Having broken through as Michelle in Skins, April Pearson this week sets her sights on the big screen with horror flick Tormented.
It’s always the quiet ones that you have to watch.
According to April Pearson, she’s nothing like the promiscuous, flirtatious, micro-skirted young hussy she played in Channel 4’s teen answer to Shameless, the rather fine Skins. Ditto, says the Bristol-born 20-year old, when it comes to the, eh, promiscuous, flirtatious, micro-skirted young hussy she plays in this week’s Brit horror flick, Tormented.
“I’m just not like that in real life,” she insists. “At all. The idea of walking around in a skirt that’s little more than an elastic band is not my idea of looking good. I’d much rather hide in the corner. With a big coat on. I guess I’m working out some issues…”
Hmm. Well, in Tormented, the issues being worked out involve the ghost of a bullied boy driven to suicide coming back to reek grisly revenge, killing each of his tormenters in as elaborate and imaginative way as the film’s micro budget will allow. It’s a cut above the norm, but unlikely to cause too many queues at your local multiplex.
For Pearson, it’s all part of finding her feet as an actor, having been plucked out of school and obscurity to play the part of Michelle in Skins, and soon finding herself at the centre of one of those zeitgeist shows that has everyone from the schoolyard to the broadsheets in a tizzy. For a while. The third series of Skins features an entirely new cast, a brave move on the part of the show’s producers, Pearson and her young co-stars having already set out to survive and thrive in the big bad world. Fellow Skins original Dev Patel has been doing the best of all, scoring an international hit with Slumdog Millionaire, but April’s seems to be happy to keep it low-key. For now.
PAUL BYRNE: Teenager horror flicks are ten-a-penny – what convinced you that Tormented could be special?
APRIL PEARSON: Em, well I guess, with Tormented, it’s quite an American model in quite a British set-up, so, that was quite interesting, just because I hadn’t really seen anything like that before. The typical high school set-up, but with British humour, and it was the humour that kinda drew me towards it, and the fact that I could have my head chopped off at the same time. So, the dual interest was the comic role, and this grimy, somewhat gruesome end that Tasha comes to that drew me in.
Did you feel the need to research Tasha – you were head girl at Colston’s Girls School not so long ago, so, I’m guessing this world wasn’t all that alien to you…
My school life was quite different to Tasha’s, definitely. As you said, I was the head girl, and I was kinda geeky, and not in the… Well, I was in the In Crowd, but we were quite good at school, so, I didn’t go around wearing that piece of elastic for a skirt and a see-through black blouse. So, that was quite far-flung, in terms of my own experiences at school, but I can still vividly remember what it was like to be in the school environment, so, that was definitely useful, yeah.
Just as Samuel L. Jackson will always play the Big Scary Black Man, and Ricky Gervais will always play the Pasty-Faced, Out-Of-Shape Pencil Pusher, do you feel, because you’re a rather attractive young woman, there’s a limit to the roles you’re going to be offered?
I’m really just going after the roles that I’m offered right now, but I would love to play, well, some kind of period drama, with some kind of bonnet and a corset, which would be totally different from everything I’ve played before – virginal almost. I’ve just finished doing a play, and that was totally different to the parts I’ve played before. The character was definitely not as sexually precocious, perhaps, as those I’ve played in Skins and Tormented. So, I am kinda of adding to the repertoire at the moment.
That was Suspension at the Bristol Old Vic – were you any good?
Well, I got some pretty good reviews, so, according to some people, at least, I wasn’t too bad. But it was a totally different experience to doing film. It was physically draining, and definitely a challenge, but I loved it. It was really, really good, and the cast were great, and the writer, obviously, was very passionate about it. So, it was good, and we created a little family there – sad to leave it behind, but you have to move on.
You’ve been involved in acting since you were three, and both your parents are involved in this line of work – your dad works on Casualty, where you got your first acting gig; was it always the acting life for you?
From a very early age, I always said I wanted to be an actress – apart from about 13 to 16, I wanted to be a counsellor for people with facial disfigurement, for some reason; I really don’t know why. For that short period of time, I thought I wouldn’t do acting, as it was too difficult, but then, from sixteen onwards, I realised it was exactly what I wanted to do. I was sixteen when a casting director came to our school and said, ‘Actually, you’d be quite good in Skins’. So, that turned it around for me, really.
Given that rich American teens were represented by The O.C., I always thought, given the teens on offer in Skins, it should have been called The O.D. – did you know from the start that this was something special?
I don’t think any of us realised how big it was going to get, because it became a real cult favourite, and there are people who are absolutely obsessed it. But we did know that what we were making was revolutionary; we did feel that nothing had been made like it before. And nothing had been so real in its portrayal of teenagers’ lives, and the storylines we were creating had been represented in the likes of Hollyoaks, but they’d never been 100% realistic before.
I do think that the third series is a little crap…
I don’t think that the third series is a little bit crap. Obviously, it would be better if I was in it, but, you know, you can’t have everything. I watched the first episode, just to be supportive of the new guys, and what they’re doing is, I think, great, and Skins will always be how it is. Not many producers will sack the whole of the original cast – not that we were sacked – but to completely rebrand it with a new cast, and some people may disagree with that decision, and some people really love it.
In many ways, Michelle in Skins craved attention because her mum was a serial bride. What’s your excuse for craving attention?
I don’t know. I don’t think it’s really this need to be the centre of attention, because I kind of shy away from people, even when someone comes up to me on the street and tells me that they love Skins. I just get embarrassed. I think it’s just the love of creating someone other than yourself, really. It’s disappearing off into another world for a few hours, or for a few takes, and I don’t know why I love that, but I do. It’s a real outlet.
Disappearing off into another world for a few hours has never been more difficult, that old joy of being a nobody off-screen so you can be anybody on-screen stifled by the cult of celebrity that thrives today…
Well, I still live in Bristol with my family, and that’s a wonderful base to have. I don’t really live any kind of celebrity life, and I don’t honestly know how people who are the top of their career and are really in the public eye all the time, I don’t know how they cope, because I couldn’t go through my life stepping out my front door and being photographed. For me, stepping back to Bristol, and away from all that, is great, because people don’t generally follow me here.
Are you tempted to follow Dev to sunny Tinseltown?
I’m just busy right now trying to sort out work here, so I can have some kind of decent body of work behind me before heading over there. I’ve had some interest from the States, but it hasn’t really grabbed me enough yet. Maybe I’m not confident enough yet, but I’m just enjoying the work I’m doing here too much right now. Go Dev!
Interview by Paul Byrne
Tormented is now showing in Irish cinemas