Crawl star Kaya Scodelario: 'I wanted to prove that a woman can carry a film and kick ass and be fun'
Horror film Crawl follows a woman hunted by alligators after becoming trapped during a hurricane. Star Kaya Scodelario and director Alexandre Aja talk to Georgia Humphreys about the empowering feminist script
Kaya Scodelario is discussing her irrational fear. The Sussex-born actress is afraid of her hands pruning (creasing in water), which is funny, given her new role.
In disaster horror film Crawl, she plays Haley, a young woman who ignores evacuation orders when a massive hurricane hits in order to search for her missing father, only for them both to end up trapped by rapidly encroaching floodwater.
"Genuinely, I hate my hands pruning," admits the 27-year-old, whose career started with playing Effy Stonem in E4 teen drama Skins.
"When you touch things... it's the texture of it.
"I've got over it now. I had to - face your traumas and all that."
Of course, this being a scary film, the category five hurricane and the chance of drowning are not the only threats Haley and her injured dad (played by Barry Pepper) face.
There's a giant pack of alligators too.
Fighting off the terrifying predators makes for an entertaining watch, mainly because Haley, who's an aspiring University of Florida swimmer, is a seriously kick-ass protagonist.
When she gets a phone call from her younger sister worrying about their father Dave - he's divorced from their mum and hasn't been returning her calls - Haley is determined to find him, even when it means entering the cramped crawl space underneath their old family home.
There, she discovers her dad has been attacked by a giant alligator, who corners the pair of them.
Suddenly, their survival depends on Haley's actions.
It's rare, agrees Scodelario, to see a woman leading a film like this.
"I feel like it's the most feminist script I've read in 12 years," says the star, whose past Hollywood projects include Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and The Maze Runner film franchise.
"You know, I read it and I kept waiting for, 'And then she kisses the boyfriend' or, 'And then she's in her underwear', but it just never came. I was like, 'Wow, amazing! It's possible'.
"People always ask me, 'Do you play these female roles because you want to inspire young girls?'.
"But I'm like, 'I want to inspire young boys too'. I want to inspire everyone that a female can hold a film and she's got just as interesting a story as any other character.
"I wanted to prove that a female can carry a studio film and be kick-ass and be fun and be crazy.
"She's also still vulnerable and she still gets scared. She isn't a superhero, she's a person. I loved that about her."
Discussing the film industry, and the lack of women at the forefront of stories, Crawl's director Alexandre Aja (41) says it's up to "filmmakers to challenge studios and financiers to make the move from their very old model".
"A lot of people in the industry still think in the 80s," adds the Frenchman.
But Scodelario is hopeful change is coming.
"I think it's just a dialogue we have to keep on having," Aja stresses.
"There are amazing creatives in the industry and some who get opportunities and some that don't.
"As long as we continue to nurture those that don't always have the same opportunities as others, we will carry on creating good content - that's what it's about.
"I believe completely in fairness and balance. It should be about great content
"It's just about supporting women who sometimes don't have the same opportunities."
Crawl was definitely an empowering role for Scodelario, as well as a chance to push herself physically.
First of all, there was the intense fitness training she had to put herself through before the shoot.
"I could swim, but I wasn't a swimmer at all," she says. "I kind of started in the kiddie lane with the floaty things and worked my way up from there.
"I had some amazing coaches, former Olympians, both at the London Aquatics Centre and then in Serbia.
"I'd do an hour a day in the pool. I worked my way out of the kiddie lane into the big girl lane.
"I also trained with my trainer George Ashwell at Twenty Two Training, who helped me work on my core and my strength because I needed to look like a swimmer.
"Me, as an actor, I needed to be able to survive a month, two months of shooting this movie, so I wanted to feel the strongest I ever felt."
How demanding was the filming process itself?
"I remember you telling me that you wanted to show that you were bad-ass, but I think no one, including me, could expect how difficult it was going to be," Aja, who's known for The Hills Have Eyes, Mirrors, Piranha 3D, and Horns, says to Scodelario.
"It was really, really intense physically, but also technically, because we had to build the set in different tanks.
"Each section of the house - the ground floor, the crawl space, the rooftop - was built in separate tanks. We filled seven tanks with water all together."
It seems the toughest thing for Scodelario - who has a two-year-old son with her husband, the American actor and comedian Benjamin Walker - was the impact the role had on her mentally.
"I think it's the most emotionally challenging film I've ever done," she says.
"Outside of work I'm usually very good at switching off. I'll go for a drink and be fine afterwards, but this, I was alone for so much of it.
"I'm really used to big ensemble casts and most days it was just me and I felt really lonely.
"I got quite, I don't want to say depressed, but intense and insular during the shooting and I think that really helped.
"It was kind of beautiful because it was claustrophobic and I did feel completely separated from the world around me.
"I figured out that if I went home in my blood and make-up that I could save 20 minutes of sleep time.
"So, I'd go home fully as Haley still and I'd look in the mirror some days and think, 'What have I done? Where am I? What's going on?'.
"So, emotionally, it's the most intense job I've ever had."
- Crawl is out in cinemas now