Life is about to get next-level crazy for Sophie Turner. It hasn’t been normal for years now, not since she won the role of Sansa Stark in obsessed-over TV show Game of Thrones at the age of 13. But after this month, as season six of GoT begins and she embarks on a juggernaut publicity tour for X-Men: Apocalypse with co-stars Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult, her time as an under-the-radar ingénue is up: everyone will be watching.
She’s already getting a taste of it: cheering from the sidelines as her friend Alicia Vikander made an emotional Oscar acceptance speech; being flown from London to New York for a seven-minute high-fashion photoshoot; sitting front row at Louis Vuitton’s FW16 show in Paris… It’s giddy stuff.
And, truly, Turner is enjoying every minute. Even standing in the grounds of an English stately home in freezing temperatures, wearing whisper-fine dresses while today’s shoot crew are stamping their feet in woolen coats and thick down jackets, the 20-year-old actress is smiling. It’s not just about stoicism or being a professional; it’s because, although her extremities are turning blue, she’s having fun. It’s a glorious thing to witness.
Not that Turner became an actress because she coveted the lifestyle. This all began, as she tells it, when she was three years old and her mother needed a few minutes to herself. “She just wanted a place to put us kids so she could go and hang out with her friends and basically stay sane,” says Turner, “so my brothers James, 28 and Will, 26 went to rugby and Mum sent me to drama class.” The motive behind choosing drama was her extreme shyness. “I wouldn’t say hello or goodbye to anyone.” The drama group put on regular public performances and, at first, Turner struggled. “I was so nervous that I would shake and nearly pee myself before I went on stage. The reason I kept on was that it was an excuse to go somewhere on a Saturday and swear and kiss boys. You get so much freedom from acting – no boundaries, no judgement.”
“Sansa Stark is like my best friend, my other half. I worry for her because she’s a real person to me”
That no-boundaries grounding came in handy when Game of Thrones – with its notoriously unrestrained scenes of sex and violence – came calling. Aged 13 at the time, Turner hadn’t heard of George R.R. Martin’s cult novels. She’d been to only one previous audition, without success, and this one just seemed like something fun to do with her friends during their lunch hour: “We all just went along and kind of made fun of it.” As the selection process went on, though, and her first professional role danced within reach, Turner became obsessed. “I’d go into my mum’s room every night crying, saying, ‘If I don’t get this I’m not going back to school! This is everything to me!’ But then I got it, and it was the best day of my life – it still is.”
Seven years in, Turner’s passion for Sansa is unabated. Not for her the fatigue that comes with playing a long-running role. “I really care about this character; she’s like my best friend, my other half,” says the actress. “I worry for Sansa because she’s a real person to me. I’m constantly saying to David and Dan Benioff and Weiss, the show’s creators, ‘What’s going to happen to her? You have to tell me!’ I almost think about her more than I do myself. It’s like a split personality; sometimes I slip into her by mistake.”
Sophie Turner and Sansa Stark are intertwined; they have grown up together, alongside the co-stars who are now like family to her. The sexual content of the show ensured that Turner and her young cast mates had no need of the parental ‘birds and bees’ talk – there was nothing they hadn’t been exposed to. “It was brutal,” she laughs. “I remember being at the read-through and being like, ‘Oh my God!’ But once I had watched the first season, I was numb to it all.”
“Until now, the plot has been about Sansa’s survival, but last season broke her so now she’s gunning for revenge”
Up to this point, we’ve seen Sansa trapped and tortured within the walls of castles, but the new series will see her out in the wilderness. “This season blows my mind! A lot happens to Sansa and by the end of it she’s totally different,” explains Turner. “She has to take command because Theon Greyjoy, played by Alfie Allen, who assisted Sansa in her escape from Winterfell at the end of season five is a shell of the man he was, so this is her realizing that she has to take things into her own hands. Until now, it’s just been about her survival and seeing her family again, but last season broke her, so I think she is gunning for revenge now, too.”
With the next book in Martin’s series yet to be released, the show is going even further off-page. Is it unnerving, having no idea what lies in store for Sansa in a show that has no qualms about killing off key characters? “I think George told David and Dan everything there is to know, but I don’t know if what we’ve just shot will be in the book,” says the actress. “I think they can take the show whichever way they want, so fingers crossed we’ll go back and get going again in July.” Does that mean Sansa survives to the end of season six? Turner can’t possibly confirm; Game of Thrones’ secrets are strictly guarded. Though there is one question she can answer: “Every single person I speak to asks, ‘Is Jon Snow dead?’ Yeah, of course he is!”
Away from the Seven Kingdoms, Turner is donning the vacuum-packed X-Men costume as Professor X’s super-powerful student Jean Grey. Telling the story of the young telepath’s struggle to control her powers, it’s the actress’ first blockbuster experience, complete with mandated personal trainers and world-famous co-stars. For someone who has made no secret of her girl crush on leading lady Jennifer Lawrence, it was a big deal; luckily, the feeling was mutual. “Jennifer was like, ‘I’m so excited to work with you, I love Game of Thrones!’” says an incredulous Turner. “She was amazing; a lot of fun. But because she was shooting other movies she was going back and forth on weekends, so while the rest of us were going out and partying, she had to work. We all felt bad for her, she was exhausted.”
“I don’t know if what we’ve shot will be in the book. But everyone asks, ‘Is Jon Snow dead?’ Yes, of course he is!”
When she first won the part, Turner asked Famke Janssen, who played an older version of Grey in previous X-Men films, for her blessing. “I would hate someone else to play Sansa, so I can’t imagine how Famke feels. I emailed her straight away to say, ‘Are we cool?’” explains Turner. “I thought she did an incredible job so I said, ‘I hope I can do justice to your character.’ She sent me such a lovely reply – ‘I’m handing that honor over to you’ – that I cried.”
The personal trainer was another hit. The actress credits her exercise regime for the film with helping her through a tough time. “Before I got the trainer, I went through a bit of a dark place, I was not happy with myself. I think for me, and for every young girl out there, body image is such a big thing, especially if you are in the public eye. People comment on your appearance and… eugh. So when I was forced to get into shape and eat healthily, my skin cleared up and I felt energetic all the time. It totally changed me.”
Fashion, too, is a new interest. Awards season saw her step out in designs by the likes of Chloé, Galvan London and Carolina Herrera. It’s all a far cry from her first red-carpet experience: “It was a dress that I had worn before – for a school disco,” she says. “I did my makeup on the train.” Now she works with British stylist Rebecca Corbin-Murray, but in typical Turner style, it’s lighthearted: “I go to Rebecca’s house where we drink tea and champagne and try on all the dresses. It’s so much fun.”
It’s a good thing she enjoys the process: a great many more red carpets lie in Sophie Turner’s future. We’ll be watching – it’s impossible not to.
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