DAME OF THRONES
Cast in fantasy juggernaut Game of Thrones at 13, Sophie Turner has a remarkably level head on her shoulders
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
I GREW UP CLIMBING TREES AND PLAYING RUGBY WITH MY BROTHERS
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,