Kaya Scodelario plays Carina Smyth in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. She is pretty much the only female in the film, but she isn’t a stranger to working with mostly men. If you are a Pirates franchise fan, know this going in, she is quite different from Elizabeth Swan. Kaya is beautiful, smart and plays Carina perfectly. She sat down with us during the #PiratesLifeEvent press junket and chatted about working with Johnny Depp (of course), as well as how she works with having dyslexia.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales yet, you may want to come back to this interview after. There are some spoilers in this post and I encourage you to come back after you have seen the movie.
Kaya Scodelario plays Carina Smyth
You look beautiful. I love that dress.
I have a really good pair of Spanx underneath. (we all laugh)
Speaking of Spanx, what was your costume like for the film?
There’s something cool about a corset; it does feel quite empowering because you have to sit up strong. But you know, the first day is awful. I’d get my husband to secretly loosen it up at lunchtime so that I could eat and stuff. It does feel very strong, and I like Carina’s dress. It isn’t perfect; it’s tattered, old, ripped up, and dirty as that helped me understand a bit of her back story. I think this is a dress that she’s held onto because it’s the only one she has, and she’s managed to make it as practical as possible to her.
You’ve had a lot of experience with male dominated casts, especially in Dead Men Tell No Tales; you’re basically the only female.
Yeah I mean I’ve been, I shouldn’t say lucky because it should be like that- but the guys have never made me feel like the only woman, especially on Maze Runner. And with this one too, they always treat me exactly the same. I’ve never felt like, you know, I’ll walk on the set and they’re like the girl is here, we have to stop farting (laughing). They continue to do that anyway. I’ve grown up with guys; I love them. My best friends are guys, and I like that energy. I think once they get over you being a woman, it can be kind of bonding and nice and but yeah it was interesting. And the last two movies have been very male dominated.
So Carina comes in as a brand new character to the franchise, and she’s an unyielding woman, which is refreshing to see. What was it like bringing that into that completely male-dominated storyline?
It’s always important for me. Every role I look for a woman that I would have liked to have seen at thirteen on the big screen. And it’s a huge responsibility because people forget in blockbusters that we’re not simple, there are multilayers, and a lot is going on, she has a lot of that. I mean, she’s an orphan, she’s a survivor. She’s also stubborn and argumentative, but also funny and flirty.
There’s so much to her. And I’m grateful that they wrote her this way. Because usually with a film this size, unfortunately, there isn’t time to layer out a character too much. I made a real effort to her to try and hit all those beats; it’s something that I hope my son grows up watching and understands in women, that we aren’t just the Disney princess or the love interest or the damsel in distress and she’s certainly not any of those things.
Do you do your own stunts?
I do, I love to do all that stuff. Because it’s not things, you do every day in life. And to get the opportunity to do it, when you have a great crew that you know it’s going to be safe and it’s going to be done the proper way. But I injured my shoulder. I didn’t break, but I popped out something in there on the Black Pearl of all places. And so afterward it was kind of tough we had about four weeks of filming still so I had to wear a sling in between takes and I had to go quite easy on it.
But I did all the swimming; I swam in the Australian ocean with the sharks and every other thing that can kill you there. And it was a lot of fun; I love having the opportunity to do that stuff.
The scene where Carina realizes that Barbossa is her father when she sees the tattoo, that was a very emotional scene. What did you tap into to bring those emotions forward?
Well, I have a real personal connection with all that. My father lived far away from me, and he’d always say if you look up at Orion’s Belt, we’re both looking at the same star. (She gets a little emotional). Sorry, I know. And he passed away.
So it was very easy for me to tap into that moment and also to get to work with an actor like Geoffrey. He’s, well you look in his eyes, he’s wonderful. He’s just a giving actor. A film like Pirates, you don’t expect to have that really strong emotional beat, especially as an actor, to get a chance to in the middle of all this craziness just kind of go quiet. And really focus on that relationship, it was an honor. I think we both really thought it was important and we wanted to treat it with as much respect as possible.
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If there are more movies made in this franchise, what would you like to see for your character?
I would really like to see her exploring her love of the stars and astronomy. And, you know, going out to the ocean. And also this new identity that she has, she’s the daughter of an infamous pirate, and it’ll be cool to see whether she takes that on or not, you know, what she does with that new kind of mission in life.
Carina and Jack Sparrow have a lot of fun scenes together, what was it like working with Johnny?
It’s wonderful. I mean when you watch the movie, you get to see the one take that’s selected, we get to see the fifty-five other ones that he’s come up with on the spot. And it’s he’s just a genius, he really is, there’s a reason why he’s so successful. And he’s good at what he does. My first day on set with him, I had to be really serious in a scene, and I just laughed and laughed and laughed and I was like ‘I’m going to get fired, there’s no way they’re going to put up with me,’ he just brings it every single time.
In the movie Carina knows a lot about astronomy, did you do any studying?
Yeah, I did some basic stuff. Unfortunately, I had about three weeks between being cast and then moving my life to Australia for six months and learning lines and with my dyslexia, it takes me a lot longer to learn a script. So I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to kind of research it. I made sure that I was comfortable with the time piece that I have to use.
I made sure I knew how that worked and all the ins and outs of it. But since promoting it, it’s something that I feel like now I’d really like to get into a little bit more.
Do you have any tips for others that have dyslexia that may be interested in acting?
Well the biggest thing for me was just knowing that I wasn’t the only one. I remember when I was twelve and diagnosed, I was freaked out by it because I didn’t understand what it was. For me, it meant I’m dumb, that’s like all I knew. I thought well this just means that I can’t ever achieve what other people can. And then they had a poster up in my school saying Tom Cruise has dyslexia.
And that instantly to me was like, oh okay, well he’s doing all right. Maybe I’ll be fine, and it’s just about having an open conversation about it. There are great resources out there, and my school was wonderful. They gave me extra time in exams. I had a one to one teacher in classes for my reading because that’s where I struggled, and just have an open conversation about it and then to find support groups and to make sure that the school also understand what it is. Because it’s kind of a taboo subject, we don’t really know much about it. So the more we can discuss and the more resources we can bring into schools, I think the better.
How did you go about getting the role?
I heard about it years ago, maybe four years ago they had a first draft of the script and the character was two characters, because they still hadn’t really decided what they wanted to do with her. And then it came back around couple years later, and I was shooting in Albuquerque with my Maze Runner guys. And I had to do a self-tape, and I didn’t have enough time.
So I said boys, please help me. I had Thomas Brodie-Sangster playing Jack Sparrow and just all the Maze Runner boys doing this audition tape for me, which was really sweet of them. Then I flew to Los Angeles to meet with Brenton, and we sat down, and we did a chemistry read, and we just got on really well, you know, he’s a really nice guy, he’s a nice kid. And as an actor we kind of bounced off each other and we really enjoyed flushing out the scene, working out what we wanted to do with it, and it went from there.
So you spoke about Johnny Depp improvising and having to work with it, how much input to you have to your character, regarding improvisation?
With this what’s on the page is always the best thing possible and because we have these incredible writers that know what works for these movies. I am very instinctual, and that’s how I like to work. I like to improvise, and I like to make sure that the dialogue fits my voice and my character’s voice and the directors are open. Every morning we’d sit down run through what we were going to do for the day, they’d ask if I had any issues with any of the dialogue, if there’s anything I felt would work better. There was a day where Johnny came into my trailer beforehand and reworked an entire scene with me, which I was amazed at, that they still do let you have that creative freedom.
What do you want the takeaway to be from the film?
I hope that they understand that this is an adventure for the whole family and it’s something that should be seen on the big screen and the best technology possible. We spent six months making this and two years in post-production for a reason. That’s how it should be seen, and that’s how the whole family will enjoy it at its best.
What was your favorite Disney movie?
I just loved A Hundred And One Dalmatians. I actually had a Dalmatian themed bedroom growing up; my poor mother had to paint like white walls and black splotches everywhere- (laughing). Yea I’ve always loved the animated Dalmatians movie and then also the live action I think was really-really good.