Scrapper: Lola Campbell talks spiders, improv and toy rabbits

5 mins
23 Aug 2023
Scrapper: Lola Campbell talks spiders, improv and toy rabbits

The actress talks through her first role in the Sundance prize-winning film, Scrapper

image SCRAPPER / DMC Film; BBC Film; Great Point Media (2023)

words Zoe Whitfield

Barely 15 minutes into Scrapper, writer-director Charlotte Regan’s debut feature, best friends Ali and Georgie have a sleepover, top and tailing in Georgie’s single bed when Ali asks what stage of grief she’s at now. “I think I’m almost finished,” responds the 12 year-old, who’s been living alone since her mum died, lying about her situation to almost everyone but Ali.

Played by first-time actors, teens Alin Uzun and Lola Campbell, the scene sets up the film’s unique disposition, employing a mostly sunny outlook on an otherwise despondent situation. While the pair steal bikes to help Georgie maintain her home, on a candy-floss coloured council estate near the end of the Central line, it’s also the school holidays and so their days feature dance routines and breakfasts at the local cafe.

“Georgie’s quite a tomboy, and I can be like that at times,” shares Campbell, speaking during her own school holidays on a Zoom call from a London cinema. “I think [we share] a sense of independence. I quite enjoy looking after myself, cooking and stuff.” Aged just 11 when the film was made, Campbell’s casting came off the back of a tape in which she waxed lyrical about the joys of discount store Home Bargains. When she first met with Regan and producer Theo Barrowclough however, that same energy escaped her so the filmmakers, knowing they had someone special, began making weekly visits to her home. “We knew she was a legend when she went on a tangent during an improv about (I think) a spider that was a grandma and had a box full of weapons,” Regan, who worked with acclaimed casting director Shaheen Baig, recently told Sundance (the film picked up a Grand Jury Prize in January).

Conceived as a sort of anti-social realism picture in a bid to honour Regan’s experiences growing up in North London, Scrapper rejects much of the gloom that traditionally pervades working class depictions, instead marrying the weighty issues of grief and family dynamics with a lightness that arrives via the set design and cinematography. In addition to the pastel-fronted estate, the film inserts a series of talking heads – mean girls all dressed in pink, triplets with matching yellow bikes, ties and shirts; grey for the careless social workers – while Campbell’s spider dialogue is utilised in a whimsical segment with talking arachnids, and elsewhere the character’s young age, oftentimes obscured by her precociousness, is recalled in the naming of a fake uncle: Winston Churchill. As the dramedy’s protagonist, much of its comic and emotional elements are based around the actress’s own spiritedness, as well as her aptitude for filling silences, presumably informed by Eastenders’ Slater sisters, her favourite on-screen family.

“I didn't read the full script,” says Campbell, “a lot of it was improvisation, but it was easy with Harris, because he’d done a lot of stuff in the past.” Harris Dickinson, of last year’s satirical black comedy Triangle of Sadness, plays Jason, Georgie’s absentee dad who announces himself by jumping over the fence, having returned from a long stint in Ibiza to reshape Georgie’s narrative, or as she initially sees it – scheming with Ali to get rid of him – interrupt the good thing she has going.

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“We had a week or two [to rehearse], but we didn't actually rehearse,” remembers Campbell of their first meeting. “Charlotte would leave us to learn a scene, come back and we’d just be messing about.” With the production’s base on a school ground, the duo established a bond on the playground’s obstacle course.

“Charlotte’s very good at making people feel comfortable,” the actress continues, referencing the director’s calm sensibility on set and secure shooting style, which no doubt serviced the dance routines that underscore some of the film’s more tender and particularly affecting scenes. Early on when Ali’s mum asks her how she’s coping for example, Georgie instinctively whispers “dance” to her friend, while later, she and Jason pull shapes as they begin to form a connection. “We were just messing about and they filmed it, then that obviously made it in,” notes Campbell of the latter sequence, adding that both routines were a joint effort between her and her screen partners.

A further tool Regan gives the audience for comprehending Georgie’s grief is the West Ham shirt she dons throughout the film: it belonged to her late mum, and before that was Jason’s. Though Campbell’s immediate family have allegiances with the Irons, Chelsea and Tottenham, she’s not especially bothered by the sport herself, instead landing on the character’s attachment via an old toy rabbit of her own.

“One time I lost it, so when my mum was asleep I went on her phone and ordered a new one,” she explains, echoing something of the boldness and initiative that Georgie frequently displays. “It was coming from Japan, so when someone phoned about shipping [it] she was like ‘what?!’. She cancelled it but I ended up getting one, the same one I’ve had since I was six or seven.”

When asked about spiders, the characters with which she made one of her earliest impressions on the filmmakers and which, on screen fill the corners of Georgie’s living room (she cleans around them on account of her mum’s loyalty), the actress’s enthusiasm shifts. “I hate them,” she clarifies, deviating from Georgie’s lighthearted protest at their familiarity with her home – and her own ease with exploiting them in ad-lib situations previously.

“In the film I protect the spiders because Ali tells me not to hoover them, but in real life I'm terrified.” Traditionally a symbol of new beginnings, here the small creatures additionally reflect the precariousness of the situation at the heart of Scrapper, and ultimately the tenderness it invites. On a more meta level, their proximity provided a vehicle for Campbell’s own personal growth.

Scrapper is in UK cinemas from August 25

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