A first kiss, struggling to fit in, making new friends in an unfamiliar town. ‘Pin Cushion’ catalogues the experiences of most - if not all - teenagers but its protagonist, Iona, is far from typical. She has an otherworldly quality, having been sheltered from the world by her mother - played expertly by Joanna Scanlan - and her approach to life leads to many heartbreaking twists and turns.
The teen is played by Lily Newmark, an actor in her early twenties who, not counting ‘Pin Cushion’, has four feature films coming out this year. So yes, you could say she’s pretty busy.
“I’m definitely a workaholic in the sense that I don’t like having time to myself,” she tells HuffPost UK. “I like being, not distracted by work, but fulfilled by it. I don’t like having time off and luckily over the last year and a half I haven’t really had any… but it is definitely healthy to give yourself time between projects.”
Her performance as Iona, an unusual teenager going through the usual problems, is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. ‘Pin Cushion’ is a not-so-gentle reminder that adolescence is not easy and you’ll laugh, then cry, as Iona’s experiences flutter between the awkward ones we’ve all endured to catastrophic, world-altering events.
Written and directed by Deborah Haywood, the film is largely autobiographical and doesn’t shy away from truly horrific experiences and after auditioning, Lily found it “incredibly eerie” how familiar Iona felt.
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“She’s sort of… She’s not part of society, she’s not part of this world almost,” Lily says. “She’s been kept inside her whole life, a sort of pet. Not that I had that, but the way she approaches the world is in a naive way. And I definitely felt a lot like that when I was her age, in a way that lots of other teenagers feel.”
One scene, which will stir up senior school memories for many cinema-goers, sees Iona quizzed on her sexual exploits, with classmate Keeley bluntly asking: “Have you sucked any cock?”. Iona hits back with a confident “probably”, which Lily puts down to her incredible “willingness to make friends”.
“She wants to be part of something she’s never experienced before,” she says. “I think I definitely felt that when I was younger. Doing things that wouldn’t necessarily be in my character, through wanting to try new things.”
Having trained at theatre school East 15, Lily is a method actor and for ‘Pin Cushion’, she fully immersed herself in the character’s world, dressing in Iona’s clothes all the time and asking the cast and crew to refer to her by Iona’s name.
“I don’t know if that makes me a better or worse actor but it definitely helped with my process,” she says. “I try to keep as much of my character as possible in order to maintain it. If people call me Lily it takes me out a little bit.”
On this occasion, one upside is that Iona’s hobbies include baking, so Lily now counts banana bread as a speciality. “I guess that’s my dish if I have to ever bring one to a dinner party,” she laughs.
As well as the aforementioned Joanna Scanlan, the cast boasts numerous familiar, female faces. There’s Chanel Cresswell from ‘This Is England’, Isy Suttie (Dobby in ‘Peep Show’) and ex-Girls Aloud singer Nadine Coyle even makes an appearance, in sequences which see Iona imagine a world where her mother is a glamourous air hostess.
“I felt very privileged to be around all of these very strong women,” Lily says. “These women… they’re not wallflowers, they don’t blend into the background, they’re incredibly present and unique to each other. They’re all incredibly funny as well, so they were good people to be around when I had to film dark scenes.”
Even now, in 2018, female-led cast and crews are still too few and far between but a shift is certainly being felt. Hollywood is abuzz with talk of inclusion riders (which would combat the film industry’s many diversity issues) and numerous female-led projects are finally getting the backing and praise they deserve. So when it comes to future roles, will Lily actively seek out more projects led by women?
“I definitely get more excited by female-centric teams,” she says. “I don’t think… it doesn’t always sway my vote, it comes down to a lot of different factors. For instance, with this it was a first-time feature filmmaker and it’s always a gamble going with indie films… but the fact it was all-female, and the fact it was a story that massively resonated with me, meant that I was incredibly excited to be part of it.
“I think it’s appalling that it’s come to the Me Too movement for people to start changing their ways but it’s also incredibly exciting that it’s given people the platform and opportunity to do the work that they deserve to do and to be seen.”
This isn’t Lily’s first film of 2018 either, as back in May she made what she calls a “blink and you’ll miss me” appearance in ‘Star Wars’ spin-off ‘Solo’. Despite the brevity of her screen time, she insists working on the film was “an amazing experience”, explaining: “You could definitely feel the energy of making a blockbuster, even when you’re having lunch or getting a tea there was a sort of… everything’s done differently.
“I’d say I felt lonelier on set of ‘Solo’ [compared to ‘Pin Cushion’], maybe because I didn’t have much to do but I made friends with the runners who were all lovely. It was incredible to be part of something like that but I’d say I felt more intrinsic to the project when I was on Pin Cushion, that was something I could be more involved in.”
Laughing, she concludes: “I enjoyed being on it and it was a privilege but I wouldn’t say it was massively formative to my acting experience.”
So what has been formative? “I grew quite confident on the set of ‘Juliet, Naked’,” she says. “It was my first comedy and it was exhilarating being on the same set as Chris O’Dowd, Rose Byrne and Lily Brazier, as well. Being around them, I didn’t feel so out of place in the way that I feel a lot of the time. I felt like I was supposed to be there. It gave me a boost that I needed.”
When we speak, Pin Cushion’s premiere is just 24 hours away and Lily is at the tail end of a family holiday in Italy - but this brief interlude hasn’t stopped her from plotting her next move.
“One of my brother’s favourite fantasy books, ‘The Stormlight Archives’ is being made into a film,” she says, in response to the final question of what’s next. “The female character in it is a petite redhead with four brothers and it’s a really exciting franchise.
“I’ve done loads of research while I’ve been on holiday so when I get back I’ll start reading the books. It sounds like it would definitely be something exciting to be part of.”
‘Pin Cushion’ is out in UK cinemas now. Watch the trailer below...