anonymous?
BLACK-D’ELIA: I haven’t had anyone recognize me. As a whole, I think we’ve been anonymous still. We haven’t really reached that point yet, where things have gotten too crazy, which is actually really nice. I’m just sliding by without anyone noticing.
BLACK-D’ELIA: The feedback is definitely a little bit difficult to deal with, only because we put so much work and so much of our lives into this show. To have so many people judge it is a difficult thing. But, it’s also amazing for me to see how many teenagers, across the world, care about this show. At the end of the day, they’re just defending it. The people that are still comparing us to the U.K. show just goes to show how much of an impact Bryan [Elsley] has had on teenagers. They are so close to this show, just as much as we are. We’ve also had a great deal of amazing feedback from people who appreciate the show and are excited to see it. It’s been a nice, slow progression into what may turn into mayhem.
How does it feel to know that, after just one episode, your character is already a fan favorite and your performance is being cited as a real standout on the show?
BLACK-D’ELIA: It’s really exciting and very surreal. I feel very grateful that people have been so kind so far. I’m just hoping that it continues throughout the season, and that people start loving the whole show and everything that we’re about, for what it is and not what people, right now, think that it might be, as far as the sex and the drugs is concerned. I’m just really looking forward to people also seeing the heart behind the show.
Are you comfortable for being a role model for other teens, because of the self-awareness and the confidence in her sexuality that Tea has?
BLACK-D’ELIA: Yeah. I think Tea is a great role model for teenagers that are afraid to admit who they truly are. I think she’s also a great role model for teenagers that maybe aren’t that confident in their sexuality. She’s so strong, in that sense, and I really admire that about Tea. For those teenagers that are like that, I admire them. And, I hope that people who would like to be that way can aspire to feel more confident in who they are and in their sexuality. Whoever you are is okay. Tea also struggles with that and has a hard time finding other pieces of her personality. She’s a great role model because she is showing that it’s okay if you’re not entirely sure of who you are yet. As a teenager, you don’t have to know everything and you don’t have to know exactly who you are, but the things that are true, you should feel confident in and comfortable with.
BLACK-D’ELIA: I’m kind of a geek, so I’ve always had this huge desire to do sci-fi movies. I would be the first one to say that I’d love to be in the next Star Trek. But, on a more serious note, I would definitely love to do some things that, like Skins, have a lot of depth to them and aren’t just cookie-cutter teenagers. Skins has really challenged all of us. I’ve loved learning and growing with that, and I hope to continue to do that. Any project that would be challenging would probably pique my interest.