Why Kaya Scodelario might just be the new Keira Knightley
Here’s a tip: “check out Two Fours on Central. Great pub. Good fish and chips.” Springtime Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Kaya Scodelario is dishing out local food advice. The 23-year-old British-Brazilian actress is nearing the end of her shoot for Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, the sequel to a US$30 million-budgeted (Dhs110 million) original that raked in US$340 million (Dhs1.2 billion) last year. Which is decent maths in anyone’s book. Shortly, she will decamp to Queensland, Australia, to lark about on the ocean waves with Johnny Depp, for the latest instalment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Dead Men Tell No Tales.
“If my life were a movie,” she deadpans. “You’d say it was quite an arc.”
Indeed. Scodelario had no professional acting experience – “I just liked drama a bit at school” – when she started in the role that would initially define her, as Effy Stonem in Brit “youth” sensation Skins.
Effy is significant for three reasons: firstly, she remains the show’s longest-running character. Second, such was Scodelario’s early ability with an arched eyebrow that she upstaged all of her co-stars (including fellow Hollywood breakouts Nicolas Hoult, Jack O’Connell and Dev Patel) without even speaking a line until the show’s eighth episode. Third, no-one else’s character became quite so notorious. “I once bumped into a group of girls dressed as Effy at Halloween,” Scodelario told The Telegraph in 2013. “Well, I never thought that would happen.”
The success of Skins propelled Scodelario into features, in which she has mixed up smart British productions like Andrea Arnold’s 2011 take on Wuthering Heights with big dumb blockbusters like 2010’s half-baked Clash of the Titans. She learned her craft, and paid her bills. “And now it feels just like hanging out with friends,” she says of this second Maze Runner instalment. “I was worried that on this one everyone would be like, ‘Oh, we’re famous now. I’m not talking to you anymore. I’m going to go and meditate.’”
The Maze Runner series may be based on a trilogy of young adult sci-fi novels set in a future dystopia, but no-one is claiming it’s the next Hunger Games. Instead it is a solid franchise that is getting better slowly (“we’re in the meat and vegetables of the story now,” Scodelario says) that pretty much does what it says on the tin. “I’ve never had to run so much in my life,” she laughs. “Given it’s called Maze Runner, you’d have thought I might have seen that coming.” As for Scodelario, as much as she may not like it, she is going to have to get used to those New Keira Knightley labels, too, what with that background and the Captain Jack-based future. “The thing is, I’m very aware of this industry and the kind of movies we make and what can happen,” she says. “I don’t have any more confidence than I ever used to. And I still want to work on indies. I still want to work with first-time directors. I don’t just want to go into a tumbleweed of Hollywood female parts.” She looks at the ground, perhaps to make sure her feet are still on it. “It’s all a bit ridiculous really.” Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is in cinemas from Thursday September 17.