MTV’s adaptation of the controversial British series Skins has caused quite an uproar in this country. The show features a group of teens who experiment with drugs, alcohol and underage sex.
The problem is the teenagers who play the roles are mostly under 18. This has led to several of the series’ advertisers pulling their commercials, plus calls for a US government investigation into child pornography, as US law bans visual depictions of children under 18 involved in explicit sexual acts.
The series was spotlighted at the TV Critics tour last summer, and we asked the creator of the show, Bryan Elsley, about his problems shooting it, and his young cast about their experiences acting in it.
The American version is extremely close to the British version.
Bryan Elsley: We set out down a path to write a show which was adapted from the original U.K. series. But we’ve hired a bunch of very exciting, young, talented American screenwriters, and already the series is looking very different.
We have so many teenagers in the room, not just writers, but our young persons’ advisory group just like back in the U.K. They are freer in their thinking and less bound up by formats and formulas. They like it to be funny, they like it to be sexy, they like it to be heartfelt.
Did you go back and watch the British version or did you stay away from it to form your own version?
James Newman: I had seen a couple of the episodes prior to being cast on the show. But once I was cast, I stopped watching it, because I feel like it’s important, as does Bryan, to not be affected by something that was done before and bring something new to the show and to the character that I’m playing.
Sophia Black D’Elia: All of us were pretty big fans of the U.K. show before we were cast on the American show. So we had all seen the original show. And I think the majority of us stopped watching it once Bryan said, ‘You probably shouldn’t watch the show anymore and try to be your own people.
Were you shocked by the content of the original version and if you were, were you scared to sign on?
Britne Oldford: I personally wasn’t necessarily shocked by the original content, even though it definitely was magnified. Teenage life can be pretty crazy. We’d all been teenagers, and we still are. But it’s definitely exciting, and we’re just looking to make a really neat show that people like.
Ron Mustafaa: Yeah, same here. I thought the show was really raw and real, it’s about friendship too. I think that’s what Skins really shows. And to be honest, I was really happy and proud to be on a show like that, that represented teenage life to the full extent.
How many of you are under 18?
(Rachel Thevenard, Jesse Carere, Eleanor Zick and Britne Oldford raise their hands)
Isn’t it a lot more difficult to work in America with actors who are under 18?
Bryan Elsley: It’s not more difficult. In the UK we’re very highly regulated as well. I think Skins has a very responsible attitude towards the young people. We have a clear set of protocols and policies for working with them. We work closely with the unions and with all the regulatory bodies. We don’t expect or usually encounter problems at all.
Eleanor, is it true you are only 15?
Eleanor Zich: I’m 14, actually.
You actually start the show by stumbling back from an all-nighter. That’s kind of an adult thing for a 14-year-old.
Eleanor Zich: It was very interesting. I know a lot of people who are my age, and who go through those things and live that lifestyle. I think a lot of teenagers around that age group, 14, 15, start to break away from their childhood, and maybe try and rebel more. And I think that’s what she’s about.
The kids in this show are pretty wild. Are you playing something that pretty far away from what you’re used to?
Jesse Carere: Yeah. Personally, I’m playing someone who is kind of relatable to me. And that’s expected because we’re acting. It’s not a reality TV show. I’m the same in the sense that we both like to have a good time with our friends and keep them close.
Sofia Black D’Elia: They do do a lot of crazy things, but teenagers do crazy things. And it’s shocking, and it’s magnified, like we said before. But we all know people like this. We all know kids like this. We all know 14-year-olds like this.
Rachel Thevenard: And the important thing is that whatever choices they make and whatever mistakes they may make, they always learn from those choices. So I think that’s really the message that Skins wants to hammer through, is that, ‘Yeah, there’s a 14-year-old; she has had this crazy night, but look at her. She doesn’t look like she had that much fun.’