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Adulthood - Scarlett Alice Johnson interview

Scarlett Alice Johnson in Adulthood

Interview by Rob Carnevale

SCARLETT Alice Johnson (ex-Vicky Fowler from EastEnders) talks about appearing in Adulthood and why it’s such a brave and important film for the youth of today.

She also talks about her own experiences of living in London, why she loves the capital so much and why people tend to recognise her without necessarily placing her…

Q. Do you find that people have got Adulthood and understood what it’s about?
Scarlett Alice Johnson: Yeah, it’s been really good actually. It’s been really, really positive. It’s been described as vital, which I really love and I’m very proud of that because it’s a very brave film. It’s definitely very current and I’m very proud of that. I think it’s very authentic and very honest.

Q. But it’s not preachy…
Scarlett Alice Johnson: I think we had to find a balance. We wanted the characters to be well rounded enough so that there were consequences to all their actions, and therefore there was a moral message at the end of the film, but at the same time we didn’t want to make it a film that’s sitting down and saying: “OK kids, don’t carry guns because it’s a bad thing.” That’s laughable as no one’s going to take that seriously.

Q. Was it ever a concern that this could be mis-interpreted?
Scarlett Alice Johnson: I think it was a concern while making it but I don’t think it’s a concern now at all. I think there are so many positive stands that can be taken from this film, whether you look at it as a story, or as a piece of filmmaking. A massive draw for me, in terms of the film and the character, is that rarely do you get a script where you get such a mixed racial ethnicity within the script that’s not even commented on. Often within a script you get the token black guy, but you don’t often get mixed races without there by any issue about that at all, let alone a very intimate scene between my character and Noel [Clarke]‘s character, between a white woman and a black guy, that again is not commented on. It’s just part of the story. And I think it’s about time really, in 2008, that we’ve started being more brave about that and more honest.

I also think there are some very, very strong female characters in the film, which is lovely. All the characters are very specific – they’re very three-dimensional characters, they’re very specific and they’re very much part of that culture. And I think because of that, hopefully it has a feel of authenticity. It’s not trying to reach out to an enormous mass market and please everyone. It’s not a one size fits all film; it’s actually trying to be very real, honest and authentic and hopefully because of that, even if it’s not a culture that people feel they identify with, they’ll feel intrigued to go and see the film and will like it and find it a very endearing quality.

Q. How much research did you do into your character?
Scarlett Alice Johnson: I don’t know. Research is a funny thing because I think there’s some you can do that’s quite specific… obviously she has quite a drugs problem and I did want to look into that because that obviously has very technical sides to it. But in terms of her character as a whole, I think research is quite limited. I think your main draws are instinct, intuition and empathy… those things that you can’t really practice. You either understand the character or you don’t and that’s really why you get the job. When I first read it I immediately got who she was and what she’s about. I live in north London, I always have, I don’t live in West London [where the film is set] but while Lexi is very different to who I am, at the same time she’s not completely foreign to me. It’s not like I’m being asked to play a 60-year-old guy from Outer Mongolia. She’s not completely different… so it’s not an impossible stretch but she is quite a challenge. Physically she’s very different. She holds herself in a different way and she speaks a different kind of language. She’s always got her back up and she has a real front, she’s happy to be quite confrontational, whereas I find it hard to say that my tea is cold in a coffee shop, let alone actually say [in accent]: “Alright, let’s go outside!”

Q. What was the accent based on?
Scarlett Alice Johnson: There’s no one particular person that I know speaks like that but at the same time I have met hundreds of people that speak like that. It’s really nice, actually, to have a film that rather than portraying London as Cockney, it’s a much more current way of speaking. You’ll find fewer Cockneys than people speaking like this now. And I think anyone coming to London for the first time will find that quite a shock. So, it’s nice to be a part of a film that offers a much more realistic portrayal of Londoners. Hopefully, I nailed the accent. If I didn’t, I was aware that it would be completely laughable. But no one’s laughed yet! But I think it’s a gift to have something that’s so specific. It’s much easier to have something that’s absolutely definite and has a definite identity, rather than a really generic role.

Q. How necessary do you think Adulthood is to today’s youth culture and the rise of gun crime and street crime?
Scarlett Alice Johnson: Again, it’s not set out to preach to anyone. I think that’s really, really important. But at the same time there is a moral message and that’s to say, in a language that people will understand and by depicting a culture they can hopefully identify with, that if you are wrapped up for whatever reason – whether through your own decision or consequences – in that kind of world, and it’s not a place you want to be and you feel you need to get out of, then you can. No matter how isolated or lonely or down and out you feel, there is always a way out. We do, obviously, have an enormous problem with gun and knife crime in this country but my general feeling about the whole thing is that the government spends far too much time saying: “Guns are bad and knives are bad.” We all know that. There’s nothing new about that at all. So, it’s much more important to look at the cause and to go back a bit and think about the issue.

If someone’s carrying a gun or a knife it’s not a nice thing. They aren’t going to feel that comfortable with it. It’s a scary position to put yourself in. You don’t choose to do that unless you feel there’s absolutely no other option and you’re forced to carry a weapon in order to protect yourself. Now that’s not logical… we all know that doesn’t work. If you do that, you’re therefore asking for other people to use a weapon against you. But it is really, really important to try and work out why we have a youth culture across the nation, as well as London, that feels so angry with the lot they’ve been given. I think we’re reaping really the effect of 40 years of liberalism in this country, to be honest. We’ve had a massive turn around over the last half-century really in terms of our outlook and our family make-up. Really now, I think young people are annoyed with it and I think it’s something we need to address.

Q. Do you think there’s any one reason why they’re annoyed?
Scarlett Alice Johnson: I honestly don’t know. I think it’s a mix of so many different strands. We do have a sense of “we don’t know when we’re born…” I think youth today can’t understand how bad maybe they’re grandparents or great grandparents had it. We’ve never experienced a war, we’ve never experienced famine, or any massive tragedy. So, in a sense we’ve got it really good. But at the same time there’s a huge amount of really under-privilged kids in our cities who are just getting forgotten about… kids who are part of very broken families, who aren’t necessarily getting the support they deserve, and also dealing with the fact that youth culture generally gets such a bad rap.

Generally, if you see someone in the street, whether they’re 12 or 24, and they’re wearing a hoodie you think: “Oh my God, he’s going to mug me!” It’s a joke, an absolute joke, and obviously that makes people angry and obviously that makes people want to retaliate when they get treated like that. I was reading an article in a broadsheet recently that had interviews with a group of 11 to 13-year-olds about current affairs. It just wanted their honest opinions. And they talked to one young white girl, who was 12 and lives in London, and they asked what she thought about all the knife crime, and she said: “Gun and knife crime is very bad, I don’t like it. The police came into our school one day to do a stop and search but they were mostly stopping black kids…” She just said it but it’s absolutely the case. I read it and just wanted to cry because it’s just ridiculous that in 2008 we’re still suffering from that problem. We’ve got a long way to go.

Q. Because of this and the high profile work you’ve done [in EastEnders] do you find you get recognised in the street a lot?
Scarlett Alice Johnson: Yeah, a fair amount. It helps that my hair is a lot longer now! It’s just part of your life. It’s weird how easy it is to adapt to stuff.

Q. Do people always know where they recognise you from?
Scarlett Alice Johnson: Often people think that they’ve worked with me, or their daughters know me, or something. It can be quite embarrassing to go: “Actually, it’s from TV.” But most of the time it’s a really nice thing as people are really jolly. It’s quite sweet.

Q. I’m always struck by how intense people’s feelings are for living in London, and especially their own patch. So when you film in West London do you feel far from home?
Scarlett Alice Johnson: Not really. My mum’s from Hackney and my dad’s from Manchester and they both settled in North London kind of by accident. So, I have quite an open mind in terms of places. I’m not pro North London as a whole, but I am pro London. I think London is made up of tiny little pockets and villages, and lots of little sub-cultures. So, especially for an actor, it’s a brilliant place to live because you’ve got inspiration all the time, wherever you are. You can turn a corner and you’ll be in mansion houses with beautiful gardens and Ferraris, and you’ll turn back on yourself and it’ll be ghetto land. But I think that’s brilliant.

Q. North London is particularly popular for actors…
Scarlett Alice Johnson: It’s really weird because I’ve lived there all my life, I went to school there, and as I’ve grown up I’ve noticed it. It used to be a less middle class area but now it’s kind of gone up a notch. I don’t mind that at all but it is weird, the actor thing is weird because you go for a drink and there’s like 10 other actors in the pub! It’s funny because it makes every single one of you look like a cliche. And you can’t afford to bitch about anyone!

Read our interview with Noel Clarke

Read our verdict on Adulthood