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Thick-Skinned: Interview with Larissa Hope

Lara Hope
The Skins star on fame, university and being from Bristol.

This week I spoke with Larissa Hope. You may remember her as ‘Jal’ – one of the original cast members of that wildly successful television programme, Skins (no biggie). She gave me the low-down on Skins, going to university and gave some ace advice for getting into the industry as a young person from Bristol.

So, tell me, how did you get into acting?

So basically, I just went on an open audition [for Skins]. I say ‘I just’ because I was on a lunch-break at work, at New Look and a friend told me about this audition for Skins. So I went during my lunch break and that’s literally how I got into it. So, the universe was on my side that day.

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The original Skins cast, 2007.

What was the audition like? What did you have to do?

It was in Oceana in Bristol [now, Pryzm]. I remember it smelt like last night’s party, which was like a beer smell. They gave us like a little, small piece of paper – like smaller than A4. Just a few lines, and they had that for each character. I was reading for Jal, I think it was the opening scene that we did in College Green. So, they gave my friend one and they gave me one because obviously Jal’s character was very specific so they wanted someone who was mixed raced. So yeah, we just read that and then they asked us to do it again.

That’s so good. What was that waiting process, after your audition, like? Did you think you were going to get it? 

The waiting didn’t really bother me because I wasn’t really invested because I was on my lunch break, it wasn’t something that was like do-or-die so I was kinda just like going with it. But when I got the part I was really excited, mainly because yay I’m gunna have money. So yeah, I was thinking about that at the time. I didn’t think it was going to be as big as it was. In my head, these people were paying me money to act and then I was just gunna carry on with my daily life and then it was going to be forgotten about – that’s what I thought. Little did I know (laughs). I didn’t have any expectations. I was just a seventeen-year old who was like ‘alright, whatever’. So yeah, I had no expectations so what happened after was yeah, it was great, yeah amazing.

You were seventeen when you started Skins, how was it growing up in the public eye like that? Did you feel any pressure at all? 

I didn’t really feel like I was growing up in the public eye. Obviously for the first series, no one cared because no one knew it even existed, and then the second series obviously like what you said, there’s a lot more pressure – there was a lot more people who were aware of it then, but I kinda felt like it was a bit overwhelming. I think people knowing who you are and then staring at you is not something you ever get used to. I was like what eighteen, nineteen?  It’s a lot because I was still young and still learning a lot about myself. It was quite a strange, overwhelming feeling. And, yeah I think I struggled with it to be honest. I really struggled with it. I think I found it quite hard and it felt quite isolating. But I think that was due to age, you know?

‘I think people knowing who you are and then staring at you is not something you ever get used to’.

What would you say has been the highlight of your whole journey and career as an actress? 

The highlight is my friends. I mean, I’ve made some lifelong friends. I live with one of the [Skins] cast members, he’s my best friend and we all have a group chat and we’re all still really close so it would definitely be the life-long friendships that I made.

You’ve recently graduated from university with a First Class Degree in Creative Writing and Psychology, congratulations, what was it like making that transition from the industry to academia?

It was crazy, absolutely crazy. It was strange because I never saw myself as an academic, it was never something I was ever interested in. In fact, when Skins came around, I was glad that I could drop out of school because I was like, ‘I’ve got an excuse now’. I was really vulnerable I think more so than when I did Skins because with Skins I had no idea what I was walking into, whereas with this, I was fully aware and I made an active choice so there was a lot at stake for that reason and because it was later on, obviously I went when I was twenty-five. It was massive, it was completely life changing. It was so rewarding and I learnt more about myself than I ever had before. I realised how passionate I can be and I am and just the things that mean the most to me.

In terms of the degree I picked, I want to go into screen writing so I still want to remain within the industry, it was just kind of broadening the assets of where I can move around and I want to be able to navigate different parts. So it [being at university] kind of reinforced the idea that I’m good enough, I can do it, and you can put your mind to anything. If you put your mind to something – you really dedicate your life to it and accept that everything you thought you knew, you didn’t – then you can actually achieve so much and that’s what the university experience proved to me.

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Larissa with Skins friends, Daniel Kaluuya (far left) and Joseph Dempsie (far right).

How important is it to be able to navigate and move around within the industry? 

I think it’s so important. I don’t think you should ever, in life, limit yourself to one thing. I think we’re in a society that tells us we should go to school, go college, go university and then pick one thing. They tell us that that’s how we’re meant to live so we spend our lives thinking, and trying to figure out what that one thing is that we want to do and that’s not the way it has to be at all. You can have multiple different things, it’s just how much work you’re willing to put into it and how much time you’re willing to dedicate. I think you should never really, unless it’s your relationship, don’t put your eggs all in one basket. Give yourself options especially when you’re young, now is the time to experiment and try out different things.

Figure out what you like and what you don’t like and if you find something that you love, brilliant, try something else as well – see how you feel about that. Have something to compare it to, you know? Have something to compare it against. I highly recommend it – I think it’s really, really important.

Figure out what you like and what you don’t like and if you find something that you love, brilliant, try something else as well – see how you feel about that’.

So, what is next? What can we expect to see from Larissa Hope? 

So I’ve just done a little short for Giggs’ new music video. It’s a short film to coincide with the release of his single. I don’t know when it’s coming out though, but I think they’re in the edit at the moment – so that should be out in a few weeks. I’m so gassed – I feel really cool. I’m 28 now – so that’s exciting, that’s going to be coming out quite soon. I’m gunna go do a masters now in Kings College –  in neuroscience. I have just started my own women’s writing group, it’s that kind of thing I was saying earlier, about creating opportunities and trying different things and what I’ve realised is that I’m really passionate about screen-writing. So I started my own little exclusive group of women writers, so by the end of the year, hopefully, we’ll have some projects to be pitching. A, b and c – that’s my advice, you can do absolutely anything you want.

Having plan a, b and c – is that your number one piece of advice for young people trying to get into creative industries? 

My number one piece of advice is to look at creativity as a whole and don’t restrict yourself to one avenue of it because you can’t make a cake without the flour, the egg and the milk, it just doesn’t do it on it’s own. You need to look at the recipe as a whole, you know? Look at the little things. If you want to be an actor – that’s brilliant, I love acting but also to be a creator of that would also be quite sick, so find the things that compliment whatever form of creativity it is that you want to do. Look at the other elements and components that make up that one thing and look at ways in which you can branch. You know, there’s branches in everything so look at how you can explore all of that, don’t restrict yourself because it puts a lot of pressure on yourself as well. It’s an incredible amount of pressure to put on yourself and you don’t know what you’re capable of. So when you open up those avenues, you give yourself more room to grow and learn more about yourself as an artist.

‘The industry’s ruthless and it’s unforgiving so for that reason you have to learn to be kind to yourself because you’re not gunna get it from them’.

Have you had any hard lessons that you’ve had to learn within the industry? 

Yes, oh my gosh! You can’t afford to get ill (laughs). The industry’s ruthless, it’s absolutely ruthless and it’s unforgiving so for that reason you have to learn to be kind to yourself because you’re not gunna get it from them. You have to learn to be good to yourself because they’re not gunna give it to you. If I’m honest with myself and I look back, at seventeen was I ready? Was I ready to be on one of the biggest shows at that time? No, I was not (laughs) and I think that that was significant to what happened after. But what it allowed me to do is build on my life – I was able to withdraw from all of that.

You have to realise you can take a positive out of everything that ever happens and I think the main thing is that no matter what happens along the way, it’s only a setback if you allow it to be.  It’s not about where you fall, it’s about what you do after that. You have to stay strong whenever these setbacks happen- because they will – that’s a part of life, but it’s what you do with it in the end and I think that’s probably why I chose to crossover a bit. In the industry, I don’t like to be told you’re too fat, you’re too big, and I got told at seventeen that I was too fat, you know? It can be quite crushing, yet being kind to yourself is so important. Be kind to yourself always, forgive yourself for any mistakes that you make and don’t let a fall define you, ever.

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I know that you’re currently living in London. Do you think that you need to move to London in order to make it in your career or is it possible to be inspired and successful in Bristol?

Bristol is known for being one of the most creative cities in England. It has a reputation for its music, graffiti, art scene. Even up here [in London] everyone’s like, oh you’re from Bristol – it’s so cool. What you do need is a bigger mind-set. The only thing I would say is, I didn’t feel as inspired [when I was living in Bristol] because it’s so small. In terms of London, there’s so much to see, there’s so much going on all the time that you’re constantly being stimulated all of the time. I haven’t lived in Bristol for a long time but I am also a strong believer of ‘you need to be the change that you want to see’, so with that in mind, I think you can [be successful in Bristol]. If there isn’t enough inspiration around, then leaving isn’t going to solve the problem. Create these events and create stuff. I think you can [find inspiration], I think you just need to find like-minded people and be willing to travel and explore. You can still live in Bristol, but you have to be willing to have a mind-set that is bigger than the city that you’re in. Go to these different places, then come back and create something beautiful – show people from Bristol what you’ve seen outside of it.

If there isn’t enough inspiration around, then leaving isn’t going to solve the problem. Create these events and create stuff.

As Larissa has demonstrated, you can do anything you put your mind to. Anything is possible. Go out and be great.

For local opportunities to get into the industry, check the @rifeguide

Was there anything that Larissa said that resonated with you? Or are you a fan of skins – let us know @rifemag