Sophie Turner has grown up as an actor on “Game of Thrones.” She was 14 when she shot the first season of the HBO series, which premiered in 2011. Now, two months into shooting the show’s eighth and final season, she is preparing to leave the job that effectively launched her career — which now includes a key role in Fox’s “X-Men” film franchise — and embark on the next stage of her career.
But first there is season eight of “Thrones,” which began shooting in October and HBO says will premiere in either 2018 or 2019. (The premium service originally announced the former as the target for a debut, but has in recent months indicated that the latter might be more realistic.) After a year out of cycle at the Emmys, “Thrones” returns to awards contention with the upcoming Golden Globes.
Turner spoke with Variety about her growth as an actor playing Sansa Stark on the series, the upcoming season, and her post-Westeros plans.
What was your favorite scene from last season?
It was probably the moment that you realized that Sansa was going to kill Littlefinger [Aidan Gillen] and does kill him, and when you realize that Sansa and Arya Maisie [Maisie Williams] had been scheming behind Litlefinger’s back, which is a pretty impressive thing to do for two young girls against a master manipulator. It was just a really powerful moment for her, to have used up all of her master’s lessons and finally discard him. The student becomes the master now.
That scene was your last with Aidan Gillen, who you’ve worked with a lot over the series. What was it like to be working with him for the last time.
It was really hard, because out of all the people I’ve worked with on the show, he has been the one who was consistent throughout, from season one to season seven. He has been my “Game of Thrones” experience. He’s been the backbone of it for me. So to say goodbye to him was pretty hard, especially because life imitated art in a way, because he was also my mentor. I learned so many lessons just by watching him act. It was this weird parallel, and an emotional thing for everyone.
What has it been like for you to work through your formative years as an actor on a show like this with so many very good veteran actors?
My standards have definitely been raised. It’s a blessing and a curse, “Game of Thrones” being my first job and working with such incredible scripts and such incredible veteran actors, and working with the best crew. It makes you a bit of a snob, I think. And because it was my first job, the actors on “Game of Thrones” are the people I learned to act from. I learned to act watching Lena [Headey] and Peter [Dinklage] and Maisie and Kit [Harrington] and all of these different people. I put them all on such pedestals. The thought of not working with them is almost excruciating to me. They’ve been my growing up.
How will Sansa fare next season without Littlefinger in her ear?
It’s going to be tricky for her, because at the end of last season, she felt that she had everything set up. She had her family back together. They were in control of the North again. This season, there’s a new threat, and all of a sudden she finds herself somewhat back in the deep end. And without Littlefinger, it’s a test for her of whether she can get through it. It’s a big challenge for her, without this master manipulator having her back. This season is more a passionate fight for her than a political, manipulative kind of fight.
Is that because this season she faces less a political threat and more an existential, zombie sort of threat?
Well, I don’t know. We’ll have to see.
Where are you at in production on season eight?
We started in October, so we’re maybe like a tenth of the way through. [Laughs.] No, no, we’ve got six or seven months left.
Is there a consciousness on set of the fact that this is the last season?
There definitely is. When we all had the read-through for the final season, it was very, very emotional. For the first time in “Thrones” history, we had everyone there. All of the Americans wanted to come over. Every single cast member was pretty much there. We’re all kind of feeling the end of it coming. We’re all staying in town a little longer, going out for more meals, trying to get together more. We’re all trying not to take it for granted any more.
You’ve been able to do the “X-Men” movies. Now that you won’t have “Thrones” anymore, what else do you want to do?
I kind of want to do everything. I feel this sense that everything is over “Game of Thrones”-wise. I have nothing to lose right now, because I don’t have “Game of Thrones” anymore. I’m kind of born again, because I’m at a different stage of my career now — not necessarily at a higher level, I just find myself at a different version of my career. So I’m going to try my hand at everything.
Are you excited for next year, with “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” and season eight of “Game of Thrones” set to premiere?
Yeah, I’m really excited. “Game of Thrones” comes out in 2019. “Dark Phoenix” is in November. Then I have a couple indie movies coming out. I’m a producer on my next movie [“Girl Who Fell From the Sky”]. So I’m really excited about the future.