From Walker’s daring How to Have Sex, to the socially relevant BBC3 series MOOD, it’s hard not to be enamoured by Lara Peake’s on screen performances. The actress was first immersed in acting through a drama workshop in her home city of Nottingham, which she still speaks of fondly as the spark that kickstarted her acting career. As a rising film star, Lara has already played several challenging roles that have entailed physical as well as emotional transformations.
Her role as 16-year-old Skye in Walker’s latest film, proved to audiences that she appreciates acting as a way of bringing forth profoundly honest stories. She often uses personal experience to delve into her roles, and acknowledges the weight of responsibility that comes with embodying characters that are nuanced and hyper-realistic. Lara’s role in MOOD  had the actress totally transformed, as she took on the role of a social media influencer and online sex worker, who navigates both the positive and negative aspects of what comes with these jobs – both of which are increasing in popularity along with the expansion of social media platforms. Lara Peake appears to be trailblazing the representation of current social issues through her film portrayals in 2023, and is only on the brink of demonstrating her versatility as an actress with her upcoming role in the Disney+ adaptation of the drama novel Rivals. 
Today we have the pleasure of chatting to Lara Peake, the magnetising, up-and-coming actress, who most recently starred in Molly Manning Walker’s independent film How to Have Sex. Lara, how has the new year been treating you so far? Have you been working on any new projects?
Good thanks! I can’t believe the year is already flying by so quickly! I’m on a train at the moment on my way down to London to do some ADR for a TV series that I wrapped on last year. It’s the Disney+ adaption of Jilly Cooper’s novel Rivals and I can’t wait. It’s all set in the 1980s and comes out later this year.
Could you tell us how you found out about Walker’s film? What was your reaction when you first read the script?
She chatted to me about it briefly one day when we were both working on BBC3’s MOOD because she was writing it at the same time. I was playing an influencer and sex worker in her mid-twenties at the time so when she asked me whether I thought I could play a sixteen year old I was like "absolutely not!”. But obviously when you step outside of one headspace and into another things become less black and white so when we’d wrapped and the self-tape came through I was set on trying my best to channel 16-year old Skye. The script was immediately so relatable and it felt brave and honest. I’d had similar experiences to what is in the film and I felt really conflicted after the first time I read the script. It was that feeling that made me realise there was a deep need and responsibility for us to tell this story.
At only 25, you already have seventeen film credits under your belt, including a writing and directing credit for the upcoming short Personal Best. Tell us a bit about how you first got into acting, and what fuelled your recent creative manoeuvre into both writing and directing.
I first got into acting through a Nottingham based acting group called Inspire Academy. Whenever I go back there it always feels like coming home and that’s down to Luke Gell, the founder and all the amazing members there. It’s a safe environment that really does foster and support ambition whilst building a community and bringing together young actors from all different parts of Notts. I actually went back there to shoot Personal Best and two of the actors in the short are members of Inspire Academy. Writing is a newish endeavour for me but I’ve always written because I genuinely enjoy it and can’t not, though it’s always just been a hobby to me until recently. There’s a couple of scripts I’m working on at the moment, both very contrasting projects, which is fun.
How did you find taking on the role of director for a change? Was it an uncomfortable or natural adjustment?
I absolutely loved being on set, working with the actors and shooting all day. It was great to be able to discuss and big up the actors when they did something amazing. It was a short film though so it came with its many obstacles and once we were in post-production I’d already gone onto Rivals so juggling my time became difficult when we had deadlines to meet. But I was really, really lucky because I had a brilliant producer, Danielle Goff, who supported me throughout and we were blessed with such talented crew who only brought the best vibes. It was a year ago from now that we wrapped and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Which role or film has been the most transformative for you, in terms of how much you were challenged and what you learnt?
Probably playing Carly in MOOD closely followed by Skye in How To Have Sex. Carly Visionz was a huge challenge for me, both physically and mentally. I’d never really been considered for a role like that and roles like that are rare and so it felt like a real gift to be trusted with that challenge. The way she spoke, walked, dressed, did her hair, makeup - I had prosthetic bum and hip pads to appear as though I’d had plastic surgery and clip in veneers. It was so immersive going through costume and makeup every morning and that helped me massively. But getting there, searching for who she was and where she’d been, really pushed me out of my comfort zone, in the absolute best way.
Returning to your latest film, How to Have Sex submerges the audience in an intoxicating plot about three young girls who set out to have the summer of their lives, only for their experience to take a nightmarish turn. The film elicits the types of crucial questions that are always brewing below the surface, about sexual politics, boundaries, and consent. When it comes to someone as avoidant as Skye, how did you achieve that subtle, tonal shift in your performance when the narrative turned dark?
I guess I’d seen it and experienced it first-hand. And I do think that the kind of behaviour Skye exhibits is the type you can’t really retaliate to - it’s too subtle. It’s in what’s not said; her body language, the silent treatment, the exclusion, the looks she throws or the hurtful remarks that are disguised as jokes. I guess channelling that had to feel subconscious because really what’s going on is vulnerability and insecurity. With Skye there were a lot of questions I didn’t want to know the answer to. Sometimes I want to be able to answer absolutely everything about a character but with Skye it felt different. I don’t think she knows herself properly yet and we have to allow her some degree of redemption because she’s young and figuring things out. So I guess my approach was to somehow channel some of Skye’s avoidance in my approach to discovering her, so that not everything makes complete sense.
Many viewers perceived Skye as the villain within the girls’ friend group. How do you empathise with her in spite of this?
I guess it’s behind the facade where you’ll find ways to empathise - she’s young and insecure, clearly feeling and carrying the weight of societal pressure and social media. She’s easily influenced yet so persuasive and pressurising in how she interacts with her friends too.
Have you ever been too immersed in a character?
I don’t think I’m full on method but I definitely find that characters rub off on me when I’m on a job. I catch myself buying clothes that they might buy and listening to the music that I think they like. Being in the mindset of a different person daily definitely blurs your reality to some extent. Things start to merge and it can be really fun but you also need to know when to take a step back and look after yourself. The outlet and escape I feel from playing another human is great though and I love getting lost in it.
You’re also prominent on television as well as film, having starred in the BBC Three hit show MOOD, as well as The English Game, and the Disney+ series Rivals – which has yet to come out. What was your experience like playing Carly Visionz in MOOD? During a time where social media influencers are becoming more prevalent and influential, what kind of commentary does a show like MOOD offer?
I think it massively opens your eyes to the world of social media and how we use it. It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s great in so many ways but I do think had I been 14 now growing up around it as prevalent as it is today, I’d really struggle. Carly Visionz advertises her life to her 400k + followers as something totally different to what it actually is so I think the show really comments on how we shouldn’t necessarily believe everything we see as it appears. The majority of people only post their good times, not their bad ones, so I can understand at times why it can feel like an echo chamber of constant self-comparison.
What kinds of characters are you most drawn to playing?
Those that you can really sink your teeth into the lives of - real life people or fictional ones. I’m lucky that the last few characters I’ve played have contrasted each other so I guess I’m always looking for something new that challenges me.
What is the most pleasant aspect, and what is the most difficult aspect of your work?
Discovering new parts of yourself through character and storytelling, travelling, becoming a family with the cast and crew and socialising outside of work to name a few. There are so many amazing aspects of the job and it really is a gift to be able to love the job that you do and I’m immensely grateful I get to do that. The most difficult part is definitely the unpredictable nature of it - when you’re in limbo and don’t know when your next job will be. You have to find ways to keep yourself busy and disciplined - as well as making sure you’re not burning yourself out when you’re on a long job. A good self-care routine is needed!
One final question before we wrap up, do you have any passion projects that you’d like to accomplish in the near future?
I’d love to play an assassin or something like that; the physical immersion and training would be fun. But I guess anything where you’re having to study or train to become the character. I’d also love to work with one of my favourite directors, that would be amazing.