W hen Bryan Elsley, creator-producer of MTV's racy new teen series Skins, first adapted the show from his wildly popular U.K. version, he made a small change. Maxxie, the theatrical gay teen from the original lineup, became Teo. But American audiences will never know what high school archetype Teo filled because, shortly into casting, Elsley met 18-year-old Sofia Black D'Elia (above) -- and Teo became lesbian cheerleader Tea. "Characters come to me fully formed in my head, and they happen to be gay or Puerto Rican or black. I don't tend to plan these things," Elsley says. "Sofia was fantastic, and a character sprung into my mind." D'Elia, for her part, doesn't claim credit, saying the real story is that TV finally has a proud, assertive lesbian walking its high school hallways. "Tea's so confident in her sexuality, and her cheerleading is a portrayal of that," she says. "She's in a group of girls, and she loves having their hands all over her. That's pretty badass."
In fact, most of the characters in Skins are badass, with the cast of nine friends treading controversial waters that bubble over with drug abuse, eating disorders, crime, and, of course, hormones. At the center of the turmoil is Tony, the Ferris Bueller'esque leader of the pack, played in the original series by A Single Man actor Nicholas Hoult. But 18-year-old James Newman (above), whom we see undressed a mere 30 seconds into the show's pilot, puts his own playful spin on the character. "I wanted to be different," he says. "This Tony is a little more sarcastic in the way he tortures people, but also different in that you'll see him change." Despite variations in characters and plot, Elsley says teen angst is universal no matter the side of the pond'with one exception: "Americans use fewer swear words than British people. We have about 25 swears at our beck and call, and you have four. It's really quite strange."