Tallulah Haddon on Kiss Me First: ‘They’re doing something that hasn’t been done before’

Camberwell actor Tallulah Haddon discusses playing Leila in Kiss Me First, the new Channel 4 and Netflix hit drama about a virtual reality gaming site that crosses over into real life

Lead image: Tallulah Haddon by Alex Johnson

Tallulah Haddon is one of those people who gives off an infectious energy and, as we settle down to chat, it’s immediately clear to me why she has been chosen as the lead in a new female-led drama coming to Channel 4 and Netflix this spring, Kiss Me First.

Haddon started her acting journey at National Youth Theatre, but never went to drama school: ‘I was at art school and I happened to be offered this audition for an indie film called Spaceship, and I got it by chance,’ she says modestly. ‘I suppose it was a bit of an accident, but I was interested in performance so it turned out to be a good thing.’

Tallulah Haddon is the actress playing Leila in Kiss Me First on Channel 4 (photo: Alex Johnson)

Tallulah Haddon (photo: Alex Johnson)

Haddon, whose face you may recognise from Taboo and The Living and the Dead, was always creative growing up and had a passion for film.

Growing up in Camberwell allowed her to explore these avenues, with nearby facilities like Southwark Theatre, Siobhan Davis and The Young Vic.

‘I love south London,’ she smiles. ‘I quite like the park at the end of my road in Camberwell and I go foraging there when I’m at home.

‘I love going down to Peckham and dancing as well, and Peckham Library is really great so it’s nice to go there and just read – it’s isolated, really high and the desks are by the windows so it’s a lovely view.’

But with the positive attributes of Peckham – she agrees with me that there is a lot of new support there for the creative industries – Haddon does worry about the effects of gentrification.

‘It’s difficult because when there are a lot of artists coming into the area, it can become gentrified and whitewashed,’ she tells me. ‘So sometimes what can look like progress is actually sweeping away another culture, or other types of art being made.

‘But I do think Peckham is coming up, it’s just a tug of war between forces. However, there is art being made – so that is good.’

Haddon is a talent to be reckoned with and longs to change perceptions and challenge stereotypes and societal norms through live art performance, including cabaret, comedy, drag and ‘sometimes more serious stuff’.

‘I use my body and comedy to subvert things. I focus on creating strange characters, so one of my characters is exploring female sexuality and I try to make people laugh, freak them out and make them question their beliefs.’

I’m not surprised, then, that Haddon is excited to be playing the lead in a female-led series – something that isn’t always easy to come by. So, what can we expect from Kiss Me First?

Firstly, it’s an innovative thriller series written by Bryan Elsley, the maker of Skins, and is now screening on Channel 4 and Netflix. It is an adaptation of Lottie Moggach’s best-selling young adult novel of the same name, and tells the story of Leila (played by Haddon), a lonely 17-year-old girl who is addicted to a fictional online gaming site.

They are doing something with Kiss Me First that hasn’t been done before. Even just in the contrast between animation and live action

While playing the game, Leila meets Tess, a cool and confident party girl who harbours a dark secret. In the real world, the two girls become friends, but after Tess disappears Leila decides to assume her friend’s identity and in doing so is quickly drawn into unravelling the mystery behind her disappearance.

‘It’s kind of new, and they are doing something with the show that hasn’t been done before,’ she smiles. ‘Even just in the contrast between animation and live action, and the way it explores a relationship between two young women in a non-sexual way.

‘It’s very female-led and those two things together are not always done – it’s very much about character development and about the female characters overcoming difficulties in their lives.

‘When I was in Taboo, it was a great world, but you are re-enacting the past,’ she says. ‘With this, it is about trying to imagine a new existence.’

Kiss Me First airs at 9pm on Mondays on channel4.com