Tallulah Haddon interview: “I’m being my own knight in shining armour, not the flailing princess”

Originally featured here on tmrw.
Photo credit: Sara Feigin

We chat to actress Tallulah Haddon, star of Channel 4’s latest – Kiss Me First. 

How did she get to where she is? “It was sort of by accident – at school I swapped classes cause everyone said they just played games and had no homework.” There you have it, kids. You can just stop reading now. But don’t really, Tallulah is pretty fascinating.

As she answers my Microsoft Word document questions, I ask where she is right at that moment and what is immediately to her left. “In a giants stomach!! Blood and guts…” Very theatrical. Tallulah recalls how everyone thought she was “a freak” because she liked art growing up, and knew she wanted to get into acting when, “I was about 13 years old and I saw a Moira Finucane pour a bowl of tomato soup down her front very slowly.”

Tallulah has been doing drag shows and performance art for years, “I used to use any opportunity to dress up as strange people and creatures from a young age, I think it started from there as I realised these characters could act as a critique of power structures. Drag for me has always been about dismantling the patriarchy and challenging the presentation of female and femme characters. Ridiculing and playing. It is an art form open to all and it is not owned by anyone. It’s also fun and silly!!! And messy!!! When people are laughing, but also cringing and they feel uncomfortable, then they are learning something!”

Tallulah is now starring in Channel Four and Netflix coproduced original Kiss Me First. How does she feel? “Fucking great.” Noting her happiness with meeting Simona Brown and doing her own underwater stunts. “I’m being my own heroooo innit!!! Being the strong person saving people from the depths, being my own knight in shining armour, not the flailing princess.” Tallulah is playing the main character Leila, a lonely, reserved 19-year-old who becomes addicted to a massive multiplayer online role-playing game called Azana. But how does she relate to the role? “Leila is hardcore, I’m hardcore… In soft core kinda way, like a twinkie, nah that’s just soft.” So they’re both hard. And soft(?) But Tallulah also says she was interested in the character because of how Leila relates to other characters in a counterintuitive way.

Explaining more of the show in her own words, Tallulah says, “It’s centered around Leila, a young working class woman from Rotherithe dealing with the difficulties of being a young carer for her mother who has MS. She becomes more and more immersed in a game that she’s played since her early teens, called Azana. Hopefully it gives some insight into the life of a young woman who is isolated but has a lot to offer to the world if given the opportunity.”

Virtual reality, and living our life online, is a hot topic as technology develops. With virtual reality games so real and full of escapism – why would one not try and live in another reality they see as better? Tallulah recalls how she has seen virtual reality used in challenging and provocative ways, namely within the context of protest and fine art. “At SXSW, I experienced a VR which showed real life footage of the push back of protesters at an abortion clinic, I felt this really highlighted the issues we face with the right to abortion in America.”

Speaking of bringing this online world to meet reality, I questioned whether the two should ever meet? “They do everyday!” Tallulah answered. “We are living our lives more and more online. And online activity can directly affect our ‘real’ lives, for instance you can be arrested for inappropriate tweets and revenge porn.” So, when our online world can affect our reality – the escapism element disappears, surely?

For some, they want to be someone else online. Whether that is someone who is more outgoing or confident, or they have the platform to be who they truly think they are but cannot be in reality, or even be someone else entirely. We are living in an age where ‘Catfish’ is common vocabulary and we are taught to question who we are talking to online, and if they’re genuine or not. Speaking of the character Leila spending a multitude of time online, Tallulah said, “Leila lacks role models, she is isolated and has been neglected by care systems having their budgets cuts, for instance the independent living fund for her mother. Unfortunately, she is in a position where it is very difficult for her to get help or support. Perhaps if she had more support in the real world she could distance herself somewhat from Azana. I think if we bring it back to gaming, which is an art form, it makes total sense for her to want to be part of the Azana world, which holds so much more potential than her own.”

Again, as technology has developed, and we spend more hours on our phone than socialising in reality (maybe), we need to look at our addiction to being online as a society. And it is a theme that arises in Kiss Me First, when questioned about the effect of this, Tallulah said, “That’s a hard question, the internet can be a hostile environment and internet trolls can be very abusive, especially to women. I would say the patriarchy is a prevalent force on the internet. However there is meritocratic element to the internet. There is a lack of hierarchy and it is a place where global connections can be made. Platforms like Instagram have encouraged activism. Think about Tumblr and what that has done for gay people; young people from smaller towns, for example, can find a whole community of like minded folks. There is a huge lack of representation in the mainstream media, you have to find your own role models and online can be the place to find them.”

And maybe searching for something that you feel is not fulfilled in your reality is the reason many of us, and character Leila, go online to try and feel whole.

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