Cast in fan­tasy jug­ger­naut Game of Thrones at 13, Sophie Turner has a re­mark­ably level head on her shoul­ders

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Stephen Arm­strong

SOPHIE Turner is hid­ing in an al­cove at the back of a bustling cafe in Lon­don’s King’s Road. The quest to reach her is Homeric — yap­ping hounds, scald­ing caul­drons of froth­ing cof­fee, wait­ers clash­ing with deadly force. It’s all a poor boy can do to stay on course and reach the quiet cor­ner where she sits, gar­landed with stars and sip­ping glow­ing green nec­tar.

The nec­tar turns out to be freshly squeezed ap­ple juice, al­beit of an alarm­ing hue, and the stars are part of her jumper, a black-and-white num­ber by a hip Bri­tish de­signer. But there’s still some­thing quasi-myth­i­cal about the 18year-old ac­tor. In part this is down to her role as Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones, the sprawl­ing fan­tasy-ad­ven­ture se­ries, where the body count is ex­ceeded only by the nip­ple count, and people eat from trenchers while mut­ter­ing: “I name you a Southron turn­cloak, Ser.”

Of course, it’s easy to mock. Fan­tasy — a bit like tele­vi­sion it­self — was dis­missed for most of the 20th century as trashy and ju­ve­nile. Crit­ics greeted The Lord of the Rings with scorn so with­er­ing, it’s a won­der the pages didn’t shrivel and fade. Early re­views of Game of Thrones were sim­i­larly snotty — de­scrib­ing the show as “boy fic­tion” and “vile­ness for voyeurism’s sake”, di­rected at “Dun­geons & Drag­ons types”.

Game of Thrones fans — known as “Throners”, in­evitably — couldn’t care less. Their num­bers are legion. Madonna re­cently up­loaded a selfie in which she was dressed as Daen­erys Tar­garyen (the Ama­zo­nian char­ac­ter played by Emilia Clarke), while Mark Zucker­berg held a

Game of Thrones- themed bar­be­cue. By the end of last year, ac­cord­ing to the North­ern Ire­land En­ter­prise Min­is­ter Ar­lene Fos­ter, the show had gen­er­ated di­rect in­vest­ment of more than £80 mil­lion in the re­gion — one of four ar­eas where it is filmed. This in­cludes wages from the 1000-odd jobs it has cre­ated, but doesn’t in­clude earn­ings from Game of Thrones- re­lated tourism. There’s bizarre of­fi­cial mer­chan­dise and a thriv­ing un­of­fi­cial mar­ket for de­cals that will turn a lava­tory into a throne of swords, di­re­wolf hoods, Sansa dresses and “Sansa Stark is My Homegirl” tote bags.

With drag­ons, it seems ob­vi­ous — gi­gan­tic myth­i­cal lizards that fly, breathe fire and have haunted hu­man­ity’s dreams since sto­ries be­gan. Sansa Stark is, well, not so ob­vi­ous.

“I think it’s be­cause Sansa’s a very real­is­tic char­ac­ter,” Turner be­gins, and I choke on my juice. This is a char­ac­ter who has watched her fa­ther’s ex­e­cu­tion, faced at­tempted rapes and been forced to marry a las­civ­i­ous drunken dwarf, played by Peter Din­klage.

“She’s re­lat­able be­cause she’s such a real­is­tic char­ac­ter,” she in­sists. “I think she’s like young girls to­day — they read mag­a­zines, they look at mod­els, they’ve got so­cial me­dia telling them how to act. That’s who Sansa is. She’s looked at the queen, at Mar­gaery Tyrell, and she idolises them. All she wants is to be­come them. She’s like ev­ery 12-year-old girl who wants to be a celebrity. It’s the same ado­les­cence as ev­ery­one else, but a few hun­dred years ago. In an al­ter­na­tive uni­verse. With drag­ons.”

Turner is dis­arm­ing: ra­zor-sharp and very smart. She has largely man­aged her own ed­u­ca­tion, gain­ing a healthy crop of As at school, and plans to study psy­chol­ogy or his­tory if she can find the time to fin­ish her A-lev­els. If only they didn’t keep throw­ing movie roles at her — this year alone, she stars as a teen as­sas­sin



along­side Jes­sica Alba, Sa­muel L Jack­son and Hailee Ste­in­feld in Barely Lethal; plays a re­bel­lious stu­dent with Ray Liotta in Alone; and is muse and star for Is­abel Coixet in An­other Me, with Jonathan Rhys Mey­ers and Rhys Ifans.

Some­how, in the teeth of this suc­cess, she re­tains a guile­less charm that even al­lows state­ments such as “I want to wait­ress. I want to do ev­ery­thing, and at the mo­ment I can’t” to slip from her lips with­out sound­ing pre­cious and an­noy­ing. Quasi-myth­i­cal in­deed.

It’s pos­si­bly worth a quick sum­mary of the Thrones uni­verse. It’s tricky to cap­ture the head-clutch­ing com­plex­ity of the se­ries’ en­sem­ble cast, which feels like the fam­ily tree of a par­tic­u­larly crowded Bosch paint­ing, but there are broadly three gangs: Jof­frey is re­ally a Lan­nis­ter, a con­niv­ing fam­ily who blend the loy­alty of the Mac­beths with the plots of the Ewings; the Tar­garyens are Scar­lett Jo­hans­son with drag­ons; and Sansa’s bunch, the Starks, are a sort of mil­i­tarised Wal­tons.

The show is fond of slaugh­ter­ing key char­ac­ters, with the Starks tak­ing most of the pun­ish­ment. Sansa’s fa­ther, Ed­dard (played by Sean Bean, who, to be fair, dies in ev­ery­thing), copped it in se­ries one. Oth­ers were butchered in sea­son three, in an event dubbed “the Red Wed­ding” by Throners. (For a chill­ing over­lay of fan cul­ture, tech­nol­ogy, spoiler-spot­ting and down­right un­set­tling weird­ness, try search­ing “Red Wed­ding re­ac­tions” on YouTube.)

Per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, when the 13-yearold Turner won the role — “I au­di­tioned at school and kind of for­got to tell my mum” — her par­ents had some doubts. “My mum didn’t tell me for a cou­ple of nights. She rang up my dad — ‘ Should I let her do it?’ But my dad was de­nied a few op­por­tu­ni­ties when he was younger so he’s al­ways said we should take op­por­tu­ni­ties, be­cause we’ll re­gret it if we don’t. (My par­ents) are just re­ally nor­mal. I grew up climb­ing trees and play­ing rugby with my broth­ers. I still fight my broth­ers a lot. Nor­mal stuff.”

Her grow­ing up was, how­ever, done on the Thrones set — an ex­pe­ri­ence so alien to home­town friends, she some­times strug­gles to con­nect. “Some of my friends from school were out par­ty­ing when they were 15, at clubs, with fake IDs, which I couldn’t do.” She smiles wist­fully. “There’s also the pho­tos you can’t post. The older Game of Thrones cast go out drink­ing, but I had to stay in the ho­tel. I’ve done an aw­ful lot of stay­ing in my teenage years.”

It didn’t get much bet­ter when she fi­nally grew up. “It’s easy film­ing when you’re a kid,” she ex­plains. “You get up late, do shorter days. The day af­ter my 16th birth­day, I was up at 4am. That’s why I look so drawn in sea­son three,” she snick­ers. “I’m not even act­ing. They asked me to cry — I’m al­ready cry­ing.”

Now they’re throw­ing film roles at her like ar­rows in a siege, she’s not en­tirely sure, well, about any­thing. “I’m not par­tic­u­larly an in­ter­est­ing per­son, and I’m still a fan girl — I met Jennifer Lawrence the other day and ba­si­cally cried. My broth­ers are my life, but be­yond that I have no idea who I re­ally am. I’m just ex­pe­ri­enc­ing things and try­ing to fig­ure it out.”

But what about the fu­ture? What about the ca­reer? “Look, I don’t know. I just turn up and hope for the best. That’s my motto.” Sea­son four of Game of Thrones starts on Show­case on Mon­day.

Sophie Turner; as Sansa with Jack Glee­son as the

evil Jof­frey in Game of Thrones,


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