The Wylde Interview: Sophie Skelton
Portraits by Etienne Gilfillan
Sophie’s Choices: British actress Sophie Skelton is amassing an enviable collection of screen roles, from period drama to sci-fi and beyond. She is currently causing waves in the hit TV series Outlander, based on the time-bending novel series by Diana Gabaldon, in which she plays the tormented American, Brianna Randall Fraser. And with several movies under her belt that cover bases as diverse as WW2 drama Another Mother’s Son, Hollywood bank heist flick #211 with Nicolas Cage, and a remake of zombie classic Day of The Dead, Skelton’s star is most definitely on the rise. We caught up with her on a rainy London afternoon to chat musicals, toy-testing and twisted thrillers…
Wylde: You started out doing ballet and singing, then moved into musical theatre. What kind of productions did you play in when you were younger?
Sophie Skelton: I ended up doing quite a range of musicals, from the slightly darker ones like Chicago to Oliver! and similar. Funnily enough, my first ever TV appearance was on the game show A Question of Sport. They have a "mystery guest" section, and I was doing a production of Oliver! at the Palace Theatre. The boxer Ricky Hatton came to the theatre and we had to perform one of the main musical numbers and re-choreograph it around him for him to then be revealed at the end. I think I was 11 at the time. That's so bizarre… I just remembered that!
Did the idea of being a pop singer ever cross your mind, or were you always more drawn to the musical theatre side of things?
No, my career choices were between acting and being a surgeon – so highly unrelated to one another! I always felt more called to the acting though. I was forever at the cinema, I just loved it. It's still my escape place now. I do still sing, and I love it, and the idea of being on stage again performing is really exciting to me but it was never my passion. Acting allows you to play out other people's stories. I feel with singing, you sing about your own. I'm quite a private person; I think I'd rather use any heartache in my life to play someone else's rather than divulge my own through a song!
What films inspired you, as a younger actress?
Anything with Audrey Hepburn, to be honest. The acting style was a lot bigger then and can often look almost comical now because it seems so "large" when taken out of its time and watched today, but she always managed to root everything in reality, even with that in mind. She made it so real. Others are Saving Private Ryan, Good Will Hunting, Band of Brothers. That's off the top of my head but there are so many more!
Your parents designed toys and board games… tell us about growing up in the midst of this!
Well, my brothers and I were absolutely their guinea pigs! I'd come home from ballet after school and be getting on with my homework and they'd say: "Ooo, can you just come to the office quickly and look at this game?" "I have homework to do!" "Yeah but it won't take long!" Cut to a couple of hours later! But it was great. I never really thought of it being a particularly interesting job until I grew up and realised it's actually quite rare. One of my main memories from it was when they needed kids for the cover of the box for a game they'd designed and they asked if any friends from school would come in as it needed to be done last minute with no time to go through a casting process, so I brought in three of my school friends. The next day at school they were talking about how cool it was to have earned some money (we were about 7) and I remember thinking: "Ermm, what money??" I'm still waiting for that cheque, Mum and Dad!
Tell us about your character in Outlander, and the premise of the show.
Bree is a very fiery redheaded American. She is extremely hot-headed but also very calculating at the same time. Not long before the first time we meet Brianna in season two, her father died and she feels somewhat responsible for it. It hardened her. We haven't really seen Bree's inner demons yet, she's not one to let them show, and this season we really uncover them. We see a very light version of Bree, pre-Frank’s death, and a very closed, guarded, stoic Bree afterwards. We find out that she has been carrying a lot of weight on very young shoulders and it's an exciting reveal because she really is a tough nut to crack and a hard person to understand for a lot of people, I think. She also goes through another trauma in Season 4 and this time it actually softens her some ways. It sees her let people who love her in more. Until that point she had adopted this detaching-herself persona as a form of self-preservation to avoid losing people she loves again. There's a lot of vulnerability and turmoil going on within Bree. She's super strong but she has been struggling far more than we as an audience have realised.
Have you read the books further to see where your role takes you, or do you prefer to be surprised?
I read up to book four (which is this season) because it is the one that, for me, really gets to the real Brianna so I wanted to know where she has the capacity to go to before stripping it back for her younger self in seasons 2 and 3 but I won't read too far ahead now. I'll take it season-by-season, ie book-by-book.
In Outlander, you get to wear clothes from the 18th century as well as the 60s, thanks to the time travel premise. If you could choose a period in time or decade in the last hundred years for style and fashions, which would you choose?
I love the 40s era. Minimal make up, waisted jackets, little hats. Very smart but comfy (ish!). Feminine and strong, ready for business. Then again, the 20s flapper dresses look very fun.
You have a great sense of style - any particular designers you’re enamoured with?
Thank you! I've always been attracted to very timeless pieces and style. Classic and cool but nothing over the top. I also think it's good to step away from "fashion" and just wear something that makes you feel like you. If you don't feel good in it, what's the point? One of my favourite fashion quotes is Coco Chanel: “Look for the woman in the dress, if there is no woman, there is no dress.” Essentially, just be confident in you and whatever the heck you feel good in. Clothes should enhance you, not own you, in my opinion.
You’ve done a fantasy series, an action movie, comedy... is there a genre you haven’t explored yet that you’d love to do?
I would love to do a musical film and also a ballet film but with other elements mixed in - something like Black Swan, where you're playing someone with a deep, dark mind but also get to do some ballet in there! A twisted thriller is great too, something like Gone Girl, where you have the blurred image of innocent victim and perpetrator in one character. I think playing that ambiguity would be a really rewarding challenge.
Have you ever wanted to move into screenwriting or developing some of your own ideas, maybe for theatre or a short film?
Writing for me is something I've always loved but more by way of books and descriptive writing. Writing dialogue isn't my forte! I really admire writers. Especially in today's world where everything is more fast-paced, and there are so many more distractions around us. I'm not very good at sitting still, I would get bored, which is terrible!
If you could star in a musical, is there a role or a particular musical you’re particularly fond of?
There are a lot I'd like to do actually! But the one that springs to mind is Chicago, I definitely would like to do that again. Be great if they did another film of it. Not that it needs one though, the original with Catherine Zeta-Jones is awesome!