By Tom Pattinson
Sophie Turner strolls into the studio bang on time. She’s much taller than I expected. The long dowdy dresses that I associate with her famous TV character, have been replaced by black leggings and a bomber jacket – she rocks it well.
Her hair is no longer bright red but now a light blond. “I died it blond about six months ago and it has been blissful. It really has. I can go into bars now and people don’t recognise me.”
People recognised her because Sophie plays the character Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones. The daughter of beheaded King of the North, Ned Stark; the husband of a murderer who feeds his live victims to his dogs; and the near victim of gang rape. It’s not easy being Sansa Stark.
Game of Thrones fans have watched Sophie grow up over the last six seasons. We’ve seen Sansa evolve from a meek young girl to an increasingly powerful leader, who finally got her first kill. “It felt really good. For six seasons I was like ‘I want my kill, I want that revenge’.”
For the uninitiated, Game of Thrones is a story of feuding families trying to conquer the Iron Throne and gain leadership if the Seven Kingdoms. It’s a mad plot of complex relationships, murders, alliances and double crossing that has made it one of the most popular TV shows ever – and officially the most illegally downloaded show in the world.
It wasn’t long ago that the fantasy genre was aimed at a specific sub-group of people. Fantasy fans were often men of a certain age who had a fear of socialising, poor personal hygiene, and wore ill-fitting t-shirts. Then, in 2011, along came the hit HBO series, and made dragons, giants and undead ice people, suddenly very cool indeed.
A large dose of nudity and plenty of sex scenes certainly helped keep eyes glued to the screen but the show broke boundaries with plenty of taboo smashing: rapes, incest scenes and patricide aplenty. They also managed to keep audiences guessing by killing off lead roles at an alarming rate. To the surprise of not only millions of viewers but even of the cast as well. “There was a perception that it was a very geeky genre and now its sexy,” Sophie tells me.
Sophie is in the studio shooting the cover with William Chan. She throws on dresses with expertise and they hang beautifully from her. She’s very comfortable in the bustling environment of photographers, assistants and producers, and keeps every one entertained with questions about China (she was in Beijing last year for the launch of X-Men), and funny accents (she does a mean northern accent).
We sit down to chat over lunch and I see that Sophie has the piercing blue eyes of a White Walker. Her light-skin, red-lip combination obviously appeals to screen producers looking for an English rose but she is also classically charming in a very British way. Constant smiles, plenty of jokes and a smattering of well-executed swearing. Perfect. She has grown into a very elegant young adult. The girl next door, your mum would be very pleased for you to bring home.
Her accent gives away her middle class roots “I had a wonderful upbringing,” she says. Sophie grew up in the wealthy area of Warwickshire in England and used to spend her weekends riding horses. She was three when she started acted classes and she loved it.
She wanted to be an actress from day one, she says. “Actress or pop star. Or vet. Or police woman – I think that was it. I still want to be a police woman, I think it would be great.”
Is that’s your inner super hero coming out? “Ha yes, maybe…” she laughs.
Sophie was cast as Sansa Stark for Game of Thrones after her drama teacher encouraged her to go for the role. Like so many of the Game of Thrones cast, she was an unknown actress and had no idea how big the show was about to become.
“At that point I was all into the Titanic and the Notebook and those kind of genres. and I just kind of fell into fantasy. I just loved how gritty it was and those fantastical elements that kind of give you that sense of escapism.”
Growing up on the set of Game of Thrones – arguably one of the most brutal, violent and sexually explicit shows to hit screens – was sometimes a bit of an eye opener for the young actress who was just 13 years old when they started filming.
“It was the very first read through, and I sat there and listened to all these crazy sexual positions happening. They read out all the stage direction, and I was sat there like ‘wow’ my mind was blown. I didn’t even know you could do that. My eyes were definitely opened to that a lot earlier than most.”
Sophie’s character Sansa went on to become the subject of a number of violent scenes. In one, filmed when Sophie was only 14 years old, Sansa was nearly gang raped by a marauding mob before being saved at the last moment. Dealing with such violent acts at such a young age must be hard for such a young actor.
“I was so protected. I had a thousand stunt rehearsals with the stunt guy Reggie, and we really kind of got to know each other. It made it so easy and the director he kind of wanted to play it out like a ballet and make it terrible but beautiful in a way. My parents were on set, and everyone was constantly checking up on me. As you get older you realise the gravitas of the situation. I mean if I had done it now I probably would have thought it through a lot more but I am glad they protected me so much.”
When such violence occurs on set, I wonder whether a collective sigh of relief is let out when it’s all over but, Sophie explains, because of the close friendships, breaks between takes are spent laughing and joking rather than crying on each other’s shoulders.
“It’s funny, I think that people always have the perception that when you’re shooting Game of Thrones it’s a very sober and solemn set but it’s not. Although some scenes it can be a little tricky for example if you have a nude scene or the rape scene.”
After reading a lot of negative press about both the attempted gang rape scene and a later rape scene she was involved in, Sophie decided to try to break the taboos around rape and address it directly.
“So many news articles said ‘how dare they put this rape on TV’ and it frustrated me because why wouldn’t we? Why is this so outrageous? Why is this still such a taboo? Patriarchy was very extreme [in the period Game of Thrones was based] and women had no other purpose other than bearing kids, and so that kind of thing happened a lot, and it still continues to happen today. There was such an uproar about it being on screen and yet you hear nothing about it happening all of the world, every day to women and men everywhere. That’s what’s making it so difficult for people to come out and talk about it. Why make it a taboo? Because then if it happens to someone they will feel shamed into not speaking about it.”
Because of this Sophie became involved in the charity Women for Women, which helps women from war torn areas who have been victims of sexual violence, tell their story and provides them the skills, such as entrepreneurship training, to rebuild their lives.
“I went over to Rwanda and saw the work that Women for Women do over there and it was amazing. I met some of these women who had been through the real ringer and come out the other end and it was so inspiring to me.”
Sophie sponsored a woman and after returning to the UK, wrote an article for the Huffington Post. “Going out there and listening to just how much it meant to these women who are so far away in less-economically developed countries. To know that people all over the world have heard their stories and are supporting them.”
Working on Game of Thrones has clearly had a huge impact on her life with the subject matter it addresses is hopefully enabling people to help those around them. And her close relationship with the cast has certainly helped deal with some of the bigger issues the show features.
Sophie calls the cast a “kind of family”. Masie Williams who plays her sister Arya Stark she calls “her soul mate, her other half” and she says Kit Harrington, who plays John Snow, is like an older brother.
But however close they cast may be, it doesn’t mean they have any insider knowledge of the plot lines. “They won’t tell you anything. The only clue I got was that I was going to get a love interest. And that love interest was Ramsey [a murderous rapist]. And I was like thanks so much. I got so excited about it.”
As evidence of this lack of insider knowledge, after Kit Harrington’s character John Snow was killed off at the end of Season 5, a sad Sophie wrote him a card wishing him the best after his Game of Thrones career.
“He found it the other day and sent a screen shot of it to me two days ago.” Sophie reads it out to me, cringing through embarrassment.
Along with Sophie, Kit Harrington has probably become the main star of the show and with it a certain fan club.
“We come into work and there’s always a pile of fan mail in his trailer and he’s always boasting about it. It’s really funny he has constantly got women throwing themselves at him. And especially when we go on nights out together it is insane. Girls will do anything for his attention it’s crazy.”
Does Sophie get that kind of attention? “I definitely don’t. Obviously increased attention comes with the territory but not on the same scale as Kit, he’s like a Hollywood hunk now.”
Sophie has just flown back from a Louis Vuitton event in Japan and is jetlagged. Although she has been awake half the night, she is still bouncing around the studio smiling and asking the crew questions.
Being flown around the world to attend fancy parties and appearing on the cover of Vogue Me hasn’t made her into a diva though. She sits curled up on the chair opposite me, in her dressing gown spooning guacamole into her mouth as she tells me her best friends are the same ones she has known since she was four. In fact, she’s eager to get out on time after the shoot to join her friend’s 21st birthday party in a bar in London.
“There was never a moment where [fame] hit me so I have been able to adjust pretty steadily with it, which has been a kind of blessing. It went from like one person a week coming up to me on the street, to the point of photographers following you around.”
If Game of Thrones brought her greater attention, it was her role as super mutant Jean Grey in X-Men Revelation that has taken her to the big league.
In America, she says, there is an obsession with fame. “If your famous you’re hailed as a god-like figure and it’s so ridiculous.”
We don’t have that in England she says, because no one cares enough. “Everyone’s too busy, too grumpy to care and I love that and that’s why I love living here because no one gives a shit.”
So would she move to America? “For work it makes sense as that’s where all the work is but I think I would always keep a base here for sure and I am trying to stay here for as long as possible.”
Her first Hollywood film was a big change from Game of Thrones. Not only are the sets bigger, so are the demands.
“There’s a lot of discussion in how you look, there is so much time and energy put into costumes fitting just right, and getting your trainer, and making sure your body looks right, and hair and make-up, and so many discussions like that. There is a lot more pressure but understandably if you have to look like a superhero you can’t be like you know….”
Sophie, who is notably toned and mentioned boxing, the gym and running on several occasions, says the tough training regime she went through was voluntary.
“They just kind of assign each person a trainer and you can do what you want with them but I think it’s really important to become that character and become that superhero,” she says.
Playing another fantasy character might fit within the same genre as Game of Thrones but her character Jean Grey couldn’t be further from Sansa.
“All of my dreams that I couldn’t quite fulfil on Game of Thrones I could live out... everything I felt Sansa was – I felt she was a super hero – I could play it out in Jean. It was great it was fun to be the kickass – most powerful mutant. It was really fun getting to wear trousers, getting to run around and be an action hero and not kind of having to worry about putting your hands on your lap when you’re talking to someone and not being rude. I felt really bad ass.”
Sophie will be returning to her role as Jean Grey next year in another movie from the X-Men franchise and will also be filming the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones. She has also starred in indie films Another Me and Barely Lethal.
“I love indie stuff. It’s really about the art and its less about the aesthetics and it feels more raw and more real to me. It’s more of a challenge and I really enjoy that. I love being a part of something so small where everyone is so passionate about one project. It feels like a collaboration and I love that.”
For someone who dreamt of growing up to be an actress she has achieved that and a whole lot more at still just 21. So what’s her new life goal?
My friend Elli she’s studying English literature at university and she wants to be a screen writer. I said to her ‘we should write something together’ and then we can make a production company and do something with that so maybe that would be a goal. But that’s the only goal I have apart from becoming a mother.
So that’s a lifetime aim is it? Being a mother? I ask.
“I guess yeah. Just having a family. But no rush. I can do that way later. I’ll freeze my eggs. I don’t really like kids that much but I think I’ll like my own.”
(Original Interview conducted and written by Tom Pattinson, translated and edited for VogueMe by Dellis Dai)