When she arrives, there will be tales of Glastonbury, holidaying in Jamaica with mates and salvaging furniture from skips for her new flat.
As befits Andrea Arnold’s thoroughly modern take on Wuthering Heights, Kaya Scodelario, who plays the teenage Catherine in the movie, is a thoroughly modern miss. Not that Arnold, the director of Fish Tank and the Glasgow-set Red Road, has done anything as sacrilegious as to place the movie in a contemporary setting. Instead, she has stripped the tale to the bones, showing Emily Bronte’s novel to be centuries ahead of its time in the clear-eyed way it looked at passion and a woman’s place.
Arnold’s tradition of using unknown actors was bucked with the casting of Scodelario. Known for playing Effy Stonem in E4’s teen drama Skins, and with parts in Duncan Jones’s Moon and The Clash of the Titans, the 19-year-old had a not too shabby cv already. However, that doesn’t stop her from being nervous.
“It’s terrifying,” she says, when asked how she’s dealing with the hoopla involved in launching a film. “I keep going through different emotions of wanting to cry because I’m so happy, then being really worried about it all. It feels like I’m sort of stepping through a different door, that the world is about to change for me. It’s cool, it’s all I ever wanted, but at the same time this panic sets in when you think, ‘Oh God, are people going to like it?’.”
A previous attempt to be an Austen heroine had not ended well. She went for the part of Emma in a television production and found herself in a long line of “beautiful, blonde, 26-year-old women who spoke perfectly”. There was Scodelario, brought up by her Brazilian immigrant mum in a London council flat, without drama school training. “I ran out before the audition, I was so scared.”
Arnold, fortunately, treats auditions differently. She takes a get-to-know-you approach, wanting to find out about the character of the actor as much as how they relate to the person they will be playing. In choosing Scodelario, Arnold got herself a young woman who, like Catherine Earnshaw, has backbone.
Scodelario’s mum had come over to England to study, married and had Kaya. The couple divorced when Kaya was one. Her father, with whom she remained close, died last year. “She’s a very strong lady,” Scodelario says of her mum. “A lot of my inspiration comes from her.”
Scodelario recalls her early school years as a miserable time. She was teased about her mum having an accent, for looking different, and she had dyslexia. “My hair was always frizzy. I always wanted to be blonde with lovely straight hair. I was very skinny, I was quite tomboyish, just very quiet. I always wanted to fit in, I just couldn’t. I had no confidence as a child, I still really don’t. Acting is the only thing I’ve ever felt comfortable doing.”
She found where she fitted in after moving school and auditioning for Skins, where she stayed for three years, from 2007 to 2010. Just 14 when she joined the cast, it was her drama school and she adored it.
“Skins was such a great platform for young actors,” she says. “They had this whole thing about getting people who weren’t trained, this new generation, this new culture. A lot of teenage shows back then were trying to send a message, trying to be PC. Skins was never about sending a message. It was showing you everything there was, and letting you make a decision.”
Although the series attracted controversy for its few-holds-barred storylines, being a teenager is all about learning from mistakes, she says. “I’m terrified of turning 20. I want to be a teenager forever. I love it. It’s that time when you can mess up, you can learn from it, and it shapes you into the person you are.
“I’m sure it will be different when I have kids. I’m sure I’ll want to protect them from everything and say ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’. But when you are that age, that’s when you want to explore as a person who you are. Skins allowed people to do that.”
The toughest storyline for her was Effy’s descent into depression. She’s proud of taking on what remains for some a taboo subject. “A lot of people have come up to me since, saying it’s helped them or they’ve had friends going through the same thing and they can now understand it more.”
After Skins she appeared in Moon and The Clash of the Titans. In the latter she felt very much the little girl lost amid the blockbuster machine. The smaller-scale Wuthering Heights – where perks included a heater in a caravan perched on the Yorkshire moors – was more her thing.
Once she got the part, a new worry emerged: would she be able to relate to these 19th-century characters, understand their world? But the experience of first love, she soon discovered, has a certain universality.
“I’d just come out of a relationship [with her Skins co-star Jack O’Connell] that, at the time, had felt like the most amazing thing in the world. When it ended, when he broke up with me, I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself. I felt like my life was over. Obviously, you do move on, but being there in the Yorkshire moors, looking out, there is nothing there. You can see how falling in love with someone is the end of the world, it is everything, because that’s all they had. That passion was so strong that it took them over.”
She got over the break-up by going to Jamaica on holiday, hanging out with pals and eventually meeting someone else, actor Elliott Tittensor, who stars in Shameless. Another balm was going to music festivals. Arriving late at Glastonbury, she put her tent on a path and heard a voice bellowing: “You move that tent now!” She turned around to see a laughing Harry Enfield, who played her dad in Skins.
Post-Wuthering Heights, Scodelario will be seen next in the movie Now Is Good, a seize-the-day drama with Dakota Fanning, and a television series, Love Life, in which she plays a pupil who becomes involved with her teacher, played by Billie Piper.
After two years in Manchester with her boyfriend, Scodelario has moved back to London and is living on her own in a new flat, albeit one around the corner from mum. First purchase? “Air freshener. I wanted it to smell nice when people came in.” She’s been furnishing the place with the help of mum and skips.
“It feels good to say I’ve worked for four years and this is mine now. I’ve earned this as mine.”
A very Bronte heroine indeed.
Wuthering Heights opens in cinemas tomorrow.