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Freya Mavor and Jess Brittain - Shedding Old Skins

It's been quite a year for Freya Mavor. This time twelve months ago,
the Edinburgh teenager had just made her professional acting debut as
part of the third generation of Skins, E4's iconic yoof-TV drama about
a bunch of mad-for-it youngsters coming of age in an orgy of sex, drugs
and taking things too far. With the sixth and possibly final series of
Skins currently airing, Mavor returns to her role as Mini McGuinness,
the gang's queen bee bitch, whose good looks and motor-mouthed
put-downs are a brittle front for the frightened and not entirely
unpleasant little girl within.

Since sashaying onto the small screen, Mavor's public profile has
rocketed. Aside from Skins, in which she resumes her relationship with
a slutty mum played in a wonderful piece of casting against type by
Clare Grogan, Mavor has become something of a Scots style icon. Not
only did she become the face of Pringle Scotland for the company's
spring and summer 2011 campaign, Mavor was bestowed with the Fashion
Icon of the Year Award at the 2011 Scottish Fashion Awards.

“Oh, god, that was very weird!” she says. “Supposedly I'm Scotland's
fashion icon, which is very amusing. Modelling's never something I
really considered. I mean, I'm sitting here now eating this massive
bowl of spaghetti and a bar of chocolate, so I'm not that body
conscious at all.”

If Skins marked the start of Mavor's transformation from the giggly and
understandably excited schoolgirl she was when she appeared on these
pages a year ago, then the mature and ever so slightly louche-sounding
young lady taking a lunch-break on holiday in Paris following filming
the Skins finale suggests the metamorphosis to becoming a grown-up is
complete.

“It kind of felt like putting on an old jumper,” Mavor says of reviving
Mini, drawling lazily on her words. “You could go back and improve your
game. It felt very different going back. Last year everything was new,
but this time it was more about learning your craft and how to
manipulate your emotions and relive things. I was still finishing off
my last year of school when the series went out, so it was very weird
going in the day after Skins had been on and seeing how people reacted,
but I was very pleasantly surprised. I'd always been interested in
acting, which everybody knew about, so it didn't change things that
much. I've still got the same best friends and everything. Last year as
well, I had all these extremely hysterical moments onscreen, where
you're forced to down bottles of vodka – as you do. But this year if
anything, the new series is a lot darker. It's edgier, and a lot more
full-on.”

Two episodes in to the new series of Skins, and, after a fast-moving
series opener that found Mini and the gang causing mayhem on holiday in
Morocco, Mavor's words are more than a little close to the bone. This
may be even more the case when the two episodes that focus on Mini are
aired. Both of these were penned by first-time writer, Jess Brittain.
If the name sounds familiar to Skins aficionados, it should, as
Brittain is the twenty-three year old sister of Jamie Brittain, who
co-created Skins with the pair's father, Loanhead-born Bryan Elsley.

“I don't think it was an accident,” says Brittain of her tenure on
Skins. “Mini's always been written by young women previously, and I put
myself up for it, and was lucky to be accepted. But Mini's changed a
lot this series, and she's been put through a lot of things.”

Brittain was seventeen when Skins began, the same age as Mavor was when
she was cast.

“I was the same age group they were depicting,” Brittain recalls, “so
my dad and my brother would get me and a few of my mates in for
research, telling stories.”

Brittain originally wanted to write fiction, and already has one Skins
novel under her belt. Although she's under no illusions about how her
family connections have helped her budding career, she had to submit
ideas and scripts with all the other fledgling writers on the programme.

“It was always going to be a little bit weird,” she admits, “having
your dad as your boss and going to meetings with him, but it's all been
quite an intense few weeks while we've been filming.”

While Elsley cut his teeth writing and directing for major Scottish
theatre companies throughout the 1980s, Mavor comes from a theatrical
dynasty that dates back to her great-grand-father, Osborne Henry Mavor,
aka playwright James Bridie, who also founded the Citizens Theatre in
Glasgow. The combination of the Elsley/Brittains and the Mavors, then,
suggests a kind of youth theatre workshop on the telly that covers all
strands of the process.

“Dad's always been very clear about the collective process on Skins,”
Brittain points out. “None of us knew how to write when we came in, and
we all just played things by instinct.”

With Brittain already in talks for future script-writing jobs, Mavor
too has moved on. Having finished filming Skins a matter of weeks ago,
only now is she getting to grips with how her future might pan out.
Each generation of Skins has produced a breakout star, with Dev Patel
who played Anwar in the first two series starring in Danny Boyle's
multi-award winning Slumdog Millionaire after Boyle's daughter pointed
him towards Skins. Kaya Scodelario – Effie in series three and four -
has just played Cathy in Andrea Arnold's big-screen take on Wuthering
Heights.

Mavor is full of praise for Scodelario, and would love to see herself
cast in such high-profile roles. But, “At the moment I really want to
improve my languages and learn Spanish,” she admits. “I've only just
started having meetings and going to auditions, and I don't know how
any of that's going to pan out yet, but I have to stay realistic about
things. I realise how lucky I was getting Skins, but I know acting's
not the most secure job in the world, so I've got to try and balance
any acting jobs I get with other things.

“I think it's hard when you've got so many things you want to do,” she
says, wonderfully losing her cool a little. “I completely want to act,
but I'm still thinking of going to university, so maybe I'll
concentrate on a degree. But I really want to get some interesting
kinds of acting jobs. I'm involved with the National Youth Theatre, and
that's great for meeting people, and I'm really interested in
collaborations, so maybe I'll set up my own stuff.”

Now we're about to see the last of Mini McGuinness, and perhaps Skins
too for the forseeable future, how is Mavor coping with not having to
be nasty to everyone she meets?

“It's really strange,” she says. “The character I've been playing is
entirely fictional, but she's based on so many things. So coming to
terms with never playing Mini again or having her lifestyle, it's quite
a wrench. I never wear heels anymore, for one thing. I mean, I never
wear heels full-stop, but I always did as Mini, and now it's over, I
really miss the pains in my feet. But not much.”

Skins airs on E4, Mondays at 10pm

http://www.e4.com/skins/

The Herald, January 31st 2012
ends

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