The actress talks YouTube videos, giant spiders, and making TV’s first “VR drama”.
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“Do you have internet on your phone,” asks Tallulah Haddon of someone on her end of the line, “can you just login to my email quickly?” The actress, model and artist and I have dialled in to discuss her latest project – the “first VR drama” – Kiss Me First, a co-sign from Channel 4 and Netflix which airs for six episodes from Monday.
Exploring Virtual Reality within the gaming world and, by extension, with technology at its core, the show was adapted by Skins co-creator Bryan Elsey from Lottie Moggach’s social media focused YA novel of the same name; that our lead – Haddon plays Leila, around whose life the show is centred – makes even this subtle reference to the world wide web outside of our conversation, is perhaps telling of just how reliant we all are on the internet, all the time. Not least when Leila’s struggling.
Still young in a career that asks her to navigate mainstream telly – she played Pearl in BBC 1’s Taboo – independent film, theatre and fashion (her Twitter avatar, for now, is from a gig modelling Meadham Kirchhoff for Topshop), alongside her work in the worlds of drag and cabaret, and her politics: she’s a feminist who identifies as queer, and spent International Women’s Day partaking in a peaceful protest following the dismissal of one of Topshop’s Strand store cleaning staff.
Such is Tallulah’s celebrity and vague relationship with social media, none of her extra-curriculars – she was at Yarl’s Wood with Sisters Uncut at the weekend – come across as anything but supremely authentic, thus proposing her as an actor the industry demands.
But first, a chat about YouTube videos and giant spiders.
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Were you aware of the Lottie Moggach novel before you were approached for Kiss Me First?
I was aware it was a novel and I read some of it, but I decided not to read the entire book because I felt that the plots were quite different.
And Leila, what kind of research did you do for the character?
She’s a young carer so I watched a lot of documentaries made by young carers to get a perspective into the daily routine into [being a carer]. My mum on the show has multiple sclerosis so I wanted to get a picture of what that was to be caring for someone on a day to day basis. A lot of these documentaries were on YouTube or Vimeo and they’d been made by quite a lot of young women, themselves, just doing video diaries and stuff and I think, especially for our generation, YouTube is like a phantom of knowledge – you can find out so much on YouTube that you couldn’t otherwise. There’s so much out there. It was more of a direct perspective rather than a production company making a documentary about young carers, it felt very direct and honest.
Technology and gaming are obviously big themes within the show. How would you describe your own relationship with technology?
I use it as a platform for my personal work – which is on my private Instagram account – but I’ve recently started using Twitter, which I didn’t really understand, but now I understand and I feel like it’s a place to sort of, make global connections with people; it’s a platform for debate and learning, so I found that really interesting in terms of sharing and retweeting and having dialogues with people about certain issues that I am passionate about.
What areas do you find yourself most engaging with and retweeting?
So, a lot of LGBT issues. And about representation and equality, whether that’s gender equality, race equality, disability equality, especially because I think, there seems to be quite a lot of wind behind several movements, so like #TimesUp, #MeToo, and a lot of stuff coming out that has been either written or are starring a lot of people of colour so, just re-tweeting people’s work, and acting as, hopefully, like a queer person in media – in terms of visibility I think that that’s important because I didn’t think that there were a lot of queer people in media when I was growing up, so that’s important to me to be vocal about and visible.
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For sure. Back to the show and gaming, is this something you’ve ever been particularly enticed by personally?
Yeah, I used to play Sims when I was younger, and Club Penguin, but they’re not particularly… they’re games you play on a computer, not ones you play on a PS4 or something, so I’ve never really been particularly into gaming. As a teenager I felt quite left out because it’s quite a male-led industry; I felt left out going to people’s houses and feeling like I didn’t have a lot of experience and there wasn’t an opportunity for me to get much experience playing video games. But recently I’ve got quite interested in games which are exploring, not just war and shooting, so games like Mass Effect, which my partner plays, I found that quite interesting because it feels like it’s not being targeted just at men and war, it feels like it’s exploring gender and sexuality and it’s a bit more free in terms of how you can move within the game and it doesn’t feel like it’s been made by a male gaze.
It’s more inclusive. In terms of the future of technology, is this something that interests or excites you?
Wow, that’s a big question. I mean, in terms of virtual reality I’ve experienced it in a protest and fine art context, and I think there’s a lot of work being made where people have constructed virtual realities or they’ve filmed real life experiences, and you experience them, which brings more awareness to the issues that they have filmed. I think it’s quite exciting in terms of – if it can be used to raise awareness, not just for entertainment, to also be used in a political and geographical sense.
Definitely. So talking more generally about your career, when did you first get into acting?
I mean I kind of just did it at school because everyone told me, when they were doing drama, that they didn’t have any homework.
And who, if any, are your acting heroes?
Oh my god, well, I was just looking up her name because I have real memory loss with these things. I’m just looking it up, one second. Oh my god… I really like Juliette Lewis because she’s also like a rock star, I like her attitude and Lupita Nyong’o is really cool. Yeah, I really admire their careers.
Beyond acting, who and what inspires you?
Oh god. I sound really uninspired. Nothing [laughs]. I’d say probably the art world that I exist in outside of it [acting], so cabaret and drag. DIY performance, people making mad costumes out of things they find in their houses; stuff like that.
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Do you find yourself bringing that part of you – drag and cabaret – into your acting? Do the two marry quite easily?
I think there are certain elements of it that I use, it depends on the role. It’s about practising that skill of engaging with an audience and engaging with material, and not being afraid to take risks, which I think is definitely a transferable skill into more mainstream acting and yeah, just being aware of yourself and your body, and what it means to inhabit an energy of something, whether it’s a really strange character or something more conventional.
Do you have a “dream” role?
Maybe like a giant spider.
Oh, why a spider?
I’ve just always liked tarantulas and I think it would be fun. I saw a really cool video of this woman moving like a spider and it was really interesting. Does that sound kind of mad?
Was it some kind of artwork or something viral on YouTube?
I think it was on YouTube, I’m not sure if it was intentional or not – I think it might have just gone viral, like by accident. But it looked like a piece of movement.
You’ve explored TV, film and theatre already in your career. Do you have a preference?
I prefer film, just because there’s some languages that you can’t explore in theatre that you can in film I think.
So finally, Kiss Me First airs on Channel 4 next Monday before heading to Netflix, which must be pretty exciting. What do you hope people will take away from the show?
I’m kind of excited to see what they think about the relationship between Tess and Leila which is my character and the other lead, Simona Brown. I don’t think it’s giving any particular answers to any questions about life online, but I’m interested to see how people respond to their relationship, and how they respond to their realities together.
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