Sophie Turner is funny, fearless and finding her voice

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Helen Bownass
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Sophie Turner is a whirlwind of contradiction. On her Instagram page, pictures of the young actress on university nights out lounge alongside her facing banks of paparazzi at Paris Fashion Week, meeting Hillary Clinton and, my personal favourite, at an awards show with an unknowing Ryan Gosling in the background that’s captioned: “Sorry boys. I’m off the market.”

She’s a protagonist in one of the most successful and iconic dramas of modern time, Game of Thrones, yet in real life seems anxious about the future. She’s come of age in the public eye but guards her private life wolfishly. She is both mature and considered and silly and eager to learn. This is what it is to be 21 in 2017.

At Stylist’s shoot, Turner is in remarkably good spirits considering she’s been awake since 2am: she’s just got back from Coachella, where she spent the weekend with her boyfriend, popstar Joe Jonas. She’s wearing shiny tracksuit bottoms, well-worn Converse and comes brandishing a handful of Yakult drinks for the crew. Between photos she cocoons herself in the biggest puffa jacket I’ve ever seen. She is one of the most relaxed and fun stars Stylist has shot, utterly unfazed as she leapt from a tree branch onto a swing suspended 20 feet in the air while chatting about boybands and grime.

Her ease on set inevitably is down to spending so much of her life on one. Turner has played Sansa Stark since Game of Thrones debuted in 2011 after she first auditioned aged 12. But of late she has turned heads in other worlds, tentatively entrenching herself in the fashion and beauty industries (she’s recently been announced as global brand ambassador for Wella and starred in Louis Vuitton’s a/w 2017 campaign – alongside other bright young things Jaden Smith and Riley Keogh). At this year’s Met Gala she wore a sculptural Louis Vuitton gown, cementing her relationship with Nicolas Ghesquière’s iconic brand.

It’s a shift her Game of Thrones character Sansa would no doubt approve. In the last couple of series we’ve witnessed Sansa begin to play the game and fight for her own power after years of abuse, submission and lack of control.

She has thus far endured a lot: her father was beheaded on the orders of her sadistic first husband (now dead); her mother had her throat slit at her brother’s wedding (he also died); she was raped and abducted by Ramsay, her psychopath second husband – and then watched calmly on as he was torn to death by his own dogs at her command.

As season seven dawns, Sansa is in the Starks’ ancestral home of Winterfell with its people swearing allegiance to her brother Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), something she doesn’t seem particularly happy about. This particular fan hopes Sansa makes her own play for the Iron Throne. She could handle it. Of all the brilliant women in the series, she has had the greatest evolution.

Game of Thrones was perhaps not what the Turner family from near Leamington Spa were expecting for their youngest (she has two elder brothers James and Will, who is “studying feminist epistemology at university”) when she started acting classes age three. And acting was always the aim: Turner even turned down a place at the Royal Ballet School to achieve her goal. As well as Game of Thrones, she’s starred in X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) and the film’s sequel (currently in pre-production).

And yet her immediate plans are much more modest: “I’m going to have a long bath, Epsom salt the sh*t out of it.”

Over the last season Sansa has come into her own. Has that evolution been as compelling to act as to watch?

There’s been a transition where she’s gone from being a pawn in other people’s games to being a manipulator. It’s really interesting seeing that shift of power – especially going into season seven, you really see her toying with it. It’s been an incredible arc for me.

More than ever, the women of Westeros are ruling…

It has somewhat turned into a battle of the queens. I stand by my view that Game of Thrones is feminist, considering it’s loosely based on the medieval and Tudor times where women didn’t really have much say. To give these women voices and the power they have shows to me it is quite a feminist show.

Is feminism something that was talked about in your house when you were growing up or was it assumed?  

It was never really spoken about but I went to an all-girls school [King’s High in Warwick] and our head teacher was a huge feminist. We used to have assemblies on amazing things that women were doing, so that was always ingrained in us. But during my upbringing, we never had to speak about it because there was never a question about equality and how important that is.

Was it shocking when you got out of that bubble and experienced inequality?

You step into the real world and it’s like, ‘Oh I’m making less money than this guy who’s doing the exact same amount, who has the same value as me…’ It is hard to get your head around but slowly and surely things are changing.

You’ve been playing Sansa for six years; what has she taught you about how to be a woman?

I haven’t taken on any of her characteristics that I would like to have taken on [laughs]. She’s taught me that to be a woman is to have courage and to fight to be just as good as the man; to use your voice and the power you have in being a woman and to use that vulnerability.

How have you learnt to use your own voice?

Coming into this world there’s a certain platform given to you and you’re kind of automatically given a voice but my struggle was whether I wanted that voice or not, because I was 13 and thought, ‘I don’t know if I want any of this’.

It’s only within the past year or so that I’ve decided I want to do something positive with [that platform]. You can either shy away from it or utilise it.

You’ve written about your trip to Rwanda to meet survivors of the 1994 genocide. Why was this project so meaningful to you?

I wanted to do the project because of the scene in Game of Thrones where Sansa was raped. There was such an uproar [some people complained it was gratuitous and strayed too far from the book] so I thought: ‘We’re talking so much about this rape scene on TV and it’s a trending topic on Twitter yet people are getting raped or sexually assaulted every day and you don’t see that trending on Twitter, because people don’t talk about it.’

I decided we need to stop it being such a taboo. My team told me about Women for Women International [a charity supporting marginalised women] and I knew I wanted to get involved.

The political situation both in the UK and the US is worrying

You’ve had a couple of brushes with politics this year, meeting both Hillary Clinton and Justin Trudeau. What were your impressions of them?

I met Hillary at a Women for Women luncheon in New York. We didn’t have much time [together] but it was very exciting and the speech she gave was hugely inspiring. Justin was awesome. He was very personable and happy to share his political opinions, despite it being a national holiday and him probably wanting an evening off.

You’ve seen things that can hugely affect the lives of others, what are the most pressing concerns for you and your peers?

Of course, the political situation both in the UK and the US is worrying. One of the things I’m most passionate about, because I’ve been indirectly affected by it, is the taboo around depression. Friends of mine suffer from it. When somebody says, “I’m depressed” or “I’m bipolar”, people automatically shy away.

People need to realise that depression isn’t something that can be cured, it’s just something you manage. Speaking about it is really important and there’s still a lack of portrayal on film and television. I would love to play someone with depression. I feel like I understand it a lot.

Do you think social media has exacerbated anxiety issues for your generation?

One hundred per cent. People can anonymously give their opinion of you without any qualms about who they’re hurting. Also the unrealistic expectations: you can focus on a picture and that person is perfect and that’s immediately how you believe you should look or how your life should be.

We’re kind of living in a filter now. The only thing you won’t see through a filter is yourself, which can really have an effect on you.

How important has it been to hold on to old friendships?

So important. My best friends are still my friends from high school. When I started Game of Thrones it was a five or six-month job, then I’d come back to school so I always found that balance. Now in my spare time all I do is university hop round all my friends.

It’s so important to have that life of going to a really s**tty club and waiting in line for hours and paying a pound for vodbulls [vodka Red Bull].

On those weekends away do you ever feel envious or are you relieved to escape?

I think I see the best of university life. I party and then I leave when it’s time for exams. But there is still a part of me that wishes I’d gone to university, or hopes to go.

Why? Do you feel like not going to university has set you back?

I do have a feeling of inadequacy or that I don’t have the right to speak out because I haven’t done my full education, but at the same time I’ve had different experiences. I feel like I’ve had an extensive education in other things, even if I can’t speak out about history of art because I don’t know s**t about it.

The set of Game of Thrones is full of people of different ages. How has this impacted you?

It’s made me grow up a lot faster than I would have done. People I know say that I am quite mature – although I’m definitely not when I’m around my friends at university.

The greatest lesson I’ve had is how to carry yourself in the industry. If I’d done a project with just a tonne of teenagers I probably would have f**ked around completely. Maybe I’d be a messed-up child star, but I’m not because I’ve been surrounded by well-rounded, successful people.

I stand by my view that Game of Thrones is feminist

Have you started thinking about the fact Game of Thrones will end next year?

Yes, and it fills me with anxiety because it is my safety net and I’ve always thought, ‘Thank god I have that guaranteed job.’ Now that’s gone I’m terrified that people will say, “Oh, that’s the girl who was in that show. I recognise her from somewhere…” [laughs].

Is that something which causes you real worry?               

It kind of does but it also excites me. A lot of amazing projects shoot over the summer and I’ve never been able to do them because I’m always working on Thrones. And I can change my hair colour [Sansa is a flame-haired red]; I can be a chameleon again. There is a certain freedom associated with not being [in the show].

You’ve travelled so much, do you feel rooted anywhere?

I feel a bit all over the place, I have a place in London but I don’t like it very much and I’m in the middle of moving. I feel like I’m drifting; I have a semi space in LA and of course my parents’ house but sometimes I come [back to the UK] and I don’t know where to go so it’s a little strange at the moment. But that’s why I’m happy I’m travelling around so much.

When you’re travelling alone, do you listen to podcasts or music?

I listen to music. I grew up on Genesis and REM. I love all of that s**t.

You can’t go full agg in a girls’ school or someone’s belly button ring is going to get ripped out

That’s total dad rock.                                    

Yeah, it’s my dad’s stuff but I love it. I also like Kehlani, Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Jamie XX, so many…

You have previously described yourself as passive aggressive. How did you recognise that?

[Laughs] I think I recognised it pretty early on. I used to be pretty passive aggressive at school, but maybe that’s just because I was in an all-girls school and there’s a lot of bitchery around. It’s the only way to survive. You can’t go full agg in an all-girls school otherwise someone’s belly button ring is going to get ripped out.

You have an increasing presence in the fashion world. Have you always been enamoured by clothes?

Not when I was young. My mum used to dress me in lime green leggings and a lime green jumper. As I got to 11 or 12 and boys started to become important, I felt like I needed to dress up for them, and then it became more experimental for me. I would find myself for hours trying on different things in front of the mirror. But I would never have the guts to wear those outfits out any more.

Nicolas Ghesquière, the creative director of Louis Vuitton, is a big sci-fi fan. Do you have geeky chats with him about Game of Thrones?

I think Nicolas’ inspiration for a lot of his collections is warrior women and that’s why he likes me [Turner starred in Louis Vuitton’s a/w 2017 campaign]. I spoke to him about Stranger Things the other day because he’s obsessed and I was like, “You should’ve grabbed Millie Bobby Brown before she got that Calvin Klein [campaign]!”

What are you most looking forward to over the next few months?

I’m excited for the new Spider-Man movie. I’m excited to have a week off to spend time somewhere I love, like New York. I’m excited to celebrate all my friends’ 21st birthdays and I’m excited for the political movement that I feel is impending.

I’m also looking forward to being booked up with work. I have to keep myself busy. You can only university hop for so long!

Game of Thrones is on Sky Atlantic at 2am on 17 July, repeated at 9pm.

Images: Tom van Schelven for Stylist / HBO / Rex Features / Louis Vuitton /