Bryan Elsley says Tallulah Haddon and Simona Brown, the stars of his new series “Kiss Me First,” are “ones to watch.”
Coming from the co-creator of “Skins,” those words hold a lot of weight.
“Skins,” the UK teen series Elsley co-created with Jaimie Brittain, aired for seven seasons and launched young cast members Jack O’Connell (“Unbroken”) Oscar nominees Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”) and Dev Patel (“Lion”) and Nicholas Hoult (the “X-Men” movies) into the celebrity stratosphere.
Elsley has now created (and wrote) “Kiss Me First,” premiering Friday on Netflix. The six-episode British cyberthriller, a mix of “Skins” and “Black Mirror,” is based on a 2013 novel of the same name by Lottie Moggach. The story follows Leila (Haddon), a lonely teen girl addicted to a gaming site. When Tess (Simona Brown), a new friend she made via the game, vanishes, Leila assumes her identity and is drawn into the mystery (and into the video game itself).
“[Haddon and Brown] look different, they act different, and they are part of a young generation of empowered young female actors who will change television in the next 10 years,” says the Scottish-born Elsley, 57, who lives in London.
While Haddon appeared in FX’s “Taboo” and Brown had a role in AMC’s “The Night Manager,” both are relative newcomers.
“The process of finding them was incredibly difficult. We were looking and looking for months,” says Elsley. “One day I wandered outside my office and Talullah Haddon was sitting there waiting for an audition. And I just thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s her — pray to God she can act.’”
Elsley says he’s immensely proud of the former “Skins” actors who have since achieved fame and success.
“Watching Daniel Kaluuya at the Oscars [when he got a Best Actor nod for ‘Get Out’] was a fantastic thing to behold,” he says. “I do feel an enormous sense of pride on his behalf.”
Elsley remains interested in shows about young adults because their lives are “incredibly complex,” he says. “They have their own moral framework, and that isn’t given enough legitimacy, often. [Young adult shows] are more challenging, more edgy, and more ambitious than a lot of more mainstream adult television.”
“Kiss Me First” also includes animated scenes depicting Leila’s jaunts into the video game. Because of that, Elsley said its production process was even more complex than a normal TV show.
“It took a long time to persuade everyone that I wasn’t crazy, and then the animated parts of the show took two years to complete,” he says. “So it was a very drawn-out process.”
And while “Kiss Me First” is drawing comparisons to Steven Spielberg’s gaming movie “Ready Player One,” Elsley had a more surprising source of inspiration.
“One of the movies that’s remained with me in my core is ‘Mary Poppins,’” he says. “I love the audacity of that movie, where Mary and Bert and the kids jump into a completely animated fantasy world. When I was a kid back in the late ’60s, I just could not believe my eyes.
“I love the possibility of escape into a different world that’s been created.”
“Kiss Me First” Friday on Netflix
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