“There is a stigma within the industry of [being] a model-turned-actress, that you’ve got to be pretty to become an actress.” Actress Sophie Kennedy Clark is both outspoken and grateful for her career, and isn’t one to shy away from taking on provocative roles—be it in film or in discussions about a woman’s place in the medium. “The thing that I feel the need to defend is the fact that I have not had one glamorous role yet.” As a former Burberry model, Kennedy Clark has now worked with some of film’s most prominent names, including her role as the young Judy Dench in Philomena, and more recently, a role in Lars Von Trier’s controversial Nymphomaniac. Her upcoming film Stonehearst Asylum, is a thriller based off of an Edgar Allen Poe short story, and is slated for theater release in the US on October 24, 2014.
Indira Cesarine: You’ve been back to back with films!
Sophie Kennedy Clark: It’s kind of funny that last year was a complete gift. The kind of diversity of everything that I got to do is the kind of career that I wanted to carve out, so to have been given these opportunities so early on is kind of mind-blowing for me.
IC: You have a background with modeling – how did your career evolve with acting?
SC: That’s back to front because I shot a four-part BBC drama and then got offered the Burberry campaign as an actor. Everyone thinks I was modeling first when ultimately the Burberry campaign was international, whereas the BBC drama, which doesn’t have the platform like Burberry does. I was doing the BBC drama Single Father and apparently Christopher Bailey had watched it and asked me to be part of their acting couple. They gave me a rather fabulous Burberry boyfriend for the day–who came in the form of actor Matthew Beard–and we had to pretend to be in love on the beach all day, which was very easy because he’s wonderful.
IC: I can imagine! So your first roles were actually in front of the film camera versus in front of the photography camera, which is good to clarify because a lot of people assume that you were modeling first.
SC: I mean, I don’t have an issue with people thinking that, but I know within the industry, there is a stigma of model-turned-actress. Like you’ve got to be pretty to become an actress. The thing that I feel I need to defend is the fact that I have not had one glamorous role yet. Nothing I do is glamorous! They’re all really great character roles and that’s all I want to be – to tell stories and maybe bypass ‘girl next door’!
IC: One of your first roles was with Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows, can you tell me about that experience?
SC: It’s funny because it was my first film. It was an unbelievable experience to see a film of that scale and the world that they create. It’s amazing how many people it takes who are so important in making the film and everything that goes behind it. My bit in it was a very little part so I didn’t have lots to play with it. But it was the most marvelous insight to be around such creative [people] and be able to watch from the sidelines, in a way, how they create a character or how a film like that is made. Tim Burton is, I mean, he is a wonderful man and a master of storytelling and it was just really great to be a part of his film for my first role. You know when you’re in a Tim Burton film that you’ll look like a bit of a weirdo. Tim Burton seems to handpick the kind of weird and wonderful for his projects. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some interesting ones.
IC: Did you study acting or have a mentor?
SC: No. Storytelling has always been a big part of my upbringing because I grew up in the North East of Scotland in the arse end of nowhere… whether it was around the table or by the fire or whatever, telling stories or whatever it was–everyone had to deal with it. I watched a lot of films and that kind of influenced me, along with no television or phones. Storytelling, I’ve always had to do in some capacity. And I’ve been lucky enough to find a job where I get to tell the stories that they want me to tell.
IC: So how was it playing opposite Judy Dench in Philomena? Was it intimidating working with her?
SC: That is the bit of information that is completely indigestible for me. I still can’t believe that I got to play the young Judy Dench! I don’t even believe it! I’ve seen the film and had to do lots of interviews about it but when I lay in bed at night and think ‘I played the young Judy Dench in a film,’ I still don’t believe it. Like on a real basic level, I can’t believe it! What was so wonderful is that it wasn’t just playing the young Judy that was so great, it was also playing the young Philomena as well. Because Philomena is still alive and I’ve spent a lot of time with her. She is one of those women that throughout my life will be a complete shining light. What she has managed to accomplish in the face of adversity and tragedy is just amazing. It makes you look at your own life in certain situations and makes you think how good we’ve got it. The whole experience was a real… it was a gift. A real gem of a film!
IC: How do you feel about being in an Oscar nominated film so early in your career?
SC: I don’t know how it happened, I’m not going to lie. It seems like one day not too long ago, I was still very much working towards trying to create a career. The next thing you know, I’ve got films coming out that I never would’ve dreamt that I would’ve been a part of. I love the awards season and I love the show of it all, but ultimately I’m not making movies for awards. So regardless of whether or not it wins anything, the film has done its duty and awakened people to something awful that happened. The point of the film was never to be an Oscar winning film, it just so happens that it had that accolade as well. It’s a bit of a double whammy really.
IC: It must be very overwhelming to plummet into this massive machine of Hollywood with this role.
SC: Oh, yeah! Because I never knew in the run up to a film being released or coming out or awards time… I’m experiencing a side of the industry that I never knew or imagined I would be a part of. It’s such a fascinating business. I’m learning constantly about all of the things that it takes to make a film successful even once you’ve made it.
IC: Can you tell me about your role in Nymphomaniac?
SC: Yes, I play B. B is kind of the catalyst for the disaster that then ensues. She’s very mischievous and one of those meager kind of types who think they know all. At that time, it was the late 70s. She’s the feminist [with the] ‘I can do what I like’ sort of approach to life and she was a lot of fun to play. It’s so funny because people ask me in interviews, ‘Is there any side of you that’s anything like B?’ and I’m like, ‘Listen, she’s just instigated a massive sex tangent, do you think I’m going to answer yes to that?’ No, but my god, in the world of imaginary…
IC: Did you have to do anything special to audition for the role?
SC: The funny thing about it is that when Nymphomaniac was casting, there were all kinds of rumors going around about what you had to do. They were all rumors apart from… what I expected when I went in was something like I was going to be asked to do something that was completely out of the ordinary, but I would have to do it because I was in an audition. But I went in, I read the part and I left. That was it. Nothing kind of risqué happened. I read the lines and I left. The moment that I read Nymphomaniac, I would’ve happily played an inanimate object in the film just to be a part of it. Lars, the way that he writes, when you read dialogue that you remember almost immediately, it’s because it’s written so well. He has a way of telling stories that, on a very human level, are very thought-provoking and really resonate with you very quickly. It’s a bit like cooking a brew with Lars.
IC: He’s such a phenomenal writer and director, what was it like working with him?
SC: Lars is very quiet and he is very respectful of his actors and what they are going to give the character. He gives you a kind of creative license that I had never experienced on set before, where it’s very much like ‘I’ve cast you… over to you.’ If he thinks that you can do it in a slightly different way, he will be very gentle in telling you which direction to go in, but he’s not overpowering. I hate to ruin the guy’s reputation of being this psychotic director but he’s not. He’s an artist and he has respect for other artists and he’s not selfish or anything. It was a complete joy… he was someone that I wanted to work with at some point in my life and I can only hope that I will work with him again at some point.
IC: Working with such a progressive script – was it easy or hard to get into your character?
SC: I actually find it to be a very organic pace to the script. I’m very instinctual; I don’t like to spend a lot of time researching things and getting to grips of things. I like to say the line as I feel it would naturally come out, but with a few different layers of my own life. You want it to be as believable as possible. So I try not to overthink things, because I think once anyone starts analyzing anything it becomes bigger than what it would be. I kind of just threw myself into it, thumbs blazing.
IC: How do people respond when they hear that you’re a star in the film Nymphomaniac?
SC: For a very long time, no one has used the word nymphomaniac in what it really means. I’ve never really heard it in the context of someone genuinely having a sex addiction. Because women who have sex too much usually just gets called a slag or something. It’s never really been seen in the way, where you say this person has a sex addiction… it’s never really taken seriously and I think no addiction is pretty. When you see the title of it, you automatically think of someone who is promiscuous, instead of thinking that it’s really someone who doesn’t have a choice in the matter because it is an addiction. I feel like I’ve come on this journey with an understanding of what the word means – that it’s painful when people don’t know what the word means and they connect it to being promiscuous. I remember when I arrived in Cologne, where it was filmed, and it was my first journey to Germany, I grinned my way over on the airplane. When I got off the plane I collected my bag and they told me a car would be waiting for me, and as I exited the doors to find my car, I was looking around and looking for my name on the board as you would. There was a man standing with a large white sign that said “Sophie Kennedy Clark: Nymphomaniac” and EVERYONE was waiting to see who was going to arrive to this sign (laughs).
IC: That must’ve been such a bizarre moment!
SC: Oh, it was so bizarre because everyone had clearly been waiting with bated breath to see the girl with the sex addiction to be driven off. When I look back on it now, it’s really funny, but at the time it was kind of like ‘Oh god what have I gotten myself into?’
IC: It must be confidence building, no?
SC: Yeah, and the wonderful thing about Lars is that he makes films that empower women and he’s a trailblazer in what he does. I think that’s wonderful. I think he uses films in a very powerful way that can be incredibly haunting and thought provoking.
IC: Yeah, it’s a confrontation of societal taboos and looking at the situation in a far deeper level than just assuming that nymphomaniac means slag. So, this is our legendary issue – what to you is the definition of legendary?
SC: Someone who makes their mark in the crop that they sew. Because so many people have done the same things over the years that if you can do something in your own way, and do it brilliantly, then you become legendary. I mean, I suppose the dream would be to become a living legend because half of the legends that we look up to have either died prematurely or are of myth and folklore. I think that someone [legendary] is really at the top of their game and does it their own way and the right way.
IC: So who would you consider to be your favorite legendary artist? Some would say Judy Dench is one.
SC: Yeah, well she is a national treasure and a living legend. I mean, there are musicians because they do something so different to me. I would say Leonard Cohen – the kind of music he makes, he’s clearly marching to the beat of his own drum and it’s poetry and I love that. Dead… I’m going to go with… I can’t think of anyone right now! I don’t want to say someone like Hercules because that’s ridiculous! (laughs)
IC: Do you have any sort of motto or words of wisdom that you live by?
SC: Yes. It has got me into a lot of trouble so far… ‘Life is only as good as the stories you have to tell.’
IC: That is a very good one! How has it got you into trouble?
SC: I will do anything for a good story because I have absolutely no shame! If I know something is going to be mortifying and hilarious, I will certainly do it! Anything for a good story!
IC: What else do we have to look out from you in 2014?
SC: I am going to be in a film called Stonehearst Asylum which is a wonderful Edgar Allen Poe tale with a lineup of Sir Ben Kingsley, Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess… it’s a real dream team! It’s kind of gothic and it has a kind of interesting twist to it but it’s not frightening.
Make sure to pick up a copy of The Untitled Magazine‘s “Legendary” Issue 7 for a full spread of Sophie Kennedy Clark now!
Photography by Simon Emmett for The Untitled Magazine
Stylist: Rebekah Roy
Hair by Tyler @ One Represents
Make-up by Liz Pugh
Sophie wears a dress by Sophia Kah and a Mappin & Webb Empress necklace.
Sophie wears a dress by Alexander McQueen, earrings and rings by Shaun Leane and a ring by Theo Fennell.
Sophie Kennedy Clark wears a dress by Yuvna Kim and ring by Piaget.