'The hardest part was playing Jean Grey': Sophie Turner on her lead role in X-Men: Dark Phoenix
Sophie Turner is not just the Queen in the North, but also the queen of hearts, if her fan following is anything to go by. The 23-year-old English actor 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 Turner in real life, having battled depression, and openly speaking about it, on multiple interviews. One of the things that kept her going during her toughest phase, Turner has said on record, was Joe Jonas, her then fiancé and now husband. 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, but that is exactly something that the impulsive actor admits she would do. “It just felt right,” she said, when asked about their low-key wedding — which took place just a couple of months after she starred in the Jonas Brothers music video, Sucker, alongside Priyanka Chopra, Danielle Jonas, Nick and Kevin Jonas.
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, and relatively easy to portray. But her latest outing is that of Jean Grey in the film 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 and most personal 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 just 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. It’s been good, though — what really grounds this movie is that it’s character-driven and emotional and it’s not always fantastical like the other superhero movies.”
This is just the second time she plays Jean (the first being in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse), and Sophie admits to being nervous. “In Apocalypse I didn’t really have a crazy amount to work with. 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 just meant a lot of preparation, and a lot of hard work, but Simon was the perfect partner in crime to go along with that. He was the most collaborative, supportive director ever. And it was his first time directing, so we were both cheering each other on from the sidelines, which was very cool.”
Kinberg clearly made an impression on the actor, as she gushes, “He completely belongs in the directing world. Obviously, his writing and producing past has really helped him know how to work around actors and how to work around the crew. He’s a genuinely interested, passionate, enthusiastic director. And a very smart one. We’ve spoken about it many times, but I said, ‘Simon, you have to direct for the rest of your life. You’re incredible’.”
Dark Phoenix might be the first superhero film in a long time where the antagonist and (from a certain point of view), the protagonist, are both women. “All the female characters in this movie are the strongest characters. We have a female protagonist, a female antagonist, all while the female protagonist is also somewhat of an antagonist,” offers Turner, adding, “It’s all about her relationships — Jean’s relationship with the females throughout this movie, which is really interesting. None of the women in this movie is subservient to a man, which is incredible. It’s crazy to think that this is kind of the first X-Men movie led by women. That’s really exciting to me and especially to Jessica (Chastain). It comes at exactly the right time as well.”
Interestingly, the movie has stayed true to the 90s versions of the comics as well – replete with Jean Grey’s iconic yellow costume, which has been included in the film. “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,” she admits.
Working with Jessica Chastain, who Turner says is a mentor to her, was rewarding. “I was a huge fan of hers before we met, so I was terrified to meet her. I kept hiding when Simon would say, ‘Come meet Jessica.’ She’s been so influential to me. I still can’t believe I got to have one-on-one scenes with Jessica Chastain! That is the coolest thing as an actress — to have someone like that doing one-on-one scenes. Female empowerment. It was amazing. We had a really good time… little pranksters on set. Jessica’s a lot of fun.”