Interview with Naomily book author Dr. Ann-Marie Cook

 
 

AE: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve gleaned from your research and interviews?
AMC:
I was amazed by just how easy it was to get the information I needed. There’s this perception of people in the entertainment industry being very exclusive and so caught up in their own little world that they can’t be bothered to talk to anyone outside that bubble. However, you could not get further from that ego-driven, prima donna stereotype than the Skins people. I made initial contact with Bryan via Facebook and I remember wondering, as I pressed the ‘send message’ button, whether someone as busy as he would reply to a request from an academic researcher. It was a pleasant surprise to receive his response so quickly and find him so amenable to my book proposal.

Over the course of the interviews I found everyone else equally approachable and keen to help in any way they could. One thing that became crystal clear in all of the interviews was just how much people loved Naomily and took personal pride in the show as a whole and this storyline in particular. I think that sort of commitment is part of the reason why Naomily is so special and it certainly explains why people made time to talk to me even when they were swamped with work for other projects. It was a real surprise to find that people were so lovely willing to go out of their way to support this project.

I can say that new revelations also came out of conversations with Lily and Kat because we discussed new things but you have to wait for the book to get the full scoop!

AE: You’re such a tease! What has been the funnest part about working on the book?
AMC:
Everything! Well, maybe not quite everything, but this is a project where there’s so much to enjoy! I mean how cool is it to have “work” that involves surfing messageboards, reading fanfics, watching fanvids, re-watching episodes, perusing shooting scripts and rushes and doing interviews? I guess the best thing has been having the opportunity to talk to people, whether it was online, by phone or in person. I’ve loved chatting with fans and members of the creative team. I started out with a specific attachment to Naomily, and while the interviews have more than rewarded my interest in the storyline, they have also given me a new appreciation for the Skins franchise as a whole.

The interviews really were the most amazing conversations and they gave me a chance to talk to people we haven’t heard from before and cover new things with those who have been a major part of the show’s publicity. I got to spend about four hours each with Lily and Kat.

They are such lovely people and they have this aura about them that makes you feel like you’re talking to a friend even though they are complete strangers. I suppose you can’t help feeling a bit of an intellectual connection with someone when you spend that amount of time with someone, talking in great depth about their personal feelings regarding their character, the storyline and the craft of acting. I think the interviews offer quite an intimate portrait of who they are as actors and I hope people will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed conducting them.

AE: Tell us something we don’t know about Lily and Kat.
AMC:
When Lily was asked to name the best things about being in Skins, her answer was, “Kat, Kat and Kat!”She is also a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Kat is working on her American accent so that she can go for roles in the States. She said that she can only do it in character with set lines at the moment, so she is planning to get a dialect coach and learn things properly. I couldn’t persuade her to give me a demonstration but hopefully it will only be a matter of time before we can see her doing it for real on screen.

AE: Tell us something we don’t know about Naomi and Emily.
AMC:
The creative process threw up a number of different possibilities for how Naomi and Emily would interact with each other and one of the early outlines for potential character groupings identified Naomi and Thomas as a couple and Emily and JJ as a couple.

AE: “Threw up” is an apt way to phrase that. Fandom applauds your subconscious slip. Why do you think the story resonates so deeply with lesbian and bisexual viewers?
AMC:
Because it offers such an open and positive treatment of what they understand as love and sexual desire. Love is universal and the Skins people have given us a story that can appeal to anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation. At the same time, lesbian and bisexual viewers can feel a unique connection with the characters’ emotions, desires and experiences because they know first-hand in a way that straight people don’t what it’s like to fall in love with another girl, feel confused about that attraction, fear the reactions of loved ones, suffer rejection when the other girl is only into boys and cope with feeling like the odd one out all the time.

You and the other AfterEllen contributors have been so articulate in your pieces about visibility and why it’s important to be able to look at popular culture and see projections of your own interests, emotions, desires and experiences. As you pointed out in that excellent article about the need for mature lesbian storylines, it’s not enough to just include a lesbian character in a show: they need to be presented in a non-stereotypical way that acknowledges both the physical/sexual aspect of their relationships and the possibility of finding happiness with a partner they truly love. After decades of watching shows that either ignored lesbian and bisexual women entirely or presented their relationships as perverse couplings that end tragically, it’s a really big deal that Naomi and Emily’s ‘happily-ever-after’ ending reinforces the idea that love between women is every bit as passionate and valid as the love between men and women.

AE: Can you tell us a little bit about your book, what it will cover, what you hope it accomplishes?
AMC:
Absolutely! I started out with the idea of writing the sort of book that I, as both a fan and an academic, would enjoy reading. I love interviews and behind-the-scenes stuff so the book will feature huge helpings of both as it chronicles how the storyline took shape in the writers’ room; how it was regarded by creative personnel and by the network that commissioned it; how it was brought to life by directors and performers; how the storyline developed across the media platforms of television, websites and literature, and how it was promoted by Company Pictures and Channel 4. Viewers played a key role in helping to create the Naomily phenomenon, so the book will explore the range of fan activities and draw upon messageboard threads, fanfics, videos, artwork and fan sites in order to pinpoint how and why Naomily became such a massive internet sensation.

In a way, I guess the book is as much about the fans as it is for them.

We know that Naomily was a beautiful love story but I also want to show that it was a lot more than that. It has social significance as a show that engaged with contemporary attitudes about homosexuality and youth culture. Because the storyline owes much of its success to advances in media technology, from the advent of the digital channel, E4, to the internet, it offers an opportunity to study the way people make and watch television shows in the ‘post-broadcast era’. The reaction to the storyline offers a fascinating case study of how fans interact with each other and with the actors they love, which means this has implications for the way we understand fandom and stardom. Some people may say that this is reading too much into it, but I disagree. Anything that generates as much of a following as Naomily is worth studying because it’s important to know why it inspired that response, what it means, what it suggests about attitudes toward same-sex relationships and why that matters in today’s political climate, how it affected the people who created it as well as those who watched it, and how it might serve as a blueprint for TV production strategies in the future.

AE: I’m sold! So where are we going to get our hands on this thing?
AMC:
Unfortunately, a release date has yet to be finalised. There has been a lot of speculation about the possibility that Naomi and Emily will be included in the Skins film, so I’m holding off until I know one way or the other what’s happening on that score.

AE: What do you do when you’re not writing Naomily History?
AMC:
Moving house [laughs]. Funnily enough, the opportunity to write the book came at the exact same time I was planning to relocate from London to Brisbane, Australia. I scrambled to do as many of the interviews as possible while I was still in England because I always prefer face-to-face meetings wherever possible and I knew how disruptive the move would be to my work.

I see Skins as the focus of my future research because the UK and US series are brilliant case studies in 21st century television production and they deserved to be recognised as a massive creative achievement. Plus, it would be awesome to spend more time talking to the lovely people behind the shows.

I love Naomily and I know that no matter what projects I do in the future, those characters will always have a special place in my heart. I wish they’d been around when I was a teen, but since it’s impossible to turn back time the next best thing is to write a book that highlights why the Naomily phenomenon matters and how lucky we are that Naomi Campbell and Emily Fitch graced our screens and reminded us of the power of true love.

AE: Why do you say you wish Naomi and Emily had been around when you were a teen?
AMC:
Even though I knew gay and lesbian adults, the idea that girls could be attracted to other girls in a way that went beyond friendship never occurred to me because nothing in my world suggested that this was a viable option for relationships. Everything around me reinforced the importance of finding a boyfriend and while I was certainly interested in some boys, I was also attracted to girls. Of course, I didn’t realise that attraction for what it really was at the time because I had no frame of reference for it. So in that respect I think seeing something like the Naomily storyline would have helped me become more aware of my feelings and realise at an earlier age that love is about the person, even if that person happens to be another woman.

If you’d like to be involved with Dr. Cook’s Naomily book, you can! She’s accepting brief submissions about what Naomi and Emily’s storyline meant to you, and why. Email her at ann-marie.cook@kcl.ac.uk. You can also find her on Twitter (@drannmariecook).

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