Sophie Turner was cast as Sansa Stark on the popular TV show Game of Thrones, when she was barely a teenager, and her character has gone through episodes of mental and physical abuse through the length of the show’s eight seasons. Things were not different for the 23-year-old English actor in real life, having battled depression, and openly speaking about it. She says one of the things that kept her going during her toughest phase, was then fiancé and now husband, Joe Jonas. A Vegas wedding, right after the Jonas Brothers performed at the Billboard Music Awards recently, live streamed by Diplo, is definitely not what fans expected from this celebrity couple. “It just felt right,” she said, when asked about their low-key wedding.
Shades of grey
One would think that having worked on a show like GoT over a period of 10 years, and playing a range of emotions for Sansa, Turner would have chosen something that was lighter to portray. Instead, her latest outing is that of Jean Grey in X-Men: Dark Phoenix – where she plays a mutant who evolves into an unhinged force - one that requires her to push her mental and physical faculties further than she did on GoT.
In Dark Phoenix, the X-Men face one of their gravest challenges to date. It’s the 1990s, and even as a team of mutants attempts to embrace a newfound heroic status and acceptance within society, their close bond is about to be shattered. Jean Grey (Turner) merges with a strange, extra-terrestrial force – one that boosts her already strong abilities to previously unknown levels. Jean begins to find herself and master her new powers, even as those around her start to wonder if she’ll be a threat to the world, and a mysterious alien with an agenda (Jessica Chastain) exerts an influence.
The process, Turner says, was quite draining. “But when I started to approach the character a little differently, I realised that this dark side of Jean is a release for her. She almost goes into a meditative state – it feels so good. And that switched it around, where the dark side was the calmest part of all of it for me, because it needed to come out of Jean. The hardest part was just playing Jean herself and not Phoenix.”
Talking about the kind of research she had to do, she explains, “It was more on Jean’s psychology. We based a lot of her emotions on mental illness and addiction, and specifically, schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder. So, we did a lot of research on that leading up to it. Simon would send me about six months’ worth of packets, and then I’d send documentaries back. I became fascinated by mental health.”
This is just the second time she plays Jean (the first being in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse), and Turner admits to being nervous. “In Apocalypse, I had a little bit of the character. So, I wasn’t prepared when Simon (Kinberg, the director) told me about this film. But I read the script, and it was a delicious five-course meal for an actor. It meant a lot of preparation and hard work, but Simon was the perfect partner in crime. It was his first time directing, so we were both cheering each other on from the sidelines, which was very cool.”
Turner also finds it crazy to think that this is kind of the first X-Men movie led by women. “All the female characters in this movie are the strongest characters. It was fun to see all of us together in those costumes, because, so often, the comic books are so far from what the movies are.”
Turner admits that special effects is a big part of the Dark Phoenix story. “It is fun, though it can be quite embarrassing. There are moments I feel like such an idiot doing it. There were moments where I was holding a tennis ball,” she says with a laugh. But the experience, she says, has been challenging and fun for her, because she got to push her imagination with it. “There’s a bit that you see in the trailer where there’s a helicopter and I’m turning it. And that wasn’t green screen. I got to do that, and the helicopter really crashed down on the ground. That was when I really felt like a superhero.”