Back in 2007, gritty British TV show Skins took both sides of the Atlantic by storm when the first season premiered.
The series quickly became infamous for its bleak storylines, graphic sex scenes, and depiction of teenagers actually played by teenagers indulging in drugs and alcohol.
The show aired until 2013 and introduced a new cast every two seasons, which turned it into a kind of revolving door for young acting hopefuls looking for their big break.
And many of the cast got exactly that, with Skins being one of the first TV gigs for many established stars that we know and love today.
Academy Award winner Daniel Kaluuya, nominee Dev Patel, and Game Of Thrones’ Hannah Murray and Joe Dempsie are just some of the British actors who cut their teeth on the E4 series.
But in 2021, eight years after the final season aired, some of the cast began to lift the lid on their “fucked up” filming experience.
April Pearson, who played Michelle in seasons 1 and 2 of Skins, spoke to her fellow alumni Laya Lewis on her podcast Are You Michelle From Skins? last year.
Laya played Liv in seasons 5 and 6, and while the two women didn’t work on the show at the same time, they were unsurprised to learn that they had incredibly similar experiences — especially when it came to the show’s attention-grabbing sex scenes.
Both Laya and April admitted to feeling uncomfortable and unprotected during filming, saying that they believe they were “too young” to be stripping on TV.
They were amateur teen actors on their first day on set but were expected to film intimate scenes right away and with little guidance.
Laya said on the podcast: “If you want to pluck children out of the street, which is essentially what they were doing to have this authentic onscreen thing going on, there needs to be a bit more help. Talk through things, it was just a bit much to be bang, day one, here you are."
“There’s a difference between being officially old enough and mentally old enough,” April agreed. I was having this conversation with my husband and I was saying, ‘I do feel like I was too young, I feel like I wasn't protected.’"
She also suggested that what they both went through was universal to all former Skins stars, saying that every female cast member that she’d spoken privately with felt the same way.
"We're talking seven series of the same show and everyone feeling the same, certainly the women and some of the men I have spoken to feel the same,” April said, as she and Laya reflected on the fact that intimacy coordinators hadn’t yet been brought on TV and movie sets at the time that Skins was on air.
April also said that hearing Paul Mescal say that he felt “empowered” by his sex scenes in Normal People almost made her cry, explaining: “At no point, if an interviewer had asked me, 'How do you feel in the sex scenes of Skins?' would I have said empowered. No way.”
And in July, Kaya Scodelario joined the conversation, having shot to fame at the age of 14 in Season 1 of Skins as Effy — a character that had achieved the rare feat of appearing in more than two seasons.
In a TikTok video, Kaya acknowledged the constant comparisons between Skins and Sam Levinson’s HBO drama Euphoria, which premiered in 2020 and stars Zendaya, Sydney Sweeney, and Alexa Demie.
Euphoria has similarly gritty storylines about sex and drugs. But while the characters are teenagers, the actors who play them are in their early to mid-20s and have frequently spoken about advocating for some of their scripted gratuitous nudity to be cut from the show.
And this difference in age is a stark contrast to Kaya’s experience on Skins, and she reminded herself of this in the social media upload.
In the TikTok video, the actor, now 30, filmed herself looking shocked before relaxing and shrugging as a voiceover said: “Watching Euphoria for the first time thinking, This is crazy for 17-year-olds, then remembering what I was doing on TV at 14.”
Kaya added in the caption: “Will always be greatful. But yeah safeguarding really wasnt a thing back then….” and she also said that Skins caused her long-term “issues” in a follow-up comment.
A fan had asked her: “Do you think being on Skins affected your mentality at that age?” and Kaya openly replied: “Yes. It was a beautiful time but also the deep rooted cause of a lot of my issues now. Still, it gave me the opportunity to do the job I loved.”
Now, Kaya’s onscreen love interest has had his say, with Jack O’Connell admitting that his experience of filming sex and nude scenes for Skins “wasn’t right.”
Jack played bad boy Cook in seasons 3 and 4 of the drama, and many of his sex scenes were with Kaya.
After his dalliance on Skins, Jack continued to strip off for his roles — even appearing totally naked onstage for the West End production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and baring all in the 2013 movie Starred Up.
Now 32, Jack can be seen starring alongside Emma Corrin in the Netflix adaptation of DH Lawrence’s 1928 novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and the two actors have many steamy sex scenes throughout the movie and also appear completely nude onscreen multiple times.
“If it’s going to push the story forward then that’s that,” Jack said of his ethos for stripping off on camera in a recent interview with the Independent. “Words to the effect of, if it can’t be avoided, just crack on with it.”
But his recent experience has also encouraged Jack to reflect on his time on Skins, which he admitted he was “very naive” about when he landed his role at the age of 17.
In fact, Jack has said that he didn’t ever question whether he was comfortable with what he was being asked to do as Cook, and he’d just blindly accepted the sex and nudity as “part and parcel” of being on the show.
“It’s hard to say that you’re ever totally comfortable [filming sex scenes],” he began. “Listen, I admit I was very naive at the time, enough so as to not check in with myself and question myself if I was feeling comfortable or not. It just felt like part and parcel of the programme in a very different time than the one we’re in now.”
Jack went on to add that while he felt “very compromised” on Skins, the most important thing is that everybody learns from it so that the issues don’t happen again.
“You feel very compromised and if you don’t feel that you’re protected in that environment, it can be very unnecessarily daunting,” he explained. “I think what’s important is that them discussions are being had to make sure that whatever was happening [on Skins] that wasn’t right, it seems, is addressed and doesn’t repeat itself.”
In addition to the uncomfortable sex scenes, former cast members have also revealed that they were pressured into looking a certain way and even encouraged to skip meals while working on Skins.
Laya recalled the female cast members queuing up in their bikinis so that the male showrunner could approve their bodies before they filmed a swimwear scene.
“There was one point where we were told to skip breakfast, and for dinner we should just have a jacket potato,” she said on last year’s podcast. "We had to go to Morocco for the first episode of Season 6, and we each had to, in a bikini or our swimwear, one by one stand in a room with just us and the creator of the show.”
“He was male and a lot older than we were — we were between the ages of 16 and 18 — and be told if we looked good enough to film in Morocco,” Laya added. "Costume told me to go first because I'm the most comfortable one, to show the other girls it's not that bad — but it was bad.”
“At the time, I thought it was horrible,” she concluded. “But I think it’s so much fucking worse now.”
April replied: “At the time you're young and you don't know any better. You don't really know what to say, to speak out, is this OK. … And as with a lot of victims of trauma, you look back at it and think, Yeah, that was fucked up.”
Skins was created by father and son Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain, and in response to the podcast episode, Bryan’s rep previously said in a statement: “We’re deeply and unambiguously sorry that any cast member was made to feel uncomfortable or inadequately respected in their work during their time on Skins. We're committed to continually evolving safe, trustworthy and enjoyable working conditions for everyone who works in the TV industry."