April Pearson was just 17 years old when she was cast as Michelle in the first season of the gritty British drama Skins.
The popular TV series ended up taking both sides of the Atlantic by storm after it won over viewers with its graphic depiction of teenagers indulging in drugs, sex, and alcohol.
The show ran until 2013 and a new cast was introduced every two seasons, turning Skins into a revolving door for young acting hopefuls looking for their big break.
But in 2021 — eight years after the final season aired — the cast began to expose their “fucked up” experience of filming the show.
April was one of the first to speak out against her time on the series during an episode of her podcast, Are You Michelle FromSkins?, where she was joined by Laya Lewis, who played Liv in seasons five and six.
During their incredibly candid conversation, both women admitted that they were “too young” to be naked on TV, and that they didn’t feel “protected” on set as amateur teen actors.
Despite appearing in seasons that aired years apart, Laya and April had incredibly similar first days on set where they were expected to immediately film sex scenes.
“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,” Laya recalled. “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."
April also said that every cast member she’d privately spoken to felt the same way that she and Laya did. She also said that they would have all benefited from intimacy coordinators on set, which hadn’t been implemented in the industry at the time that Skins was on air.
"The preparation for what we were going to do… Nowadays you have an intimacy coordinator as a standard for nude, intimate scenes and that just simply wasn't a thing,” she explained, adding that she “nearly cried” when she read an interview with Paul Mescal where he said that he felt “empowered” by his Normal People sex scenes.
“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,” she said.
And April has now shared some more behind-the-scenes insight into the show on TikTok after she found her old scripts, including one for Skins’ very first episode.
Initially there wasn’t anything too alarming as April went through the script in a video, where she shared her confusion at Nicholas Hoult’s character Tony being described as “blond.”
However, the mood in the TikTok noticeably changed before she told her followers: “I’ve just read the description of Michelle. It is wild.”
In a second video, April appeared to be unnerved as she read aloud from the script. “OK, so this is how Michelle is described,” she began. “A little way off, walking towards them, we see Michelle. She is 16. Very, very beautiful.”
April continued: “Michelle is closer. She smiles and waves happily. The boys wave back at her. She’s jailbait beautiful, wearing a tiny skirt and top.”
“What is ‘jailbait beautiful?’” April then asked in visible discomfort. “It doesn’t sound like a nice thing?”
Kaya joined Skins in Season 1 and was just 14 years old at the time. While Euphoria has similarly gritty storylines about sex and drugs to Skins, the actors who play the teen characters are in their early-to-mid-20s — a key difference between the two shows.
In a TikTok video, Kaya 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.”
She added in the caption: “Will always be grateful. But yeah safeguarding really wasnt a thing back then….” and Kaya 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 the star 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.”
Jack played Cook in the series and had many sex scenes — including several with Kaya. And while he has since stripped off both on camera and live on stage for other roles, Jack admitted that he was “very naive” when he was cast in Skins at 17.
In fact, Jack said that he didn’t ever question whether or not he was comfortable with what he was being asked to do as Cook, and that he 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 said. “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 program 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 the experience so that the issues don’t happen again.
In addition to the uncomfortable sex scenes and nudity, Laya and April also opened up about being pressured into looking a certain way and encouraged to skip meals while working on the show.
On April’s podcast, Laya recalled a showrunner encouraging them to skip meals before the female cast were made to queue up in their bikinis so that he could approve their bodies.
“There was one point where we were told to skip breakfast, and for dinner we should just have a jacket potato,” she said. "We had to go to Morocco for the first episode of season six, 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 went on. "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,” the star concluded. “But I think it’s so much fucking worse now.”
“At the time you're young and you don't know any better,” April said in response. “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.’”
Having starred in the earlier seasons of the show, April also shared her disappointment that Laya, as a later cast member, had not “escaped wanker producers.”
Skins was created by father and son Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain. When April’s podcast first aired, Bryan’s rep 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."
BuzzFeed News has reached out to the creators for additional comment.