By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—After a decade of playing Sansa, the eldest daughter of House Stark on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Sophie Turner is moving ahead with her career. In Fox/Marvel’s “Dark Phoenix,” she reprises her role from 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse” as Jean Grey, one of the star pupils at Charles Xavier’s School for the Gifted who, while on a dangerous outer space rescue mission, is blasted by a cosmic force that makes her one of the most powerful mutants on Earth. Uncovering a dark secret about her past that Charles has kept from her for years, Jean is enraged and goes on a destructive rampage that threatens to destroy the fragile peace the mutants have established with regular humans. Meanwhile, alien beings, led by fearsome shape-shifting Vux (Jessica Chastain), are tracking Jean (a.k.a. Dark Phoenix) and want to absorb her incredible power to destroy the planet.
Turner, 23, stars alongside James McAvoy (reprising his Charles Xavier role), Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Michael Fassbender, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Evan Peters. The action-packed, effects-laden film is written and directed by Simon Kinberg, who previously penned 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “X-Men: Apocalypse.”
The British actress is having quite a year, having married pop singer Joe Jonas last month and enjoyed the fame from being part of the most popular series on television, which recently wrapped after eight seasons. The titian-haired actress spoke at WonderCon and elsewhere about being part of another big franchise— “X-Men,” and playing a troubled yet extremely powerful mutant.
Q: Who was your favorite X-Men character growing up?
Turner: Jean Grey—and I’m not lying. She really was. The first ever comic book I read was the “Dark Phoenix” comic book and I never read another one until I got “X-Men: Apocalypse.” Then I read the “Dark Phoenix” comic book again, so it’s the only one I’ve ever read.
Q: Did you ever talk to Famke Janssen (who previously played Jean Grey in earlier “X-Men” movies) about playing that character?
Turner: I did. As soon as I got the role in “X-Men Apocalypse,” I got her e-mail and we e-mailed back and forth about where I was coming from approaching the character and if she had any movies or music that she listened to or any kind of material she read to get into the psyche of Jean and she just kind of gave me her blessing for the role which is really nice to have. When you’re taking over a role from someone, you always want to make sure it’s okay with them, and she was lovely.
Q: What was the biggest challenge taking on the role?
Turner: There were a lot of challenges playing this character. The biggest challenge was just trying to ground all these fantastical things that are happening to her and ground it with something that will resonate with the audience so it’s not like, “Oh, look at all those crazy things that are happening to Jean.” We wanted to study mental illness for it—specifically schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder and addiction. That was the hardest, or it took the longest. It was a process to figure out what is going on in her head in this movie. So, that was extensive. It was fun.
Q: Can you talk about the difference in preparing to play Jean Grey versus preparing to play Phoenix?
Turner: The preparation to play Jean and the preparation to play Phoenix is kind of the same because it’s not like (the character is) day and night. They’re kind of fused together and that’s why there’s such an internal struggle. It’s because these two kind of separate entities fighting each other within one person’s body. That’s what we were kind of going for. We wanted to study schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder to kind of really delve into the psycho of the character and ground it. We wanted to ground her in something quite real and something resonating with a lot of people. That’s what we were kind of going for rather than two separate entities.
Q: There are some brilliant action scenes in this film. What was your favorite to shoot and what was the most challenging to shoot?
Turner: Luckily for me, I’m telekinetic. (She demonstrates by moving something with a flash of her fingers). But I did a lot of wire work. It’s always fun going up on wires. I love it. That’s movie magic. But the most challenging one to shoot was probably a scene where I’m trying to defeat the bad guys and they’re coming at me but they’re otherworldly and they run incredibly fast. So, they would be on a wire that pulled them along really quickly and they would have to stop right in front of me and we had to make sure the mark was just right because I had to hold my hand out like this. (She indicates a stiff arm all the way out). They would come very close to my hand to the point of me thinking, “Oh my God. Am I going to break my hand?” But, it was a lot of fun. That was the most dangerous thing and it really wasn’t that dangerous. I’m safe. I’m unhurt.
Q: You have a lot of time on-screen squaring off with Jessica Chastain’s character, who is new to this franchise. What was it like working with her?
Turner: It’s amazing working with Jess. To have such amazing scenes between two, strong female characters (is great). Jessica is kind of an antagonist but she is also empowering Jean so it’s these really wonderfully complex scenes that aren’t just between good and evil so that was amazing but also Jess (Chastain) is just so much fun to work with. She’s a real prankster. She likes to have a lot of fun. She dances a lot on set … and sings.
Q: What distinguishes “Dark Phoenix” from other films you’ve done in the past?
Turner: I’ve never worked so much with visual effects. I don’t think I’ve ever had such an extensive storyline in two hours. This was definitely an emotional roller-coaster. I’ve never felt as challenged as I have on this movie, especially in a scene where Jessica is showing me all the things my powers can do. We were in like a bedroom and she would go, “Look at this universe.” And I’m like, “Wow, look at those curtains.”
Q: Can you talk about the effects used to make your hair appear to move around independently, almost like you’re in water?
Turner: It was terrible. They decided the best way to do it is you have to kind of put a bald cap on and tracking points for CGI. One part of my costume is like this purple coat, this huge collar that comes up like this. I’ve got this bald cap on and I look like (animated supervillain) Megamind. It wasn’t that for long. They had me on this thing that made me, not in the re-issues, but when we were originally filming it, this parallelogram, but basically it was like a see-saw. One end had weight on it and the other end was just a bike seat. So, I would kind of sit on this bike seat, with my legs out straight, my Megamind top half, and they would just see-saw me up into the air. It would just be the most painful, humiliating experience. But it looks really good in the (film), so I don’t mind.
Q: We have to ask: What was the first scene you ever shot on “Game of Thrones” and what was the last?
Turner: The first one was kind of a feast scene with all the characters present in Winterfell and Arya (real life BFF Maisie Williams) flicks pigeon pie at my face. The last scene I ever shot was when we had the council and we decide on Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) becoming king and I say, “The North will be independent.” Those were my last words spoken. “The North will remain an independent kingdom as it was for thousands of years.”
Q: And first and last line you shot in “Dark Phoenix?”
Turner: First scene I shot was with Tye (Sheridan, who plays Scott Summers/Cyclops) in the bedroom and we were making out. I remember the last was a scene with Jen (Lawrence, who plays Raven/Mystique) that I can’t talk about.