Kiss Me First: Interview with Tallulah Haddon, who plays Leila
Your new drama is Kiss Me First – explain a bit about the show.
It's centred on Leila, a young working class woman who is dealing with the difficulties of being a young carer for her mother who has a terminal illness. She becomes more and more immersed in a game that she's played since her early teens, called Azana. Hopefully it gives some insight into the life of young woman who is isolated but has a lot to offer to the world if she’s given the opportunity.
How would you describe Leila?
She’s quite honest, intense and she doesn’t give a f*ck.
She’s not really led a normal life, has she?
No. Leila lacks role models, she is isolated and has been neglected by the systems. Unfortunately she is in position where it is very difficult for her to get help or support. She’s very capable, but at the same time quite naïve. I think if we bring it back to gaming, which is an art form, it makes total sense for her to want to be part of the Azana world, which holds so much more potential than her own.
Tess makes quite a big impact on Leila’s life, doesn’t she?
When they meet Tess is suffering, but she is alive in her sadness, she opens up a world to Leila who is also suffering - experiencing grief and social isolation. They both give each other something to care for and support when they have little else that is precious. Tess has mental health issues, and Leila is the first person who loves and accepts the whole of her. At its best their relationship is euphoric and proves to be an intense, vital, important friendship in their lives.
She also takes in a new flatmate, Jonty. What’s he like?
He’s trying to be an actor, and he’s very Welsh and bumbly, and he comes in like an alien presence because she’s never really interacted with anyone male of her own age before. So she finds that quite strange, but it’s very funny.
How did you enjoy working with Matthew and Simona?
I found it very enriching, meeting them both. Mathew is hilarious and incredibly supportive. Simona and I became very close and supported each other through the process, when I was having a bad day, she would give me a boost, and I would do the same for her, so we pulled each other through. She's basically my life coach. I think it was really important for us to experience this together and support each other through it, it was a joint effort and I couldn’t have done it without her.
It’s based on Lottie Moggach's book – did you read it, or would that have been a distraction?
I actually started it, but I kind of felt like the screenplay was going in a different direction. I could see how the start of the character had formed when Bryan was writing it, but I felt like reading the book was holding me back rather than informing my portrayal. And also the plot ends up being different as well. But I did definitely get a sense of the character from reading it.
What were the biggest challenges, playing Leila?
Holding on to her sense of self was difficult. I felt like everything someone would do, she would do the opposite, so we had to counteract any instinct to do what a normal person would do. I wanted to make sure that, even though she was exposed to the world, she kept her integrity as a character, because I think that’s what makes her stand out. There’s quite a dramatic shifts through the episodes of how she is, but her basic motivations remain.
Filming must have been quite intense. Did that take a toll when you’re filming?
I was just doing it scene-by-scene, not thinking about massive, grand narratives. I find it easier that way.
So doing it that way helped you switch off at the end of the day’s filming?
Yeah, I guess. I think that felt like a bit of a challenge, because she’s quite lonely, and so a lot of the stuff I had to do on my own. I think she’s a legend, but it can be quite lonely to be a legend.
Have you had much experience working with VR?
I’ve seen it used in a challenging and provocative way within the context of protest and fine art. At SXSW I experienced a VR which showed real life footage of the push back of protesters at an abortion clinic, I felt this really highlighted the issues we face with the right to abortion in America.
How do you feel about the end product of the VR?
It was amazing. It doesn’t feel particularly magical when you’re actually recording it, but it’s really surprising what they managed to do. I think the most shocked I was from the eye movement and the blinking. The eyes look so real, this reality conveys emotion at the same time as being quite isolating as your reminded it’s an animation. It emphasises the duplicity of the experience, feeling immersed in the Azana world.
Did you have to go through shooting wearing those suits covered in discs that monitor your movements?
Yeah, that was a big part of it. It was really hard to move your head, when there was a huge camera on it, and the equipment was quite loud. You have to do a lot of movement, but it is quite difficult to move in what they’ve put you in.
Combining live action with a computer generated virtual world must have made for a different filming experience – how was that?
Yeah, totally. I got a lot of support from the team, which was brilliant, but a lot of the filming was on my own. When I was doing the animation filming, I thought of it as being more like a play, or a piece of movement, because it’s a lot more active, whereas film acting is quite still.
Do you think the series is making a point about how much of their lives people spend online?
That’s a hard question, I think the series is asking questions to the audience, but not necessarily answering them. It presents several scenarios and I believe the audience can take from that what they want. The internet can be a hostile environment. However there is meritocratic element to the internet, there is a lack of hierarchy and it is a place where global connections can be made, platforms like Instagram have encouraged activism. Think about tumblr and what that has done for queer people; young people from smaller towns, for example, can find a whole community of like-minded folks. There is a huge lack of representation in the mainstream media, you have to find your own role models and online can be the place to find them.
Are you a gamer? Do you use social media much?
I don’t really game, but I’m into cosplay! My partner is into Mass effect, I like the way it’s designed, is much more gender neutral and fantastical, the characters are all different ‘alien’ species, a lot of whom have really queer relationships.