Plucked from 8,000 hopefuls, Edinburgh schoolgirl Freya Mavor landed a leading role in one of the coolest shows on television. Alice Wyllie catches up with the 17-year-old who plays Skins' new bad girl, Mini
• Freya Mavor has found it difficult to fit in her final-year studies at school with her new TV role. Picture: Ian Georgeson
FREYA MAVOR looks like she was born to play the role of the aloof popular girl on everyone's favourite debauched teen drama, Skins. Tall, blonde and beautiful, the 17-year-old Edinburgh schoolgirl (she is in her final year at Mary Erskine) plays Mini McGuinness in season five, the token bad girl who rubs everyone up the wrong way, but still comes out on top. Only she's quick to assure me that in reality she couldn't be more different to her on-screen character
We meet at the Caves in Edinburgh where Mavor is hosting a "Skins Party" (shorthand for the kind of out-of-control gathering held while the parents are away where anything and everything goes) and she's sporting all the trademarks of a Skins cast member. There's the bouncy confidence, the typically teenage rising inflection and the nonchalant dress sense; today she's wearing a furry leopard-print coat with tights, green hi-tops and piles of mismatched gold jewellery.
Her sense of style, however, is where the similarities to the manipulative Mini end. She is convivial and polite, but admits to having thrown a few "Skins parties" in the past. "It was ridiculous," she says with a giggle. "My parents would only be going out to the cinema for a few hours, but I'd get everyone in then try to get everything cleared before they come back. But it would never work.
Something would always be smashed, and I'd always try and act so innocent but I'd have someone hiding behind a curtain or in the bathroom."
Skins is a Bafta-winning E4 teen drama which explores the warts-and-all realities of the lives of teenagers in the UK, complete with lashings of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. Since it hit our screens in 2007 it has been critically lauded and is seen as essential viewing for anyone under 21, and has proven so successful that a US version has just been launched. It is written, in part, by teenagers, to ensure the storylines remain relevant, and there's a new cast every couple of seasons to keep things fresh. And unlike many other teen dramas, from 90210 to Dawson's Creek, teenage characters are played by teenage cast members, not actors in their mid-twenties.
And so it came to be that Mavor – who had no formal acting experience – found herself auditioning alongside 8,000 hopefuls at an open casting call last year. After being told she had been successful, she had just three days to process the information before she had to travel from her home in Canonmills to London to begin improvisation workshops, to bond with the rest of the cast. Since completing filming on the fifth series – she has been confirmed to return for the sixth – she has also starred in the advertising campaign for Pringle of Scotland's Spring/Summer 2011 collection.
"I remember getting the call and saying I'd do it," she says. "Then after I hung up I just started laughing for ages because I was just like, 'What has just happened?'" It's easy to forget that through all this, she has also been busy with her final year at school. "I missed the deadline to apply to university, which su-ucks," she says, "cos I was hoping to apply for a deferred entry to study philosophy combined with theatre studies. Trying to fit in writing essays and doing dissertations, then having to take your mind out of education and into your professional work is really hard because it's almost two different states of mind. One moment I'm adapting back into the school environment, and then I have to rip myself out of that again. In a way that kind of stress is good, though, because it pushes you to really do your best in both areas."
So, what do her peers make of her forthcoming celebrity? "There's a bit of teasing from boys in my year because being in something like this everyone knows what it is, everyone feels as if they're involved as well," she says. "Skins is something that everyone has an opinion on, so its strange going into it because I watched it before and so have all my friends. I remember going to school and everyone saying, 'Did you see what happened on Skins last night?' You discuss it. So it's a show that causes a lot of debate between people my age." Her parents have been hugely supportive of her decision to go into acting. After all, the theatre runs in the family. Her father, James Mavor, is an award-winning playwright who heads up the MA screenwriting course at Napier University. Her grandfather was Ronald Bingo Mavor, The Scotsman's theatre critic in the early 1960s before he became the director of the Scottish Arts Council. And her great-grandfather, the playwright, Oswald Henry Mavor, helped to set up Glasgow's Citizens Theatre.
Freya, too, is keen to forge a career in the theatre, and despite her lack of experience she has been tipped for the top by industry bods including Scottish actress Clare Grogan, who plays Mini's mother and has described Mavor as having a "massive future ahead of her". It seems that theatre would suit the young actress who talks passionately about her interest in working in ensemble casts, an experience she particularly enjoyed with Skins. "Working on Skins, it throws eight teens together and puts you in this intense experience for six months," she says. "So you're forced into this friendship at the beginning. But through being together, real, true, genuine, amazing friendships start to mould and by the end of it you're all so close and you know each other so well."
Of course, as is the pattern with Skins, that group of young actors will be lucky if they get to spend two seasons together. The show acknowledges that teenagers do grow up, and that we'd rather watch the wacky exploits of a new generation of brats than follow the familiar faces to university.
After all, the japes our group of misfits get themselves involved in tend to be the kind of things which couldn't possibly happen to anyone over the age of 16. Having said that, the behaviour of the characters can be so extreme that it can seem far-fetched. Is it?
"Sometimes you see things on Skins and you think, 'No, this stuff doesn't happen, this isn't believable.' But you do find yourselves in these moments, especially as a teen, that are so bizarre and unbelievable. You might find yourself at an insane party or in a situation where you think, 'How did this happen?'
"I remember so many times hearing friends saying, 'This feels like such a Skins moment'. That's almost become like a defining thing, when something's really, really extreme, when you have a crazy bizarre random night, you might say that felt like a "Skins night". So you do find yourself in moments where you think it is realistic because this stuff does happen. I remember running down this massive hill with two friends at 5am and the sun was coming up and we had to get to this party, and I was shouting, 'This feels like a Skins moment!" It's kind of extreme but you do get it in real life which I think is what's great about it."
With that she has to go to attend to her hosting duties. Hundreds of teenagers will soon be lined up outside the Caves, expecting a wild party and she's at the helm. Just a year ago she was a normal schoolgirl and now she's a star on one of the coolest shows on television and has taken centre-stage in a campaign for one of the biggest fashion houses in the country. Freya Mavor is definitely having a 'Skins moment'.