LONDON – As far as debut performances go, few have been as striking in recent memory as that of Vicky Knight’s in Sacha Polak’s challenging drama Dirty God, telling the story of Jade, who is recovering from a tragic ordeal whereby her abusive ex-partner threw acid on her. The actress, who works as a nursing assistant by day, was the victim of a horrible house fire when a child, and admits, during a chat with Hot Corn, that she used to hate her scars – but this experience has changed her perspective, proving to be a hugely beneficial and enlightening one for the young Londoner. In this candid discussion she opens up about her difficult past, but there’s an element of hope attached, for the future looks mighty promising, as Vicky Knight is a name we’re sure you’ll be hearing a lot more of.
This is of course your debut movie – what was the experience like for you?
It was amazing, it really was. I didn’t expect it to be how it was. From the minute I walked on set I knew everyone’s job. I pick up things quite quick anyway, I never learnt my lines when I was filming. The whole cast and crew were insane, absolutely amazing, and to even be a part of a movie is incredible. It’s been insane.
How essential do you think it is in a film of this nature, and for a role like this, it’s been given to somebody who has lived through those experiences, and been in that skin?
It was very difficult at the beginning, because I didn’t know what to expect, or what would happen. I had a really bad experience before with a TV documentary. I was asked to do it, and they said they wanted somebody with burns, to see how they cope with their life. So I accepted to do it because I was bullied a lot in school, and it turned out to be a dating programme, they didn’t have a name for it, now I know that’s a lie. They called it ‘Too Ugly For Love’ and they put me on blind dates with boys. I mean, I’m gay. One of the boys who was on a date with me was also gay. It was a completely humiliating experience and really ruined my self-esteem. Lots of it was scripted as well, so people were messaging me like, ‘Vick – what is this? It ain’t even you, is it a joke?’ Then I got hate mail, and trolls who set up a website called Sluthate and the comments on there were horrendous, like ‘the wrong person died in the fire’, things like that.
Then the casting director for Dirty God came to me two years after. Because I’d made a motivational video of how I got burnt as a child. I was in an arson attack unfortunately, and I lost my two cousins, and the man who saved me also died. So I made a video just to motivate kids about bullying, and I put it on Facebook and YouTube and it went viral. So Lucy came to me on social media, and I ignored her for a year. But she kept on and on and on. She then called me on an unknown number, and I answered. She explained over the phone what it was and the thing that convinced me to do it was that I would be a character in a movie, I wasn’t going to be my own personal self. I met up with her, we did a self-tape, and she sent it to Sacha Polak, the Dutch director for Dirty God, and she said she absolutely fell in love with me from the minute she saw me. I was her Jade. She came over a couple weeks after, we met, we had a really good bonding relationship, we went out partying, to the cinema, she taught me how to swim, dancing lessons, movement coaches. I auditioned with everyone who was in the film and I helped pick the cast as well. I was telling people I was making a movie, and they were like, ‘yeah believe it when we see it’. Now it’s blowing up and coming out in the UK, and now everyone wants to be my friend.
When you had to get into the emotional headspace of Jade, was it difficult to differentiate between the character and yourself? Was the line between her emotions and yours quite blurred?
Yeah, me and Sacha went through the script at the beginning before we started shooting, and each scene that was in the script, we looked at how my own experiences related to Jade, and pretty much the whole script did. For example the name calling that she gets at work, I’ve had that. The covering up and trying to make herself invisible, I’ve done that. Finding a clinic online, I’ve also done that. At the beginning of the film there’s a close-up of my scars and in the beginning I didn’t understand why she wanted that shot, and I went into panic mode because I’ve hid my scars for so long, for 15 years, and now the world was going to see them. But when I see the movie I’m absolutely blown away by it. There’s also lots of nudity in the film, and half of my body is burnt, and to show my body in such a sexual way that I’ve never shown it to someone before, it was such a big deal for me. I mean it is a big deal for any actress to do those sort of scenes, but for a non-professional actress to get your kit off and do what you’ve gotta do for a film, was very overwhelming. But we made it fun. I mean, Sacha was laying under the bed to tell me to make shapes with my breasts and things like that, it was quite funny actually. But the emotional side of it was very difficult, I had loads of breakdowns on set. But everyone knew what I had gone through, so nobody was tiptoeing around me, it was never a hush-hush situation. It wasn’t like that, everyone was so supportive. It was an amazing experience.
Has it helped you now? You say that you’ve always hid your scars, but now you’ve been on screen, and shown so much of your body, and to be a film that celebrates your beauty – has it changed your perspective?
Big time. Big time. Before I started filming, I was at a point in my life where I’d given up. I was very suicidal. A horrendous time, really. I was a mess. Self-neglecting, not going to work, not getting out of bed. I’d be in bed for three or four days. My Mum would always say that they don’t see me anymore, I was wasting away in that bed. What can a mother do when she’s already done what she can do? I always blamed my scars for making me feel like this, I hated them. I never looked at myself in the mirror, I was always covered up. I mean I know I have a jumper on today, but I’d walk around naked if I could, if it was legal, I would! I’m so proud of my scars, they’re a work of art, and they’re mine. It’s something that is so close to me that has got me here and given me a new window to look out of, I can see the sun shining in. It’s such an amazing feeling, it really is.
So would you like to do more films? Is this just the start?
I would love to. Now I’ve got an agent, and apparently quite a few requests have already come in as well, so yeah, if I get another opportunity to do it then I’m going to take it. But my job is a health care assistant at Broomfield Hospital, which saved my life, and I was treated there for my burns. I just love talking about how I’ve overcome these hurdles because I really didn’t think I was going to get out of the place I was in, I didn’t think I would survive past 25 if I’m honest. I’m 24 next week, and it’s such a massive step forward, and if it has helped me, what the hell is it going to do for others?
Are you hopeful you’ll get roles where the scars are not a character trait, they won’t have anything to do with the storyline? Of course in Dirty God it’s imperative to the narrative, but would be great if more opportunities came where it wasn’t even discussed.
Yeah, exactly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film or a TV series where someone has a disability and doesn’t have to explain why they’re in a wheelchair, or why they’ve got this, or why they’ve got that. It’s never just a part of them. For example in Eastenders, there’s a girl in a wheelchair and somewhere down the line they explained why she was in a wheelchair. But what about Phil Mitchell? Why is he bald? Why is nobody questioning that? Why has it always got to be something that is different about someone. Even with Halloween last year, it really got my back up. Loads of people were going out in fancy dress, with burn scar make-up on. Why? Why is that acceptable for Halloween? This is where the hate comes from, because I’ve been labelled Freddy Kruger and I didn’t even know who that was until a few years ago when I asked my mum, and she said it’s a monster with burns. Well why is it acceptable for people to do that? I just want people to realise and have a bit of empathy for us, for people like me.
Yeah it is a visual difference, but I can do everything you can do. So why is it such a scary thing? And this is how kids are being brought up these days. A kid will question and ask, but it’s what you tell them, that’s what they grow up into. Adults are the worst. Adults are horrendous, I’m telling you. I worked in a nursery once, and the little boy I was looking after I saw outside of nursery and he came running up to me to give me a cuddle and his mum picked her kid up and literally walked away from me. Seriously, your kid is going to grow up like you. People think its kids, it’s not. It’s adults.
Has it got normal yet seeing yourself on screen?
We opened the Rotterdam Film Festival and there was two and a half thousand people watching it in one go, and we had a massive standing ovation afterwards and the feeling of that was intense. I can never describe that feeling. But seeing myself on screen? I don’t see myself. I don’t see Vick. I see Jade. It still gets me now, when I watch the film I’m so glad I put it out there so people can see, just have a little insight into what it’s like.