Skins, the popular, provocative British series about sex, drugs, and friendship, is in its fifth season in the U.K., where it launched the careers of A Single Man’s Nicholas Hoult and Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel with its realistically vivid depiction of teenagers run amok. To oversee the new U.S. counterpart, which premiered on MTV in January, the network enlisted father-and-son creators Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain with an eye to preserving the authenticity of the original series. But a decision to change the gay male character in the original script to a lesbian (Tea, pictured, played by actress Sofia Black D’Elia) in the Yankee version has generated concern that producers have kowtowed to the notion that American audiences aren’t ready to accept sexualized gay male teenagers. Elsley insists the gender switch came about by impulse.
“I certainly never think about whether people will accept gay characters or not,” Elsley says. “I had not seen the person I wanted to play the male character, but I saw a female actor who gave me inspiration, so at that moment I decided to change the sex of the character.”
In another move to keep the story genuine, the creators are again using real teenagers (which Elsley calls the “Teenage Advisory Group”) to help write the story lines. “We have a large group of teenagers in New York, who come twice a week, read all the scripts, and are involved in our conception meetings,” he says. “Inside that group is quite a number of gay teenagers, who are both male and female.”
While Elsley doesn’t have immediate plans to add new characters — gay or straight — he hopes that may change with his intention to add more gay writers to the staff. “I’d like to see those voices reflected properly in the show,” he says. “I think it will be inevitable that there will be more gay characters added to the show.”