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Freya Mavor - New Skin on the Box

Freya Mavor is finding it hard to fit in interviews this week. The
seventeen-year old is into extreme essay writing for her final year
dissertation on organ donation which forms part of her studies in
religious and moral philosophy at an Edinburgh independent school. As
if her studies weren’t making life hectic enough, Mavor is dashing
between Edinburgh, London and Bristol to promote the new series of
Skins, the in-your-face yoof TV drama she’s just joined as part of the
third generation of young upstarts who muscle into series five of the
programme, the first episode of which airs on E4 next week.

In the programme, Mavor plays Mini McGuinness, whose willowy blonde
good looks may have all the boys swooning over her, but whose queen bee
demeanor masks a more vulnerable side. For someone who’s never acted
professionally before, Mavor’s screen debut is pretty striking.

“I was very apprehensive about what it was going to be like”, Mavor
says of filming on location in Bristol. “Because I’d never done it
before it was even more worrying, but I couldn’t imagine how nice
everyone was going to be. Obviously Skins is joyful and lovely, even
though it can be quite dark sometimes, and I just couldn’t believe I
was getting to live out my passion like that.”

Of Mini, Mavor giggles that she’s “a bit of a bitch, really. She’s
manipulative, slightly bossy and demanding, a bit of a stereotype of
the tall blonde school bully, really. But as the episodes go on you see
behind that, and see that’s not really a bully as such, but is someone
who always wants to be in control, and doesn’t like it if something is

Already a fan of Skins, Mavor decided to try out for the show after
overhearing people talking about the series’ open auditions while she
was on the bus. After eight auditions, she was surprised to be cast at
all, let alone as a character so hard-nosed.

“I’m the last person to start bossing people around”, Mavor says. “I’m
such a pushover, and would be terrified of Mini in real life.
Sometimes I could hardly say the lines because I felt so bad, and kept
on wanting to say I was sorry.”

If the name Mavor rings a bell with long-standing theatre-philes, so it
should. Because Ms Mavor’s small-screen debut in Skins sees her become
the latest of an artistic dynasty that has had a major influence on
both the Scottish and international scene. Mavor’s father is James
Mavor, who, besides leading the MA Screenwriting course at Edinburgh’s
Napier University, is developing an adaptation of James Hogg’s
Confessions of a Justified Sinner with Ian Rankin, whose work he
adapted for the 2007 film, Reichenbach Falls, directed by former
Traverse playwright and member of the Merry Mac Fun Co, John McKay.
Mavor has also written for popular TV dramas such as Dr Finlay and
Monarch of the Glen since his writing career began with award-winning
stage plays on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Continuing the lineage, Freya Mavor’s grand-father was Ronald ‘Bingo’
Mavor, who moved from being the Scotsman newspaper’s theatre critic to
become director of the Scottish Arts Council during the 1960s. During
his tenure, Mavor encouraged Jim Haynes and Richard Demarco at the then
fledgling Traverse Theatre, and later the old Third Eye Centre in
Glasgow that would eventually morph into the Centre of Contemporary
Arts. As a playwright, Mavor’s works were produced at the Byre Theatre,
St Andrews and Pitlochry Festival Theatre. One of these, the 1972
piece, A Private Matter, was controversial for featuring a full-frontal
nude scene that might even cause Skins aficionados to blush.

It is Freya Mavor’s great-grandfather, however, who really changed the
landscape. As a playwright, Oswald Henry Mavor, aka James Bridie, was
influential enough in Scotland, London and on Broadway with works such
as The Anatomist and Mr Bolfry. Even more significant, however, was his
role in setting up both the Citizens Theatre and the Royal Scottish
Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, effectively changing Glasgow’s
artistic map forever. Mavor/Bridie also played a role in the
inauguration of the Edinburgh International Festival.

“I never really saw much of my grand-dad”, says Mavor junior of Ronald
Mavor, who died in 2007. “I guess writing’s quite an isolated thing to
do, so there was never anything glamorous to be around, but I must’ve
got this passion for what I do from somewhere, so it must’ve definitely
influenced me. It’s brilliant to think of some of the things my
great-grandad achieved, which were phenomenal, but it’s nice to go in
on the acting side of things. Obviously I can ask for tips, but I’ve
never acted in front of my family, so it’s going to be quite strange
from now on.”

Mavor’s previous acting experience was in school productions of
Shakespeare’s The Tempest as Miranda and in The Merchant of Venice
prior to a stint in the National Youth Theatre. Mavor’s stage debut was
playing Hades in “oh, what’s that Greek play called? Orpheus in the
Underworld, that’s right.”

Mavor has plans to continue her passion on both stage and screen, and
expresses a penchant for physical theatre - “not mime!” – and would
love to play that other tough cookie, Hedda Gabler.

“She’s an insanely strong character”, Mavor enthuses, “but I wouldn’t
want to get typecast in bitchy parts. That’s not the role I’m used to
in life. At least, I hope I’m not a controlling bitch anyway.”

In truth, theatre has never been very far from Skins, from the show’s
playing style to its creative personnel. A certain Scottish influence
too crept into the mix long before Mavor was cast. Skins co-creator,
Loanhead-born Bryan Elsley, began his career in the 1980s as a Scottish
Arts Council backed trainee theatre director, working with 7:84,
Wildcat and the Traverse Theatre, while he also adapted Robin Jenkins’
novel, The Cone Gatherers, for Communicado in 1991.

Elsley had also been one half of comedy duo Dusty and Dick with Harry
Enfield, who was cast in Skins one and two as the father of leader of
the gang Tony. Other actors familiar from sketch shows such as Sally
Phillips, Morwenna Banks, John Bishop and Arabella Weir lent things a
heightened archness that suggested all grown-ups are ridiculous. Peter
Capaldi played the terminally angry Dad of geeky Sid in a manner not
unlike his Malcolm Tucker creation, receiving visitations from the
likes of Maurice Roeves and Mike Nardone as he went. In series three
there was even a scene at a bus stop involving a bottle of Irn Bru and
a bad impression of a Scots accent.

Developed from workshops and with large dollops of creative input from
both the cast and a pool of their contemporaries, Skins is effectively
youth theatre on the telly, albeit prettier, racier and with a better
soundtrack. Elsley isn’t involved in the third generation of Skins,
having decamped stateside to work on an American version of the show
while his son and Skins co-creator Jamie Brittain takes full charge
back in blighty.

Given her own pedigree, what, one wonders, does Mavor’s father think of
his daughter’s move into the spotlight?

“He’s mortified!”, she says, quick as a flash. “No, I’m joking. My
parents are just happy that I’ve started doing something I love. Of
course, any dad watching their daughter in a programme like Skins would
always be worried, but by the same token I’m really nervous about my
friends and family seeing me act, because it leaves me really exposed,
and if I’m really bad at it then I’m screwed.”

Beyond her dissertation, high on Mavor’s list of priorities are plans
to attend the Edinburgh leg of a series of Skins parties taking place
in the home town of each cast member. Whether the event ends up as
debauched as similarly styled nights out in the show, remains to be
seen, though still being just seventeen, Mavor’s under-age status may
already be causing a kerfuffle.

“It is an over eighteen thing” she reflects, “but I’m sure they’ll make
an exception. They can’t kick me out. That would be quite bad.”

And for a moment there, it could be Mini McGuinness talking.

Skins series five airs from Thursday January 27th at 10pm on E4. The
Skins party happens at The Caves, Edinburgh, Tuesday January 25th,

The Herald, January 18th 2011



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