Kiss Me First contains a lot of CGI sequences ©Channel 4
Channel 4’s bold new show Kiss Me First morphs real-life teenage drama with CGI virtual reality, but its ambitions didn’t come without some strain on the cast.
Created by Skins writer Bryan Elsley, Kiss Me First follows Leila, 17, who is hooked by online gaming world Azana following her mother’s death. After meeting charismatic Tess inside a secret part of the world called Red Pill, they become close on the outside, before she mysteriously disappears.
It’s a show of two halves, translating real-life events back and forth with animated sequences as characters become avatars in the world of Azana; where they chat with friends under a guise, beat each other to a pulp and explore an expansive world.
Simona plays Tess in Kiss Me First ©Channel 4
Tess is played by The Night Manager and Guilt star Simona Brown, whose acting past had never included motion capture before.
Speaking to Metro.co.uk, Simona revealed how the experience wasn’t as hi-tech as she expected, saying: ‘I thought it’d be really cool. I thought there’d be these really cool slick suits and a green screen, but it wasn’t.
‘You’re wearing these really unflattering grey suits and dots all over our faces and bodies. We were wearing these really expensive mechanisms with a motor in your ear. It was quite distracting and it was a lot to wrap our heads around.’
The motion capture sequences were the first they filmed on the show, which proved a welcome way to break the ice between a new cast.
‘We were still getting to know each other but we had to let our guard down when we’re in such ridiculous suits,’ Simona added.
‘We really had to use our imaginations. There was no fake trees or anything to lend any inspiration – you just had photos and would have to take it from there, and work closely with the director. It was a tricky one, but I definitely think my imagination has expanded, because it had to.
‘Next time I’ll be a pro,’ she jokes. ‘I can do Avatar now. Zoe Saldana, she better watch out that’s all I’m saying.’
She was initially attracted to the role due to Bryan’s past work, along with the show’s leaps elsewhere.
‘When I got the script, it ticked so many boxes,’ Simona says. ‘It had Bryan Elsey’s name attached, tick, and then I also liked it was a female-led script and I really liked how well written and fully fleshed the characters were.
‘I’d never heard of a TV show involving virtual reality and had no idea what that could potentially be or look like, so I was quite intrigued.
‘I went in with an open mind but I did not expect for it to look as amazing and detailed as it does. My expectations were definitely surpassed, but I don’t think I really had any.’
Tess and Leila’s lives sync up in the real world ©Channel 4
Ahead of filming, Simona also immersed herself in virtual reality games already out there – recounting a particularly harrowing experience inside a virtual shark tank.
‘That was terrifying,’ Simona says. ‘I went through so many emotions. I didn’t think I was going to die, it was weird, my subconscious knew I was in a room playing a game but visually I was so involved and emotionally invested.
‘I think [virtual reality] is definitely an exciting new element of gaming and storytelling and I think that opens up a host of new possibilities for gamers and creators to explore.
‘I’m excited about it but I guess on a sensory level it’s kind of scary. I don’t think it’s for the faint hearted if you’re going to play a game like that.’
While she admits she doesn’t play many games now, her childhood is partly defined by an obsession with creating another life in The Sims.
Tess Williams’ avatar is called Mania
‘I was heavily involved with The Sims in my adolescence,’ Simona says. ‘I had all of the versions, I had all the expansion packs, I would play the game for hours, days on end.
‘It was like me directing my own play. I liked I had a world I was in complete control of and I could decide the narrative. It was my form of escapism for my hay fever allergy because I couldn’t go outside.’
Simona is now filming for new BBC and AMC mini-series The Little Drummer Girl based on John le Carre’s novel, starring Florence Pugh, Michael Shannon and directed by Park Chan-wook, who helmed 2016’s controversial erotic thriller The Handmaiden.
She’s set to play ‘badass’ Rachel, but she’s keen to return to Kiss Me First if a second series would be on the cards.
‘I think there’s always a possibility for a second season,’ Simona says. ‘So I hope there’s a second season. I guess it’s down for the audience to decide where the characters end up.’
Kiss Me First airs on Channel 4 Mondays at 10pm.