Tallulah Haddon on Her Breakout Role in Netflix Series 'Kiss Me First'

Credit: Alex Lee Johnson
Tallulah Haddon

The 21-year-old British rising star plays the lead in the ambitious thriller that blends real life with CGI and comes from the writer who helped launched the careers of Daniel Kaluuya and Dev Patel.

Keen TV viewers may have already spotted Tallulah Haddon in the darkly gothic drama Taboo playing a malnourished prostitute (when the camera wasn't firmly fixated on Tom Hardy), or perhaps even as a disturbed vicar's daughter in the BBC's supernatural period series The Living and the Dead.

But with only these two small-screen credits under her belt, the 21-year-old British actress is now ready for her close-up with her first lead role, and possible breakout performance, in Netflix series Kiss Me First.

The series, currently on air in Britain on Channel 4 and bowing worldwide on Netflix later this spring, sees Haddon serve up a charmingly understated performance as a deeply lonely teenager who finds solace, and companionship, via her virtual-reality headset and the lush, green imagined online world of Azana.

Blending live-action and computer graphics, the ambitious six-part thriller offers up more than a few Ready Player One comparisons (although it's somewhat less apocalyptic) and comes from the pen of Scottish writer Bryan Elsley, best known as the co-creator of British teen series Skins. Given that this show has helped generate a legion of Hollywood stars in Daniel Kaluuya, Dev Patel, Nicholas Hoult, Kaya Scodelario and Jack O'Connell, there's good reason why people are now paying attention to Haddon.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, however, the rising star explains that her career could have turned out rather differently if she had only done more homework at school.  

With Kiss Me First playing out across both a real-life and a computer-generated world, was it a strange auditioning process?

I think it was a pretty usual audition process. It took a couple of months. Jane Ripley, the casting director, works in a way that she gets people who are non-actors. She also cast Skins, so she kind of likes to work with non-actors or emerging actors, in a home-grown sense. I think that the way that she casts is really interesting, literally putting it out to so many people. It creates quite an organic cast. It was fun, but it took a while.

Did you have any idea Netflix was involved at the time?

No, you sort of just go for auditions and don’t really think of it. I don’t think Netflix was as big as it is now — it’s made quite a lot of progress, even in the past year. I don’t remember it being such a vital part of entertainment then. But It was originally supposed to go on [Channel 4's youth-oriented channel] E4, so I thought it might be targeting a slightly different audience. But now it’s on Channel 4, so that’s really exciting. I’ve grown up watching Channel 4. I didn’t think it would be on Channel 4 and have that kind of reception.

Was the CGI bit all computer-generated or did you have to do motion capture?

Yeah, we had to film the motion capture ourselves. So we went to a studio in West London and were there at about 7 a.m. in a blank gray room with dots all over our faces and these huge head cameras and these really unflattering gray jumpsuits with Velcro polystyrene dots on them. So that was fun! I’m not a morning person. There was a lot of jumping about like a child in this gray room in West London. That’s the reality of these things!

There are a lot of similarities to Ready Player One. Did you have any idea of the film while you were making Kiss Me First?

I haven’t seen it yet, but as a production team I think people were aware that it had similar themes. It looks really exciting — hopefully they play well together, commenting on the zeitgeist. But yeah, it’s the coming-of-age, merging of live-action and motion capture, which is really exciting, as a new genre. I think virtual reality should be and will be used as a film technique in the future, not just with animation but with real footage and in a documentary sense, it’s really interesting. I think it’s opening people’s eyes to that. 

Have you seen much virtual reality yourself?

Yeah, I was at SXSW two years ago promoting a film I was in and did a couple of VR things. One of them was footage from a woman going to get an abortion. It was real footage, she was in a car and you could turn around and look at the car, and then to your right was all these protestors outside the abortion clinic, and it followed her going into the clinic and being in the doctor’s surgery. It was really interesting, and I think it should definitely be used like that, giving people that perspective. Because it’s so overwhelming on the senses.

Kiss Me First comes from the creator of Skins. Given that almost everyone who appeared on the show has gone on to have fairly incredible careers, it must be exciting.

It’s really exciting. But yeah, I really admire the careers of people who have been in Skins. Like Daniel Kaluuya, he’s really cool. I think Bryan and the team on Skins were really supportive of the artists working on it and they’ve done the same for us. They’re really respecting us as people. Daniel wrote an episode of Skins, so there’s that encouragement from an early age. He was like 17 or something. Bryan is a well-rounded creative and very supporting of us. It’s really nice to be a part of that. 

Have you always wanted to act?

I decided to do acting at secondary school. My friends had picked drama, but I was doing business studies for some reason, and they just didn’t have any homework. So I just switched, it was really that simple. But I don’t really see myself as a straight actor anyway, more as an artist and performer. And there are lots of crossovers between different art forms.

What else are you involved in?

I do drag and performance art in cabaret settings in London. But also do writing and some fine art. But it’s not two separate things. It’s an interesting crossover.

Do you have a particular drag character?

I don’t have a specific name, although I am working on it. It sort of depends on what I want to explore in that particular performance. Some people have stage names and they’re better than their performance. But that’s just me being cynical. My friends suggested "Luke Warm.” My mum says I’ve already got a stage name — which is my own name. Setting me up for failure there, thanks mum!

Are there any other creatives in your family?

My mum is a midwife now, but she was a fine artist. My dad’s not an artist, but he’s pretty strange. Inspiringly strange — his life is a durational art performance!

Are you heading back for the next season of Taboo?

Is there one? I didn’t know …

I’m pretty sure it’s been commissioned…

Are you just making that up? In that case, yes I am! Well, I got on the boat, so they can’t just kill me off now! There were only three people who made it on the boat …

Having not seen Taboo to the end, I don’t know what that means. Am I right in assuming it's a good thing?

Ha! I think it’s very dependent on Tom’s schedule. But it was great to be a part of. There was a lot going on. It was a huge production. So you can just say, “Yes, I’m coming back.”

Ha! Is there anything else coming up?

I can’t divulge that, but thank you for asking and being interested. But there are some exciting projects that I’m hoping to work on, that might be in the U.S. So let’s see. I can’t really say. But the future looks bright, so bright!