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Skins stars share their experiences of ‘traumatising’ sex scenes

April Pearson and Laya Lewis, who played Michelle Richardson and Liv Malone in the cult teen show, also allege they were told to skip meals ahead of bikini scenes

Two actors who starred in Skins, the cult British TV shows that ran from 2007 to 2013, have shared the “traumatising” experiences they had on-set of the late aughts TV show.

On a May 17 episode of her podcast Are You Michelle From Skins?, host April Pearson, who played Michelle Richardson, and former cast-member Laya Lewis, who played Liv Malone in seasons five and six, opened up about their discomfort while filming the show’s sex scenes.

“At the time you're young and you don’t know any better,” Pearson said. “You don’t really know what to say, to speak out, is this okay… And as with a lot of victims of trauma, you look back at it and think: ‘Yeah, that was fucked up.’”

She added: “There’s a difference between being officially old enough and mentally old enough. 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.”

Lewis, who was 18 during the time of filming, believed she was given more sex scenes because of her age. “I do think fair enough, we are actors and we are acting, but I think if you want to pluck children out of the street, which is essentially what they were doing to have this authentic onscreen thing going on, there needs to be a bit more help,” she said.

Pearson recalled how there was no intimacy coordinator on set, as is now standard practice to ensure the consent and the safety of those involved in shooting sex scenes.

“Laya, you're not the first person to have said you’ve carried some negativity from that experience,” she said. “We’re talking seven series of the same show and everyone feeling the same, certainly the women and some of the men I have spoken to feel the same. Nowadays, you have an intimacy co-ordinator as a standard for nude, intimate scenes and that just simply wasn’t a thing.”

Created by father-son duo Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain, Skins featured a cast of actors who went on to become household names, including Daniel Kaluuya, Dev Patel, and Nicholas Hoult. The show was a sensation among its teen audience for its unflinching portrayal of sex, drugs, and mental health.

Pearson and Lewis also alleged that the show staff restricted their food and said they felt body-shamed constantly. They said that women cast members were told to skip meals ahead of filming scenes in their bikinis. “I definitely felt a lot of pressure to be smaller or slimmer,” Pearson said. “From the actual creators or people behind the scenes. There was one point where we were told to skip breakfast, and for dinner we should just have a jacket potato.”

Lewis said she and other teenage cast members had to line up in bikinis before shooting and were told “if (they) looked good enough to film in Morocco”.

“Costume told me to go first because I’m the most comfortable one, to show the other girls it's not that bad – but it was bad... I will never forget that moment," Lewis said. “At the time I thought it was horrible, but I think it’s so much fucking worse now.”

Reflecting on the experience, Pearson added: “A conversation I’m having a lot with (Skins) alumni is, at the time you’re young, you don’t know any better, you don’t really know what to say and speak out.”

“As with a lot of victims of trauma, you look back at it and go, ‘Yeah that was fucked up.’”

A representative for Elsley responded to the claims, telling The Sun: “We’re deeply and unambiguously sorry that any cast member was made to feel uncomfortable or inadequately respected in their work during their time on Skins. We’re committed to continually evolving safe, trustworthy, and enjoyable working conditions for everyone who works in the TV industry.”

A spokesperson from Channel 4, which ran Skins, told The Daily Mail: “It is very concerning to hear of the comments made. We now have a confidential ‘Speak Up’ facility available and widely publicised on our production call sheets for current productions, however, we take all allegations of inappropriate behaviour very seriously and encourage anyone with concerns to come forward.”

Read our interview with Normal People intimacy coordinator, Ita O’Brien, here.