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By starring in director Andrea Arnold’s adaptation of “Wuthering Heights,” Kaya Scodelario is the latest in a long line of British ingénues to earn her spurs in a period drama.
But the 19-year-old Londoner doesn’t channel the delicate turns of phrase and genteel manners that the genre is known for. Instead, Scodelario gives an emotionally raw performance as Catherine Earnshaw in Arnold’s earthy, rough-hewn adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic novel. The film, which gets its U.S. premiere this weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, earned much buzz when it premiered in Europe at the Venice Film Festival late last year, with Britain’s Daily Telegraph noting that Scodelario “crackles with flirtatious petulance” in the role.
“For me the whole point of this story is that [Catherine] loves [Heathcliff] so much that it almost kills her — well it does eventually kill her,” says Scodelario, in her soft London accent. “I think a lot of people assume that ‘Wuthering Heights’ is this great love story, but I think the first thing [Arnold] said to me that it wasn’t, it’s very dark, deep and conflicting. It’s very kind of Gothic and a bit f---ed up to be honest.”
Arnold, who is known for gritty films such as “Red Road,” set on a tough Glasgow housing project, places her “Wuthering Heights” on northern England’s punishingly windswept, rainy Yorkshire Moors. While much of the action centers on Catherine and Heathcliff as children, Scodelario and first-time actor James Howson play the older Catherine and Heathcliff, when they reunite after she’s unhappily married to another.
Scodelario, whose mother is Brazilian, says that Arnold’s unconventional approach is what attracted her to the role. Filming in the remote Yorkshire town of Hawes helped Scodelario tap into the visceral qualities of the film.
“People find it hard to understand how one emotion can effect someone so much,” says the actress, who’s speaking over the phone ahead of traveling to Los Angeles, where her services are in increasing demand. “[But] I think at that age, as a teenager in a place like that, where there is nothing, once you fall in love with someone that is everything to you, that is your world, that is all-consuming.”
The film’s rural isolation is a world away from Scodelario’s best-known role as a rebellious, aloof teenager in “Skins,” the long-running teen drama from the U.K.’s Channel 4 network. The show is notorious in Britain for depicting a group of fictional teens’ hard-drinking, drug-taking shenanigans. Scodelario played the role of the emotionally fragile Queen Bee Effy Stonem from the ages of 14 through 17, which she won after she got talking to the show’s director at an open audition held near her north London school.
Following her turn as Catherine, Scodelario now has a slew of film roles calling her across the pond. She’s shot “Now Is Good,” a romantic comedy, alongside Dakota Fanning and Jeremy Irvine, that’s due for release this year, and is now shooting the title role in “Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes,” alongside Jessica Biel and Alfred Molina. She’s been working with a dialogue coach to nail the American accent
It’s likely that Scodelario’s red-carpet profile will also be on the rise, given that she’s blessed with a model-esque combination of long chestnut hair, piercing blue eyes and a willowy frame. She’s already worn Burberry for her appearance in Venice, but notes that feeling “comfortable” on the red carpet is a priority — and she’s not above shopping the high street. The actress sported a Topshop minidress for another Venice photo call, but not without a bit of angst beforehand.
“I phoned my mum in like floods of tears, [saying] ‘I don’t know what to wear, I’ve only got Topshop, everyone’s going to take the piss out of me because I’m in Topshop,’” recalls Scodelario. “And she was like, ‘No, wear what you feel comfortable in.’ So I did and I did feel comfortable and happy in my little Topshop dress.”