Since the release of the sci-fi fantasy film Avatar nine years ago and the onset of the gaming world since, there has been a gap in TV drama for something to satisfy teenagers’ quest for the virtual world.
The film Nerve captured the zeitgeist of the danger and thrill of interacting with games online. Could a TV drama take it to a ground-breaking new level? Kiss Me First is adapted by Skins co-creator Bryan
Elsley from Lottie Moggach’s novel, into a six part thriller exploring online virtual reality gaming, social media and self obsession. Teenagers in the real world get to be anything and do anything they want in the virtual world via their avatars. Tallulah Rose Haddon talks to Susie Daniels about her avatars and how her life revolves around alter egos and dressing up…
Paid to dress up as an actress during the day, in the evenings she’s performing as a drag king and at weekends you can find her in cosplay. So it’s hard to visualise the line where acting stops and reality begins for Tallulah Rose Haddon. Yet again she’s role-playing but this time she has a dual role in a Channel 4 series where her character has to make some serious choices. The Living and the Dead and Taboo actress knows a thing or two about unusual life choices so playing the role isn’t a break from the norm.
She relished the lead role as Leila, a shy 17-year-old who is addicted to online virtual game Agora.
Leila meets Tess (Simona Brown), an extrovert, confident party girl who harbours a dark secret and Leila assumes her identity once she goes missing.
Tallulah talks about the excitement of her new role: “I’m very excited about playing Leila and I was excited about virtual reality and becoming my avatar, Shadowfax. Leila is shy and doesn’t really socialise much. She’s quite isolated and becomes a different person in the game and does all sorts of stuff she wouldn’t do in real life like flying. She’s generally more physically active as an avatar and her voice is more confident. She’s been playing for several years and done everything she can do in her avatar kingdom.
“I’m not really into the gaming scene though I quite like playing Mass Effect. It’s a sci-fi action role-playing third person video game.
“It’s about making your own journey. Agora is similar to Max Effects because you choose what you do in the game.
“Tess’s avatar Mania kind of shocks Leila. She’s never been intrigued by another character and Mania’s arrived uninvited into her world and has provoked Leila’s avatar Shadowfax to follow her. They’re very different.
“I actually wanted to audition for Tess as I think I can relate more to her! Simona (Wizards vs Aliens) and I feel we’re playing the wrong characters!
“It feels with Leila everything that’s happening is happening internally – she’s still creating an internal world.
“I like sci-fi and magical realism because it’s a way of commenting on political situations and talking round things by making them entertaining.
“I like the subtlety and sense of wonder of some sci-fi when the reader or audience realises what’s really being said. I really like reading sci-fi like Octavia E Butler. I’m part of a feminist sci-fi reading group based in Glasgow.
“If I could design an online game it would be Mutant Underground Lesbians and they are trying to defeat patriarchy. Like teenage ninja mutant turtles they live in sewers and caves. I’m quite into underground passages.”
Filming Kiss Me First was a challenge as it was difficult for Tallulah to visualise anything while surrounded by a white screen so she found a way to focus and build up the virtual world in her mind.
Tallulah explains: “In between takes I made some playlists of game sounds when we’re doing the VR. It’s bizarre because we’re in a white room with bizarre outfits, it’s like doing a play with no props so I kind of found a weird techno track to listen to.”
If you Google Tallulah’s name you will find some weird and wonderful images of blood dripping from her mouth, dressed in a green latex-type dominatrix suit, part nudity and a kaleidoscope image of electrically charged neon colour painted on Tallulah from head to toe for the film Spaceship.
These are images that Tallulah embraces with open arms as a scrapbook of her colourful life.
She says: “I think that’s quite a strong part of me. I find it interesting in how to portray yourself.
“I’ve been online for a long time and a lot of my friends have similar pics. I guess the more exposure you get the better.
“I really like dressing up. Me and my friends like to go as someone like Frida (Kahlo) and Diego. I once dressed up like that with a massive pillar attached to me!
“I think it’s a crossover – being in charge of your own art and own characters feeds into acting in a more conventional way. In a sense performance makes you speak different languages.
“I’ve always been fascinated with cosplay cos to me it’s dressing up which makes you immediately confident as a person.
“If I was going to a fancy dress party I’d dress up as Snot Girl, the green girl from Deadpool.”
Tallulah was influenced by performance art from a young age. Her mum produced live art for ten years and would take a young Tallulah to performances with her.
Tallulah explains: “I guess I felt a little bit strange when I was younger how my references have been different to other people. I never felt anything was forced on me. It became clear that I was different from other teenagers.”
The actress from south London breaks a stereotype by being one of the few female beatboxers. When Tallulah’s not filming for television you may find her performing in London as a drag king called Private Hole or Susie Swallow – the ‘youngest cannibal in Europe’ – who has a soft mouse-like squeaky voice, beatboxes and likes to eat human flesh.
Tallulah enthuses: “I perform Susie Swallow and Private Hole in London at various venues so they’re still going. I think the next thing I’d do is Trump, the drag act.
“There’s a lot of material and a lot of comedy in that. I’ve not studied clown but I’d like to do bouffant – the art of mockery.”
Kiss Me First airs on Monday April 2nd on Channel 4.