She's shaping up to be one of Game of Thrones' most exciting success stories and is officially one half of an LA power couple. But as Lucy Pavia discovered, our August cover star's bullshit detector remains firmly intact.
There’s a good reason Sophie Turner can remember every detail of her first Game Of Thrones audition: it very nearly didn’t happen. In the summer of 2009, casting directors for a new TV show took their search for two young actresses to schools across the country. Having won rave reviews for her performance of a scarecrow in an amateur production of The Wizard Of Oz, 13-year-old Turner was, naturally, put forward – only, on the day, she forgot, and went to the canteen. Her drama teacher spotted her in the lunch queue and ushered her away. ‘She was like, “Er, Sophie, you have that audition?”’
As she tells me this, I can’t help imagining the alternate reality Sophie Turner who stayed in line for her Angel Delight. Now 21, she’d probably be gearing up for her third year at university and stressing about her student loan, not steaming into her seventh season of what is officially the biggest TV show of all time. She would not be famous, as Sansa Stark, in 170 countries. She would (probably) not be dating a Jonas brother.
Post cover shoot, the heavens have opened and our room in an east London studio rumbles like an empty drum. Turner’s just changed out of a peach Louis Vuitton frock (not before insisting I ‘cop a feel’ of the spongy wool skirt) and sits next to me in a stripy Topshop tee, a pair of teal velour sports shorts and black leather Adidas trainers. Actresses often seem more fragile in the flesh than they do on screen, but with Turner it’s actually the opposite: the cool porcelain Sansa isn’t a match for the vigorous real-life version.
We first met a few hours earlier; I had just arrived off an 11-hour flight in need of coffee and she clapped a hand on my shoulder in commiseration. ‘Jesus, you must be knackered. Have some of this,’ she said, grabbing a plate of purple dip off the lunch buffet table. ‘What is it?’ I asked. ‘Literally no idea, but it’s bloody delicious.’
Teenage exposure to fame can make actors of Turner’s age seem oddly laminated, or prone to referring to themselves as ‘an artist’. But Turner, who appears to exhibit neither of these traits, got the ‘I am an artist’ phase out of the way early – when she was filming season one of GOT. ‘There was a period in my life, when I was 14/15, and I was like, “I want to be seen as a real actress – I can’t fuck around. This is my career,”’ she says, pronouncing career ‘caraar’ and mock fainting into the sofa cushions. ‘Now, I’m like, “Just enjoy it,”’ she sighs. ‘The painful part is finding another job.’
Unemployment is on Turner’s mind right now. At one point it seemed like the HBO juggernaut, with its rich tapestry of characters and seemingly infinite plot lines, could keep chugging on forever, but the show’s bosses confirmed last June that season eight would see the final, dragony showdown. Where does that leave someone who’s spent a third of her life as Sansa Stark? ‘It’s been a huge chunk of my life. When it’s done, it’s going to feel like a death in the family,’ she says. The cast and crew have come to feel like family. When Turner filmed the infamous rape scene of season five, writer Bryan Cogman felt so guilty he put his head in his hands and cried. ‘He was sat there going, “I am so sorry,”’ she says. ‘They had known me since I was 13 and they were like, “This is so wrong.”’ Playing the role has brought dark feelings closer to the surface. ‘I just completely gave everything to her, all of my emotions. I never used to cry when I was younger,’ she says. ‘Now I cry all the time – I am an emotional human being.’
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Turner says all this with the glimmer of a smile – she’s got whatever the opposite of a bitchy resting face is, like she’s constantly just heard a good joke. She adds that the feelings of sadness among the cast about the show ending perversely led to ‘a lot of fucking about’ on the Dublin set of season seven. There were frequent cast blowouts around the pool table at a favourite local bar nearby, where punters would walk in and shriek at the sight of the cast hanging out in a group. She shows me the tattoo she shares with co-star-turned-best friend Maisie Williams, a ‘07.08.09’ stamped just below her elbow crease. It’s the date they were cast as Arya and Sansa (at the insistence of her mother, Turner’s is in a subtle apricot-coloured ink, ‘but I’m going to get it darker,’ she warns.)
The two first met when they were paired up at one of the many London auditions that followed the first one at school and got on like a house on fire. ‘Both of us went home and told [our mums], “I really hope that girl gets it.”’ Their friendship has eliminated the otherwise lonely experience of being a young person on a mostly adult set, but it’s also inspired a loyalty that cuts deeper than affectionate tweets and red-carpet bear hugs. ‘We’re so close that I’ve been put up for projects and been like, “[Maisie] you need to go for this.” Then she’ll say, “I said no to this because I think you need to go for this.”’ She looks at me for a moment. ‘I think that’s quite rare.’
I interviewed Turner’s GOT co-star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (aka Jaime Lannister) a few weeks previously and he said he was astonished that one of them isn’t in rehab by now. ‘I’m impressed with how they’ve dealt with it,’ he said. ‘They seem so sane. Maybe it’s a European thing. I remember reading about the Harry Potter kids and thinking the same.’
Like Emma Watson, Turner doesn’t come from a family of actors. She hails from a small town in Warwickshire. Mum Sally is a primary school teacher, Dad Andrew works for a pallet distribution company. The youngest in the family – she has two older brothers, James and Will – Turner was a twin, but tragically her sister didn’t survive to full term. For some of her darkest Game Of Thrones scenes, including the loss of Sansa’s father Ned (Sean Bean), Turner has tapped into the confusing feelings of loss for the sister she never got to meet. And it was Turner’s mother Sally who got the call from HBO in 2009 to say she’d been cast as Sansa Stark. She deliberated for two days before telling her youngest child she’d won the role. ‘She was panicking and she called my dad and was like, “Do we let her do this? I don’t know what this means.” My dad was like, “You’re so dumb, this is what she’s always wanted to do, you have to let her do it.” So, thanks Dad,’ she says, with a flash of teenager-ish side-eye.
Since the sun never sets on the Game Of Thrones empire, she’s rarely far from a fan with an iPhone. She doesn’t mind selfie-hunters, but people who take stealth pictures drive her nuts. ‘I find it really rude, and I will be rude back. It’s such an invasion of privacy. I could be out with my mum on her birthday and I will ask them to delete it. I would much rather them come up and ask for a photo. I will probably be fine with it…’ She cocks her head and grins, ‘Unless I look shit.’
New developments in her love life can’t be helping her fly under the radar. Last year, she started dating US pop star, DNCE frontman and Gigi Hadid’s ex, Joe Jonas, who found fame in his teens as one of the Jonas Brothers. They met through mutual friends and have already done the ‘meet the parents’ – him joining the Turners in a north London pub; her on a Jonas’ family skiing trip.
They haven’t made things ‘red-carpet official’ yet (groan), but there’s been a tantalising breadcrumb trail in various lob-sided Snapchat videos, and a photo Turner shared to her 4.8 million Instagram followers of Jonas smoking a cigar on the back of a Miami boat. She closes her eyes and smiles when I bring up the new boyfriend. ‘I am very happy’ she says with uncharacteristic restraint. Is he romantic? ‘Ummmm, yeah…’ What does she make of the term ‘Jophie’? She snorts. She’s heard it, but she prefers ‘Mophie’ (a Thrones fan mash-up of Maisie and Sophie). ‘What’s that thing they say?’ She clicks her fingers. ‘Relationships come and go, but friendship is always there.’
The process of starting a relationship can be awkward enough, it must be mortifying to have every hand-holding stroll down the street echoed back by a media chorus. ‘You do feel like you’re living in a fishbowl… It’s frustrating [that] it’s the most mundane things that make the news – how boring! There are really no other headlines?’
It was in fact Justin Bieber, not Jonas, who first stole her heart. She had photo wall of him in her bedroom and stuck confetti collected from his shows with Blu-Tack to her wall. ‘Yeah it was really creepy,’ she laughs. When she finally got to meet him at a party she ‘really, really struggled to keep it cool.’ More recently she met Hillary Clinton at an event for the charity Women For Women. She had no idea an intro was on the cards and had started tucking into the wine when she was ushered into a private area to meet the almost-president. ‘They were like, “You’re going downstairs to meet Hillary Clinton now.” I was like, “Oh my god, yes!”’
Whether the GOT safety net is whipped away this season with Sansa’s death or she lives to see out the series finale, the next chapter looms large, and Turner’s determined to be the one calling the shots. ‘I feel completely in control of my career, which is nice,’ she says. ‘There’s a certain sense when you’re 15 and you’re just kind of like a pawn, and you’ll say “Yeah, I will do what you want.” But now I’m like, “You know, actually I don’t like this.” She has an impressively sage view of LA for someone barely out of her teens, joking about casting sessions where ‘people are like, “I love you”, and then they can’t name anything that you’ve done, and they forget your character’s name – it’s so funny, like LA in the movies.’
Winning the part of Jean Grey in last year’s X-Men franchise was her first big Hollywood coup, after what sounds like a hellish two-day screen test in front of Fox executives who pitched her directly against another actress vying for the part. Watching co-star Jennifer Lawrence on set taught her to be more assertive. ‘She would do a take and be like, “Cut! That was such bad acting!” Her being able to stop [the scene]; it was inspiring to see someone so in control.’
A long career in the spotlight could be on the cards, but Turner seems pretty determined not to have her edges sanded off. ‘I’ve had media training, and I hated it,’ she admits. ‘I think people appreciate honesty… [Seeing] Kristen Stewart doing interviews and talking about her sexuality – it’s so forward-thinking. I like that. Cut the bullshit.’
Turner reunites with Lawrence for her second spin as Jean Grey next year. There’s also ‘sci-fi rom-com’ Time Freak with Asa Butterfield and indie drama Huntsville, in which Turner will go back to her natural blonde (she dyed it red for GOT) and cover her arms in fake tattoos for a ‘beautiful and dark’ story of a schoolgirl who has an affair with an older man.
Like any other 21-year-old, Turner loves visiting her school buddies at university, but I’m guessing she’s the one getting the drinks in? ‘I’m actually such a cheapskate, but all my friends are cool about it. We take turns getting rounds. I’m not an expensive person. I will go to Topshop, or get a £1 vodbull’ (that’s a vodka and Red Bull – I had to ask, too). Her biggest expense? She pauses to think. ‘My flat (Turner bought her own place in London last year) and my team bills. Ha! Kidding!’ she trills, as her publicist, sitting across the room, looks up and raises an eyebrow.
I think she enjoys causing a bit of mischief, poking a hole in the showbiz bubble whenever she can. ‘Of course,’ she smiles. ‘I have a lot of friends who were brought up in the UK like me [who] are working in LA as actors. When I go over, I’m giving them shit and being sarcastic. They’re like, “Thank god.”
‘They’re stuck in this place where everyone is so far up your arse. It’s a business town, it’s understandable. But sometimes you just need someone to tell you that you’re
not a fucking superstar.’ I get the impression this is something she tells herself on a regular basis, too. Alternate-reality Sophie Turner would definitely approve.
Game Of Thrones season seven is on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV