Freya Mavor: from Skins to stardom

Published in The i on April 11, 2017

Ten years ago, Skins sauntered onto our TV screens, spliff and vodka bottle in hand. It showed a bunch of teenagers in Bristol getting messy and messing up, but had a big heart too. The smartest move was casting unknown teenagers – but Skins alumni have gone on to conquer the West End, TV schedules and Hollywood.

Freya Mavor is the latest to make the leap. Still best known for playing Mini McGuinness, Skins’ fearsome queen bee, the 23-year-old is now appearing in the big-screen version of Julian Barnes’ Booker-winning novella, The Sense of an Ending. Jim Broadbent plays Tony, a middle-aged curmudgeon who, after a being left an a mysterious bequest, finds himself reconsidering his past. Mavor plays Veronica, Tony’s first love, in flashbacks to the 1960s.

Mavor, with her thick corn-blonde hair and freckles, is positively radiant on screen – but also has an arrogantly cool amusement. It’s a romantic female lead that’s very much in control; Tony (Billy Howle) doesn’t stand a chance.

The book was already one Mavor’s favourites – “I was a massive fan, I ended up reading most of [Barnes’] books” – and the project also gave her a chance to meet one her heroes: Charlotte Rampling plays the older Veronica.

“She’s an absolute icon. She has such integrity, she doesn’t buy into any of the bullshit actresses get pressured into, to look good, be Photoshopped, to look 10 years younger. She looks her age and looks absolutely amazing. It’s an inspiration for young actresses to see that.”

Mavor grew up in Edinburgh, and acting was always on the cards: her mother, Jude, was an opera singer and her father, James, a playwright/drama lecturer. But it was an open audition for Skins in 2010 that provided her break.

“I was a big fan,” she says. “So I saved up pocket money and got on a train down to Bristol alone. But people brought their family, their mates – it was such an X Factor, weird thing.” From 8,000 hopefuls, she bagged the part.

Mavor confirms filming was just as wild as you’d expect: “getting eight 17-year-olds together, there’s bound to be mischief and madness. They’re such charged years, so full of hormones. But it was a real family; they took good care of their actors.”

Brimmingly enthusiastic, Mavor is nothing like the bitchy Mini – although in a tie-dyed crop top under a teddy-bear coat, she looks like a Skins character who’s swapped Bristol for East London. In fact, Mavor moved to the capital last year from Paris, where she’d been for four years; having lived in France as a child, she’s fluent.

Paris lived up to all her romantic expectations. “I just moved there because I thought it would be cool! I love it – it’s so beautiful and I look at it through foreign eyes because I don’t have that grumpy Parisian thing…”

She was busy there, studying physical theatre, forming a band Collective Kingdom (their first EP is out this summer), and starring in the Nouvelle Vague-style movie The Lady in the Car with the Glasses and the Gun. Filming in France was certainly fun – “they have written into the union that they have to have wine and cheese at every lunch” – but it’s been the physical theatre workshops that really changed her.

“The British training system is a lot more about text and characters, we’re very cut off from our bodies. We’re very awkward! I’m trying to steer away from that – and not always managing…”

She appears to be managing just fine: her recent, totally magnetic performance in Good Canary, a play directed by John Malkovich at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, saw Mavor win raves for her portrayal of a fierce but troubled young woman addicted to speed. There are talks of transferring to the West End or New York.

“I was so lucky, as a woman, to get a role like that; there aren’t many,” she observes. How was being directed by John Malkovich? “He always plays psychopaths, but he’s the calmest man: he’s like a buddha. It was the first play I’d done and I was terrified! And he was so supportive.”

As a Scot turned Parisian turned Londoner, Mavor is unsurprisingly outspoken about recent political convulsions. She was in France for the EU referendum – “it was so upsetting; it still is upsetting,” – and Brexit strengthened her existing warm feeling towards Scottish independence.

“Brexit does not reflect me. I feel, especially at the moment, so proud to be Scottish. Nicola Sturgeon is one of the only politicians with any integrity.”

When we meet, Mavor is about to return to France to make some short films to accompany her own poems. Movies, plays, records, poetry – that’s a lot of different projects on the go…

“They all feed into each other. I adore acting and I hope I can make a career out of it – seven years down the line, she’s still hoping one day it will be her job…!” Mavor rolls her eyes, before adding that really she’s just interested in “anything that involves telling a story. It all helps fuel this life, saying you’re an artist.”

She cringes then stops herself. She doesn’t want to take herself too seriously, but she is serious about her work. “There’s a great line in the book of The Sense of an Ending about this actually: ‘Yes, of course we were pretentious – what else is youth for?’”

‘The Sense of an Ending’ is in cinemas from 14 April


Skins: Where are they now?

Nicholas Hoult

Bad boy of the first generation, Hoult’s charismatic performance as Tony no doubt helped him bag a role in Tom Ford’s A Single Man. Since then he’s become an X Men regular, starred in Mad Max: Fury Road, not to mentioned dated Jennifer Lawrence. This year, he plays JD Salinger in biopic Rebel in the Rye.

Hannah Murray

Wide-eyed waif Cassie of the early seasons, Hannah Murray has since become a regular in Game of Thrones. She’s starred in God Help the Girl, directed by Stewart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian, and on stage in Polly Stenham’s That Face. Murray has just pulled out of an all-female version of Laura Wade’s play Posh, however, citing personal reasons.

Dev Patel

From playing goofball Anwar in Skins, Patel’s star ascended swiftly when he was cast in Slumdog Millionaire. After a few years of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, he’s recently stepped firmly back into the spotlight with Lion, which saw him nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Bafta.

Kaya Scoldelario

As the edgy Effy, she played Tony’s (Nicholas Hoult) little sister in Skins. Scoldelario has been busy since: from arty offerings Moon and Wuthering Heights to blockbuster franchises The Maze Runner and Pirates of the Caribbean. Married to fellow actor, Benjamin Walker, the pair had a baby boy in December.

Joe Dempsie

Dempsie soon transcended the dopey party-animal persona of Chris he played in Skins, with roles in The Fades, This is England, Southcliffe, and Game of Thrones. He’s rumoured to return in series 7.

Jack O’Connell

Swapping Bristol for Hollywood, O’Connell won acclaim for Starred Up, ’71 and Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken. Next, he’ll be seen in Tulip Fever, and is set to play Alexander McQueen in a film by Andrew Haigh. This summer, he appears opposite Sienna Miller in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the West End.

Where next?