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Why Sophie Turner is done with the sexist stereotypes of superhero movies

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Sophie Turner

In X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Sophie Turner makes her first post-Game of Thrones move. The result is a thrilling, thoughtful rumination on what it means to live with trauma, a subject very close to the actor’s heart. 

“Please take a seat, welcome to my humble abode,” Sophie Turner says, gesturing an arm like a benevolent game-show host.

We’re in a posh London hotel and Turner is on the fourth leg of a whistlestop global tour for her starring role in X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Before London there was Paris, Berlin and Barcelona, each city’s premiere coinciding with the airdate of another episode of the final season of Game of Thrones. (Turner’s Dark Phoenix co-star Jessica Chastain is a huge fan, and has spent most of her time on the road with Real Life Sansa theorising about who would end up on the Iron Throne to varying degrees of success.)

“After this we go to Seoul. I’ve never been there before, I can’t wait,” Turner says. She wants to pick up some Korean beauty products on her trip. “And then Beijing, and then New York and then Los Angeles. So it’s a long one. But it’s fun.” 

Is she exhausted? “I’ll never say no to a holiday,” Turner says, grinning. “After this I’m taking a break for sure. Once LA is done I’m off the grid.” 

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If you’ve spent even a brief moment on the Internet these past few months you would have been hard-pressed to avoid Turner. The 23-year-old was the undisputed MVP of the final season of Game of Thrones, and who carried the last six episodes all the way to the establishment of an independent Northern kingdom in the series finale with Sansa Stark as its queen. Then Turner married longterm boyfriend Joe Jonas in a Las Vegas chapel in May in a ceremony livestreamed to the masses by Diplo. 

Sophie Turner in Dark Phoenix
Dark Phoenix: Sophie Turner stars in the new superhero movie

And then there’s Dark Phoenix. The 12th X-Men movie is a continuation of the rebooted franchise that saw James McAvoy take on the role of Professor Charles Xavier with Michael Fassbender as his antagonist Magneto. Turner joined in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse as a young Jean Grey, a role she reprises in Dark Phoenix. Only this time, Grey isn’t a supporting character. She’s the woman at the centre of her own story fighting for power, independence and identity in the face of great trauma.

Turner was drawn to the film the second she read the scenes between Grey and an other-worldly creature played by Chastain. “Jessica’s character is supposed to be the antagonist, but she’s empowering Jean,” Turner says. “Everyone is neither a hero nor a villain, everyone has these real shades of grey.” 

When Turner joined the X-Men franchise in 2016, Wonder Woman was freshly in production and Captain Marvel barely a twinkle in Marvel’s eye. But Dark Phoenix was made in a world filled with female superheroes, and features Turner fighting alongside Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Raven (Jennifer Lawrence). There’s even a moment when Raven challenges Charles over the inherent sexism of the collective noun ‘X-Men’. 

Dark Phoenix: Sophie Turner and Jessica Chastain

“Love it!” Turner crows. “It’s true – in terms of this movie all the women are saving his arse. She’s asking him to step up… We’re not going to keep saving you. It was absolutely a reason why I was so excited for this movie.”

Also, she is quick to point out, Dark Phoenix “passes the Bechdel test”. (It’s true: whenever Jean is in conversation with Chastain’s character they only talk – often at great lengths – about Jean herself.) “She’s often saying ‘Why are you listening to this man,’” Turner says. “‘Are you going to be a little girl all your life or are you going to make your own rules and rebel against authority and embrace this power?’” 

For Turner, her personal superhero is her mother’s best friend, whose husband passed away six years ago and is raising her family on her own. “That to me is a superhero,” Turner says. “Someone who really provides for others when they don’t need to or when they don’t feel like they can. Someone who is always putting others before them.” 

The film’s feminist themes are as important to the narrative as its focus on mental health. In fact, Turner felt like the way Dark Phoenix approached the notion of trauma, paranoia and dissociative states felt “incredibly real.”

“The way that each of the X-Men respond [to her mental health] in different ways is so interesting and accurate to me,” Turner says. The actor, who has spoken about her own experience of depression and anxiety, says that having a blockbuster movie like Dark Phoenix tackle such a huge subject as mental health can only help to normalise it as a point of conversation. “The more we normalise it, the more people will feel less ostracised and less ashamed of mental illness, and that means they’ll be able to come out and talk to people about it,” Turner explains.

For Turner, the key to managing her own mental health is simple. “Therapy,” she says. “I’m not very good at meditation, but I do it once in a while and that helps. Seeing friends and family is really important, because I never really get to see them when I’m working. Finding my own hobbies and things that I like to do, like painting and going rock climbing. That time by yourself is really important as well.” 

Met Gala: Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas
Met Gala: Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas

She’s also turned off all tags, notifications and comments on her Instagram and Twitter. “I know that is going to break me down,” Turner says. “Even if it’s 10 great comments and one terrible one, it’s that one that you hone in and focus on.”

Turner learned the importance of managing her relationship with social media at the same time as she began to navigate her own fame and celebrity. “I know it sounds stupid but when Game of Thrones started and when it snowballed into something quite popular I was 13, and I was going through changes in my life anyway like puberty and changing schools, so Game of Thrones was just another change for me,” she says. 

“I’ve never really known anything else, so I just approach it as normal and I know that it’s not but I don’t feel that I am particularly famous. The social media aspect of it enhances it more than it normally would, and that’s something you have to navigate your way around and find where you fit into that world.” 

Maisie Williams, Kit Harington and Sophie Turner at the European premiere of Game of Thrones Season8
Sophie Turner with Maisie Williams and Kit Harington at the premiere of Game of Thrones

Next up for Turner, after Seoul and Beijing and beyond, is that holiday and then – if The Graham Norton Show is to be believed – a second wedding to Jonas over the summer. After that, Turner will juggling acting roles with moving behind the camera into the producing world, using her influence to advocate for diverse voices. “I’m a big supporter of the inclusion rider,” Turner says. “It’s something I will be using going forward for sure.” 

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On what kind of movies, though? “I would really really love to play a real-life person,” Turner says. “I would love that experience of studying immensely for a role and having all of that source material there and then to give my own spin on it. That would be amazing. I would love to do that.” But, she adds, she also wants to try “everything”.

Everything? Another fantasy epic? A romantic comedy? A courtroom drama? A musical? “I don’t know about that,” she says, laughing. “I’d like to do a musical. But I don’t know if anyone would like to hear it.” 

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is in cinemas in the UK from today and the US on 6 June. 

Images: Getty, Fox

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer, podcaster and recent Australian transplant in London. You can find her on the internet talking about pop culture, food and travel.

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