Sophie Cookson is set to make her feature film debut this autumn with new movie Kingsman: The Secret Service, which sees Matthew Vaughn back in the director's chair.
The film will see Cookson star alongside Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Samuel L. Jackson, and fellow newcomer Taron Egerton.
We caught up with Cookson to chat about the film, the role of Roxy, and working with such a great cast.
- We’re here to talk about Kingsman, can you give us a little background about the film?
Sure! The Kingsman is a secret organisation that’s above MI5, above MI6, and believe that those kinds of organisations are kind of knocked down and trapped by bureaucracy and stuff, so it’s an organization above all of that so they have more power to independently tackle global issues and things like that.
I play Roxy, who is one of the candidates who might fill this gap in the Kingsman. I’m one of two girls in the beginning, so yeah, surrounded by lots of boys who think they know best but of course, they don’t!
- So how did this project come about for you?
I just got an email from my agent whilst I was filming something in Ireland, saying ‘Can you put yourself on tape with this? Colin Firth’s attached’. And I was like ‘Oh, it’s one of them’, you know.
I’ll slightly ignore that one because that’s obviously ridiculous that I would be working with him. But, you know, I did, I put myself on tape and then didn’t hear anything for a while and then got a call saying, ‘They want to get you in, you’re going to meet the casting director’.
So I still didn’t take it that seriously because as soon as you pin your hopes on something then you’re going to be disappointed, because you know, it’s a hell of a role to get.
So I went in and met the casting director and again didn’t hear anything for a while and it was like ‘Oh god, forget about that one.’ Then I got a call saying that Matthew would like to see me so went and met Matthew at the Euston Studios, where we filmed.
And Taron had just been cast as Eggsy so I read with Taron, which was nice as well, because it gave me more of a rounded sense of what the film really was, because it’s one thing seeing it on paper but as soon as people start getting involved... and that definitely made me more interested.
Working with Taron was great and Matthew started firing questions at me like ‘Can you swim? Are you afraid of heights?’ and all that kind of stuff, and luckily I said the right things, and yeah got called in a few days later to do a screen test.
And still I was like obviously invested by then and I wanted it, but I was like ‘yeah, if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen’, but obviously really caring. And then it did happen and I found out that week after the screen test.
- Amazing! And what was it about the character of Roxy that appealed to you?
Well, I think with a lot of scripts you read, the female is an accessory to a male, and playing the love interest has its part and there are interesting roles out there like that, that have more depth to them rather than just being a love interest, but Roxy isn’t an accessory to any male, she very much is her own woman.
And you don’t know very much about her so I felt like there was a lot of stuff that I could invest and make my own.
And she’s tough, but she’s still soft and has empathy. I also like the fact that she’s the only girl in it really... the only one that is likeable.
- And how much were you allowed to put your own spin on Roxy? How much did Matthew let you to bring your own ideas to the table?
Matthew let me basically do what I wanted, which was great! However, Matthew is one of those people that if I did something that he didn’t agree with, or that he thought could be done differently, then he would freely say.
And you know, when you’re on set with Matthew it is very free, and if there’s an idea you have or if you want to do it a different way, or if he thinks that the script needs changing... which is good I think, because sometimes, especially with me being quite fresh and stuff being like ‘That’s the script, I need to stick to the script.
I’ve done that work at home so I need to do it that way,’ having Matthew shake it up a bit, as frustrating as that feels in that particular moment, it’s actually really good because it frees you up and makes you a bit more playful. He was a great person to be around.
- So, Kingsman: Secret Service marks your big screen debut. How did you find it working on a feature film for the first time and how did it differ from some of the previous TV work you’ve done?
Well, it was nerve-wracking, definitely nerve-wracking, because I didn’t even know studios were that big! But we were all in the same boat really, all of the recruits, none of us had really done a massive film before so that was nice.
But the people like Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Michael Caine, you know it’s such safe hands that you’re in that it was just so chilled out and so it was very easy to get on with.
The differences - we were in the studio for most of this, and there’s a lot more stunts and it’s just all on a much larger scale and the amount of people involved.
It was a brilliant experience, just to be able to see behind the scenes and to know... to know what my job is really, and learn on the job which is invaluable, because I think you reach that stage where you can only start learning by doing and making mistakes and then being like ‘hey, well that didn’t work. I’ll do it another way.’
And learning the technicalities of it and seeing actors like Mark (Strong) who is just so calm and he knows exactly what he’s doing, and seeing that and then working it out for yourself, it was a massive change for me. It was nice to see.
- It’s obviously one of Taron’s first major films as well, was it nice that you were both in the same boat in that respect?
Yeah, it was brilliant. It was brilliant. He and I, you know and as characters, really get on well in the film and it was just fun! Apart from some of the stunts which when you’ve done it for the hundredth time isn’t so fun.
- There’s an underwater scene in the movie. What was that like to film?
It’s scary, you know, if you are told as a human that you’re not going to have any oxygen you do slightly freak out!
Even if you’re a great swimmer or whatever, it definitely took a while to get our heads round and it’s a really hard scene to film. And working out how we’re going to do all the water stunts, because I’ve never seen anything like that in a film before and we were all learning as a crew, as a cast and as a director.
So that, we really were all in the same boat and the concentration... and credit to everyone because it looks brilliant and at one point, I thought that scene would be scrapped because it felt that difficult to do! And it’s nice to see that we all lived!
- So going back to Roxy, where does she fit in to the film and how are we going to see her develop throughout the film, from being a new recruit and onwards?
Well Roxy, like the other candidates goes through lots of challenges to see who is Kingsman material, and there are many different ones testing their linguistic skills, strength, and determination.
So each of those challenges kind of brings out a different side to her, her vulnerability, her strength... and being in such close quarters to everyone is a very tense environment, you know, they’re living in a dormitory basically and seeing those personal relationships, and in a way for Roxy that’s almost a test.
Being around guys like that and people who she would probably get put in the same lot as - they’ve had a very good education, they’re all upper crust kind of people, but they’re the bad stereotype of it whereas she’s on much more of a level with Eggsy.
So seeing those relationships, you definitely get to see many different aspects of her.
- We’ve already touched on the amazing cast a little bit, how did you find working alongside such massive names like Colin Firth, Samuel L Jackson? Were you starstruck at all?
I wouldn’t say I was ever starstruck but working with Sir Michael was definitely... because we were filming in this tiny little library room and his voice, I mean his voice is so iconic anyway, it’s just so rich and deep, you know that was quite a... I just thought ‘God, if my grandma knew that I was filming with Michael Caine, she’d be so proud!’
So yeah, it was incredible, just doing that alone. But you know, at the end of the day they’re all people, and they’re so nice, and they’re such gentlemen to work with so they made it incredibly easy.
And there never felt any distinction between ‘Well that’s Colin Firth, you’re only Sophie Cookson, we need to focus on Colin Firth’, we were all in the same boat.
- This is your feature film debut, where are you hoping your career is going to take you over the next few years? Are you hoping to stick with film now?
I know what I’m doing next, which is a film. But I’m not allowed to say much more! So that seems to be the way I’m going at the moment but you know, there’s no defined career path that I want to take.
I think all you can do as an actor and as a person in life is take what comes your way and just work it out as you go along, because I think as soon as you have a game plan you’re stuffed!
Know what you want and know what your ambitions are but I’d never put anything down in confirmed ink - always write in pencil!
- If you could pick your dream role, however unrealistic, what would it be?
I don’t think there really is a dream role, but I think the dream job is having a script that just, you know there are some scripts that you read and they just absolutely sing to you and it’s such a fine balance between getting a script that there’s the character aspect and then the writing, when it’s really beautifully crafted but doesn’t feel too poetic or prosaic, and it just really speaks to you.
I think working with a script and working with people who have the same vision as you, because I think sometimes you can have a vision of a character and then someone else is like ‘No, no, no, it shouldn’t be played like that’ and marrying those two can be tricky.
So that’s what the dream job would be, because those scripts are very few and far between. You’re very lucky if you get to see one I think, they’re like a Willy Wonka golden ticket.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is released 17th October.