Who is this young actress from Sussex, England who, just a after graduating from Oxford Drama, found herself acting opposite Colin Firth and Michael Caine in the Kingsman, and Naomi Watts on the Netflix series Gypsy? We chatted about drama school, working on film and television, mental health, and, of course love.
John David: So, it’s not too long ago that you were in college. Where did you study?
Sophie: Oxford Drama
Was your training classical theater based?
We had a few film lessons, starting in the second year; George Peck is the biggest Shakespeare buff there is, so it was very focused classical training.
My undergrad study was theater, so my heart lies there. Have you done much theater?
Not since I graduated. It’s not intentional, I would love to do [theater] soon. Even though all medium are based in the same—you know—human response, human instinct. I think it is good to flex different muscles, and I do miss that challenge.
Right, ‘cause [theater] is a conversation with the audience.
eah, it’s like the immediate connection you have with [the audience]. Being inside the body of the character in that space is something I really miss. And the rehearsal process as well.
Yeah, my favorite part is the rehearsal process. So on film and TV, you just go in and shoot; you don’t have much time to explore?
Well, it depends. Like on Gypsy we had a few sessions, a reading together. As you get involved shooting days are long, and everyone is on a different schedule. So generally speaking, you do the work quite separately. Time is not a luxury on TV.
On Gypsy, you had ten episodes to develop your character. That’s quite different from a film, right?
Yeah, it’s definitely one of the huge benefits with television. but I find that the shooting on TV can be quite tough, whereas on film you get the luxury of really playing around, and sometimes being able to dig a little deeper maybe.
Do you find film more satisfying than television in that regard?
It’s just flexing different muscles. I find both very rewarding. You get the same feeling, you’ve got the meat and the heart of the scene. I like doing jobs that require a different part of my brain, and with Gypsy the challenge was definitely there, so much content, but less time.
Is Sidney one of your more interesting roles so far?
Definitely, I was so excited because she is nothing like I’ve ever played before. I like acting and I like doing it myself, making choices that people don’t necessarily expect. And Sidney is much darker, much more complicated; I love how she portrays herself as one thing but underneath she’s something else.
The thing that struck me was the dance, where you’re sometimes the confident, strong one, and with Naomi Watts’s character, Diane appears more recessive and then things switch and we see Sidney’s vulnerable side and Diane’s stronger, more manipulative side. It weaves back and forth throughout the show subtly.
It’s like a constant cat-and-mouse game, power struggle. I think when you first meet someone and you’ve heard about them entirely through someone else, like we hear about Sidney through her ex-boyfriend Sam, and then we’re presented with this other version, you instantly have this lack of trust. It’s interesting seeing [Sidney] through everyone else’s eyes—I had my own feelings about why Sidney acts the way she does. I just wasn’t aware how twisted it would become.
How was Naomi Watts to work with?
She’s the best, she’s just such a sweet, generous person, and actor. All of our scenes are so intense, there’s so much dialogue, and it’s a very sensitive relationship, one that we wanted to portray correctly. She was really bubbly and sweet with me, and very protective, so by the time we got to shooting we were really close.
You felt safe—
Yeah, totally. You need that trust and alliance with someone to really go to those [difficult] places.
Is there something specifically that you learned working with Naomi Watts?
Just watching her in general. The subtlety and specificity she brings to everything. And the way she plays around, every take is completely different. I think sometimes because of having classical training, I like to think that every word is so specific, every full stop, every comma, is there for a reason. So I can’t fuck about with that. Whereas seeing actors like Naomi play around with it; she would say something that wasn’t scripted, which throws me off. I remember (in episode nine), we’re in the car together, and Naomi says, “...you do exactly what you were just doing but I’m going to play around with it and say some different stuff...” And she would provoke my character, and it really was interesting to watch someone have the intuition and the gumption to know what would make me, Sidney, and Sophie as the actor tick. I’ve never worked with anyone quite like that before.
So it that something you can do in the future, in your process?
Yeah, I do but I think it’s having space and knowing—and working in the industry for a long time and really trusting yourself. I think it’s a shared, collective space you have when you’re working with someone, and I will definitely try and do in the future. Sometimes you’re doing take after take after take, you need something that’s going to throw you off balance or make you see something a different way.
Yeah, it can be scary. So the Kingsman: The Secret Agent, that was your first film?
Yeah. I left drama school in June or May to do a job, and by August I was cast in Kingsman.
That’s amazing. And that’s a great role.
Yeah, I remember putting myself on an audition tape in like some shitty hotel room in Ireland after getting the script. Colin Firth is attached, and I think it’s quite cool, but no way expecting anything back. So it’s like, yeah whatever. Whereas now if I got that [script], I would be like, okay shit, it’s a big deal, come on. Whereas when you’re so fresh out of drama school and have nothing to do, it’s a really good space to be in I think—completely fearless.
Exactly. Now the stakes get higher. So, this year’s Kingsman: The Golden Circle, you’re still the same character.
Well she’s definitely an established member of Kingsman at this point. Luckily I have so much to thank to Matthew [Vaughn]. Anything you think this will be, it’s probably not going to be. The amazing fight sequences that you see in the first one get even better.
Are you shocked when you see the final results, when you see the film? Are you like, wow that’s totally beyond--?
Yes, I mean especially with Kingsman. I’ve always loved Matthew’s work, and I knew I was working with great people. The sheer scale of what he’s done is—wow—I’m a part of that, that’s really cool.
So you have a couple of other projects coming up, including the Emperor and The Crucifixion?
Yeah, and Ashes in the Snow which is something I’m super proud of. It’s based on the true story about when the Russians came into Lithuania in the 1940’s and ended up deporting them to Siberia. So it’s a really draining and intense shoot, but really incredible giving a voice—Lithuania only made independence in 1991, so everyone that was involved in the film, all of the background actors have a deep connection with the story. And I play a girl, she gets taken hostage with her newborn baby and put on a train for seven weeks to Siberia. So it was really heart wrenching, even just reading it on paper. I remember thinking, god how am I going to do that? I remember reading an interview with Meryl Streep saying how at the end of Sophie’s Choice she couldn’t even think about the part when she had to choose between her daughter and—and that resonated with me, you can’t just let your head go there, it’s doing all of your background work, and then trusting very much in that. And if you’re in that emotional state you can’t be so aware of the cameras, or thinking about all of that. I learned so much from that job.
You’ve said several times, “I’m really hard on myself.” Are you very self-critical?
Totally. I mean I think it’s probably really why I do the things I do. I think it drives me, and I enjoy that fear. I think, when there were no stakes, the work might not be as good.
And then you succeed, you’ve done it, and realize taking that risk pays off
Yeah, and then the thing is learning to move on regardless of the results. You made it through, and—What’s next?
It sounds like you’re a constant learner.
I saw on your Instagram account a post about mental health—something about it being difficult to talk about. Is this a cause that you care about?
It’s something that I’ve always been interested in. I have a lot of friends that have suffered through this stuff, and I think we’ve all had the time when we feel at a loss. I feel like if you’re in a position where you can raise awareness for something that you really truly believe in, then I have a responsibility to do that. It’s something that sadly still taboo—it comes with a certain sense of shame. If someone has a broken leg you give them a fucking crutch You fix the leg. Mental health is much more intangible than that but it doesn’t have the same weight that physical health does.
Okay, so love. What jumps out at you in regards to— love?
Love is a beautiful thing but it requires work and thought as well, I think in all aspects.
So it requires a bit of balance?
Yeah, which is terrible because we want to feel like love is a thing where your heart bursts out of your chest, and there’s a wee bird singing, and a rainbow. But love is such a tricky one, it’s a fragile thing.
Un-Titled Project’s underlying theme is to be conscious of quality and longevity. Just from talking to you about your work, quality is important to you, yes?
I think when I was younger quality meant absolutely everything. I had to do the best all the time, and I think as you get older you realize that it’s not about that as much, it’s more about what you’re learning and applying. So I always try and do my best, but it’s far more, a lot deeper than that. But we’re all fallible human beings, and nothing is perfect. Everything is an ever-growing, evolving thing.
Interview: John David West
Photography: Francesco Barion
Styling: Elisa Silvestri
Makeup: Sergio Corvacho
Hair: Shukeel Murtaza
Featuring The Art Project with works by Jared Buckhiester, Malerie Marder, Wanda Orme, Laurel Nakadate & Matt Lambert. The Love Project with photos by Nino Muñoz, Jack Pierson, Daniel Jack Lyons, Dennis Golonka, Alex Freund, Luis Venegas, Chris Craymer, Alessandro Dal Buoni, Chris Hanley, Hao Zeng, Cornelius Käss, Fabio Paparelli Malerie Marder & Slater Bradley. The Fashion Project With Subjects Dominique Brannontel, Briggs Rudder, Emma Surmon, Morten Nielsen, Akiva Miller, Samuel Wilken, Jazelle Zanaughtti, Lucas Satherley, Noah Boling, Claire Kempf & Rory Mackenzie Arthur, Maria Kundry, Sarah Abney, Amira Pinheio, Madison Rian, Marland Backus, Nathan Morgan, Clement Puyoou. Caleb Landry Jones & Sophie Cookson with Photography by Enrique Badulescu, Arielle Bobb-Willis, Dennis Golonka & Francesco Barion. The Last Project remembering Christophe Kutner.
11 x 9 inches