“Skins” boss Jamie Brittain talks generation three, Katie Fitch action figures, and why he loves Naomily

 
 

AE: OK, so Skins origins. Standards and practices are obviously way different in the US and the UK — swearing on primetime costs a million dollars or something on American primetime — but was there any hesitation from E4 when you approcahed them with a script full of sex and drugs and language?
JB: No hesitation at all. They were really cool. The show has a reputation for all those things but I think if you actually watch it there really isn’t that much debauchery going on. Certainly less than a lot of real teenagers I know.

AE: Less than some adults I know! Generation one was so beloved. I mean, there are still people who refuse to watch generation two. Was it always your plan to change generations after series two?
JB: Well, we didn’t know we were even going to get a second series when we did the first one. I think as soon as we did, we decided to do the generation swaperoo. It was scary, but we had to make it work, and luckily we did. Skins loses some of its audience with every generation, but it finds new ones too.

AE: I don’t know any American show that would have had the balls to do it, to pull such a cherished cast like that. It would have been like Skins: The Uni Years over here.
JB: You’re wrong, Heather. Remember Saved By The Bell: The New Class? We basically nicked the idea from them.

AE: Yeah, Saved By The Bell: The New Class was a cinematic masterpiece.
JB: Also, when teen shows go to Uni they inevitably become shite. See Dawson’s Creek and The OC for examples.

AE: And rest in peace, Gossip Girl. When you started creating characters for generation two, you were obviously like, "Where can we get some crazed fans?" And you had this lightbulb moment where you realized "lesbians!"
JB: Oddly, no. I can remember coming up with the lesbian storyline and it was really a case of "Hmm. Twins. One of them is gay. One of them is a queen bee. That might be interesting. Oh, and this Naomi character, she’s kind of headstrong and opinionated. Maybe that would be interesting too." I never, ever knew it would be so big.

And without sounding like I’m bigging us up as bastions of progressive LGBT fiction, the whole thing never seemed particularly groundbreaking. We just thought it was a sweet, sad love story.

AE: Well, that’s certainly the reason I adore it so much. It’s not a "lesbian" love story. There’s nothing PSA or after school special about it. So the twins came first?
JB: Yes, they were the first idea for the second generation. Me and the writers sat in a hotel conference room and came up with them on the spot — totally built by committee.

AE: Best committee ever. I get a lot of s–t for saying Katie is my favorite character. I want to see a Katie spinoff on telly, and a Katie movie in the cinema, and a line of Katie action figures. Kung Fu Katie Fitch and Party Planner Katie Fitch. The Katie Fitch zebra-striped glam convertible.
JB: Katie is great, I love her too. Meg [Prescott] had acted far less than her sister and really pulled off something quite special, I think. And Georgia Lester really took ownership of that character in series 4 and wrote a great episode for her.

AE: I think Meg added a layer of incredible vulnerability to Katie. So much tenderness. Her series four episode blew me away.
JB: Yeah, it’s a favourite of mine.

AE: When you created Emily and Katie, their dynamic was supposed to be controlling queen bee and overshadowed gay?
JB: Yes, that was the dynamic between the twins, at least initially. As always with Skins, it grew into something a bit more complicated.

AE: Like with all great stories! And then Naomi. Did you always know she would be Emily’s love interest?
JB: As far as I can remember, yes. I mean, we didn’t invent her to be a love interest, but we very quickly partnered her with Emily.

AE: And you were surprised by the reaction? The Naomily Phenomenon?
JB: Yes. It started when we posted the kissing clip on the internet ahead of the episode — and then grew and grew.

AE: And grew and grew and grew.
JB: Yep. And, you know, I’ve heard that fans think I hated the Naomily storyline and phenomenon, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I love it. I love that people have taken two characters that I helped create into their hearts so much.

AE: And not just in the UK. I mean, it’s worldwide. What do you love most about them, as individuals and as a couple?
JB: I love how simple Emily is. How she just wants Naomi’s love and that’s kind of enough for her. I think that’s a very pure thing. I like Naomi because she wants the same thing, but doesn’t know it. I think the success of their characters is down to the simplicity of their dynamic.

AE: Just two girls in love?
JB: I think so. I’m sure people have different opinions on this, but that’s what it is to me. Two girls in love, trying to love each other better.

AE: That’s lovely, Jamie. Do you think they succeed? In loving each other better, I mean? That’s a lot of what series four was about for them: OK, we’ve taken turns f–king it up. Now what?
JB: I think they both made mistakes, but I think in the end they ended up on better terms than the ones they started with. When it started it was chaotic and full of turmoil, with moments of happiness and joy, and continued like that for a while. I think they were both confused — not sexually, though that’s an element. More confused about what they were becoming, or what they should become. I think in the end what they realised that is, if you get it right, there’s something gloriously simple and liberating about love. It was always between them, but it took some time for them to realize.

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