Former Skins actress April Pearson shared her genuine reaction to rediscovering the show’s pilot script and rereading how her underage character was described.
Skins premiered in January 2007 on the British TV channel E4 to a lot of controversies over the show’s drug- and sex-fueled storylines. The TV series follows the lives of teenagers in Bristol as they navigate tough topics like dysfunctional families, mental illness, sexuality, substance abuse and death.
Pearson, who was 17 years old when she was cast, played the character of 16-year-old Michelle, who dates Nicholas Hoult’s character, Tony.
Since the end of the show in 2013 — the cast rotated every two seasons, so Pearson was on the show from 2007 to 2009 — cast members have come forward to share their experiences filming gritty and dark scenes while being underage with little to no acting experience.
On her podcast Are You Michelle From Skins?, Pearson alleged she was expected to film a sex scene within the first few days of shooting.
“There’s a difference between being officially old enough and mentally old enough,” Pearson said in the episode to fellow Skins actor Laya Lewis. “I was having this conversation with my husband and I was saying I do feel like I was too young, I feel like I wasn’t protected.”
Pearson also claimed that at the time, intimacy coordinators were not on set and not really a second thought to the director and showrunners.
“Nowadays you have an intimacy coordinator as a standard for nude, intimate scenes, and that just simply wasn’t a thing,” she said on the podcast. “At no point, if an interviewer had asked me ‘How do you feel in the sex scenes of Skins?’ would I have said ’empowered.'”
In February, Pearson found her original pilot script for Skins and decided to reread it. Immediately, she noticed a stark difference between how Hoult’s character was described and how hers was.
At first, Pearson lightheartedly pokes fun at how Hoult’s character was initially imagined to be blond.
“No he’s not!” she jokes.
But then Pearson turns serious and says, “I just read the description of Michelle. It is wild.”
In a follow-up video, Pearson records herself reading the script’s character description out loud.
“A little way off, walking towards them, we see Michelle,” she reads. “She is 16. Very, very beautiful.”
Later in the script, Michelle is then more specifically described as “jailbait beautiful, wearing a tiny skirt and top.”
“What is jailbait beautiful?” Pearson asks. “It doesn’t sound like a nice thing.”
One commenter pointed out it was even weirder that she was being described that way when the script is supposed to be from two teenagers’ points of view.
“Also a weird term to use in a script where there are no adults in the scene,” they wrote. “Meaning it’s him, the writer, that sees her that way, not ‘The Boys.'”
The first episode of the series, titled “Tony,” is supposed to follow Hoult’s point of view. The episode was written by Bryan Elsley and directed by Paul Gay. Around the time of the show’s airing, Elsley would have been 46.
“I tried watching Skins again in my 30s and I couldn’t get through the first episode,” another commenter said. “The way the girls were being treated made me SO UNCOMFY.”
Pearson isn’t the only cast member to talk about her time on the show. In a July 2022 TikTok, actress Kaya Scodelario, who played Tony’s little sister Effy in Seasons 1 through 4, talked about her experience watching Euphoria for the first time. Scodelario was only 14 years old when she was cast on Skins.
“Watching euphoria for the first time thinking this is crazy for 17 year olds then remembering what I was doing on TV at 14,” she captioned the reaction.
“Will always be greatful,” she added in the caption. “But yeah safeguarding really wasnt a thing back then…”
One of Scodelario’s onscreen love interests, Jack O’Connell, who played the character James Cook, told the Independent in December 2022 that in retrospect he felt his experience filming sex scenes on the show “wasn’t right.” O’Connell was 17 when he was cast.
“I was very naive at the time,” he said, “enough so as to not check in with myself and question myself if I was feeling comfortable or not. It just felt like part and parcel of the program in a very different time than the one we’re in now.”
“At the time you’re young and you don’t know any better,” Pearson said on her podcast. “You don’t really know what to say, to speak out, is this OK. … And as with a lot of victims of trauma, you look back at it and think: ‘Yeah, that was fucked up.'”
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