Sophia Di Martino
British actor Sophia Di Martino’s ability to take on an array of diverse characters, from the fantastical to the bizarre, and execute them with such precision and ease is astounding.
Over a varied career that will span exactly 20 years once the new year rolls in, the creative has left quite the mark so far. The world is currently fixated on her brilliant portrayal of the badass character, Sylvie, in Marvel’s Loki series alongside ex-1883 cover star Tom Hiddleston, as its stellar second season concluded last month. Yet Sophia is an extremely versatile artist with a plethora of honest jobs and roles that border on the weird and wonderful. In 2004, the newcomer at the time bounded onto the set of the UK hospital television drama Holby City for a small appearance in one episode.
Two years later with a few different jobs under her belt, the Nottingham-born actor took the role of paramedic Polly Emmerson for a stint on Casualty. If these were two examples of the ‘working actor’ type of roles that let Sophia cut her teeth within the TV and film industry, then from that point onwards she flourished both as an actor and a creative. In the 2010s and beyond, Sophia has appeared in a slew of brilliant roles. A forensic drama, avant-garde films, emotive and tender roles, she has done it all and more.
One of the most standout performances includes the delightfully unhinged role of Amy Flowers alongside Olivia Colman and Julian Barratt in the dark comedy series, Flowers. The actor also interestingly wrote, directed, and planned her first ever short film, the horror-tinged The Lost Films Of Bloody Nora. Proving that the actor can pivot and take on anything she wants without breaking a sweat.
What makes Sophia shine as an individual is how even at the dizzying heights of success she now finds herself at (and deservedly so) the actor remains genuinely authentic, charming, and dedicated to her craft. It truly feels like she is just warming up and there is so much more to come.
In conversation with 1883 Magazine’s Cameron Poole, Sophia Di Martino discusses her almost two decades in the business, Loki, burnout, A Glastonbury Festival caravan, Christmas music, and the role she wants to try next.
Hello Sophia, thanks for chatting with 1883 Magazine today. Did you get Glastonbury tickets for next year? And can you tell me about the Glasto caravan you “donated” to your dad after you used it in 2008?
[Laughs] my god, how do you know about that!?
I like to do my research.
You’ve done your research! I did not get Glastonbury tickets, I didn’t even try for next year. I think I’m going to wait until my children are a little bit older and then take them. It’s a really cool place to go with kids, I took my brother actually when he was eight, and I think he had the best weekend of his life. He’s 21 now and he still talks about it. So the caravan… I can’t remember where we got it from. My friend, Lindsey and I, I think we bought it off eBay for like 25p or something. We later found out that caravans are very difficult to get rid of when you don’t want them anymore, which is probably why it was on eBay for 25p. It was a wreck of a little caravan but we drove it all the way down to Glastonbury and it was amazing. Honestly, it felt like we were glamping after doing like three years on the trot camping in little tents, getting our heads trampled on at five o’clock in the morning by drunken people. I felt we were living the dream in that caravan for four nights.
But obviously, it was really difficult to get rid of so we kindly donated it to my dad who had big plans to put it in the bottom of his field because he’s got a small field at the side of his house. I think he was going to turn it into a house for ostriches. He wanted to keep some birds and it would have been perfect as like a coop for them [laughs]. But the neighbours complained, so then he was tasked with getting rid it. I felt really bad that he was lumbered with this piece of shit caravan but still fond memories, our first glamping experience at Glastonbury.
Throughout season two of Loki, we get to see Sylvie enjoy some small moments of peace and normality that she’s never experienced before such as working at McDonalds, sitting at a bar drinking, and checking out a record store. Things that in real life, we all take for granted, with that in mind, what is one simple activity that you take for granted that you’re trying to be more mindful about in real life?
That’s such a good question. It’s got to be cooking. I love food, making it, and preparing it. Having small children means that I’m often turning up the oven and putting fish fingers in there, whatever is easy. But I’m trying to be more mindful about taking the time to cook, to feed myself, and my family because we’re so lucky to have food. I’m grateful that I can cook and I really do enjoy it. So just take the time to do that properly and then enjoy our food. It’s very simple but super important.
I know you fell in love with acting when you were in sixth form, apart from studying the craft, what films, shows and plays were you consuming at the time which helped fuel this passion?
We didn’t go to the theatre a lot when I was a kid. It just wasn’t something that my family did. We didn’t have loads of money. It wasn’t that easily accessible to us. But I do remember going to see the musical Rent with my friend and her family one year. It was the first musical that I’d seen and it really blew me away. I still listen to still to the songs from that musical now and I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in a public space. It’s such a great story and such an important one and the characters are amazing. Some of the solos are brilliant, it was the first time I thought I wanted to do that. I have never done a musical [laughs]. So who knows if that will ever happen. But being on stage, it’s a close second I guess. I don’t think I’m a strong enough singer or dancer to subject anyone to me being in a musical to be honest.
I think the people that do that are incredibly talented. I’ve got so much respect for them. Most of it was just films, I used to watch a lot of films. We used to go to the cinema a lot. There was this great cinema called The Savoy in Nottingham, this tiny little ramshackle place and it was cheap to get a ticket. We used to get the bus there and just watch film after film, we would do three films in a row and just watch whatever was on. I still love the feeling of just being in a dark room in silence watching a movie. I think that is what I was doing most of my teenage years. I was really lucky if I got to see a live show.
You’re multifaceted, you’re not just starring in other people’s shows and films, you’re working on your own projects. How fun was it to direct, write and star in your short film, The Lost Films of Bloody Nora which also starred Mark Heap?
I’m really surprised that he did it, I’m a big Mark Heap fan, so it was great to meet him. It was cool, I had my friend Will Hanke, the director of photography, and we just spent a few days messing around, finding some cool locations, and shooting it, it was super low budget. I think the whole thing cost me £200 and I handmade all the credits myself, all the titles and everything. It was just painstaking but really fun.
We got access to a dark room for a bit and developed some of the film and made that sequence that’s in it at the end from all of the hand-coloured film. So it was just cool. It was like a mini-crash course in making an experimental short film. I have these ideas and sometimes I just have to get them out of my system and do them. There’s a lot more on the internet.
It’s cool that whilst pursuing other jobs, you’re still working on the creative ideas that are personal projects for yourself. But how do you avoid burnout? I would imagine when working on a personal project it must be hard to not think about it 24/7.
It honestly would be a luxury to think about it 24/7 a day. I have a family and I have other jobs, like acting jobs, voiceover work, and so unfortunately I can’t spend 24/7 thinking about my personal projects, so I guess that is how [laughs]. I’m sort of in lots of different places at once and it would all get a bit much if I did too much of anything. So I have to have a strong word with myself sometimes and just stop and have a day where I don’t do very much at all which I find the hardest thing in the world. But I have to force myself to do it. Otherwise, like you say, you just get burnt out, overwhelmed and I just cry for three days.
I do that, I also try and go for a run which I absolutely hate. I hate it but it’s free, and you can do it whenever you want to. It’s flexible. I don’t have to wait for the right time to go for a run, I can just do it when I have 20 minutes spare. So I force myself to do that and I always feel better afterwards. If I’m really struggling and feeling I need to drag myself away from everything and have a break, I get everyone in the car and drive up to my mum’s house in Nottingham. She makes me a bowl of pastina with cheese balls and makes me sit on the sofa for 24 hours whilst she runs around looking after me [laughs].
I want to take a moment to appreciate that next year will mark a two-decade milestone for your acting career, what do you think the Sophia who walked onto an episode of Holby City would say about all the varied projects and successes you’ve worked hard to achieve over the years?
Wow, was that really two decades ago? Holby City was my first acting job.
Wow, gosh, I remember it so vividly, I was so nervous and I’ve got the tape somewhere. Back in the day, you used to have to save all the VHS tapes of your work, so you could make a showreel. That’s how long I’ve been doing this, that’s mad. I still got the polaroid as well somewhere from the continuity photos where it all used to be on Polaroid. When I watch it back I’ve got a really strong Nottingham accent which is really lovely to see, I was so young and excited. You know what? Right back then I remember just thinking ‘wow, what a cool opportunity, what a crazy adventure that I can go on’. Go and film this episode of Holby City, let’s see what happens just be open to it and see what happens. I never expected anything else. I never had a master plan or anything. I’ve always just gone from one job to the next and tried to enjoy it.
There are some really great people that you meet along the way, you get to sort of practice your acting a little bit every time you get a job and try something new, take a few more risks, be a bit more braver and get the opportunity to work as a team with some really creative and clever people. I still feel the same way, I still feel like every time I get a job, it’s a nice surprise [laughs] and it’s a great opportunity for an adventure and a little bit scary but I just sort of try and make the most of it, meet some nice people and practice my acting again. I’ve managed to make a career out of that which is crazy. You never know when it’s going to end, so I just try and enjoy each bit.
That’s amazing to hear, thank you for sharing. I think as creatives we can be self-critical or a little bit too harsh on ourselves. Also, you may believe it or you may not believe it, but Sophia you are a fantastic actor. So I hope you don’t have imposter syndrome. It’s lovely to see all your hard work being noticed, whether it’s 2016’s Flowers, Loki, or any of the other brilliant projects you’ve been in over the years, it’s great to see that your career is thriving.
Thanks, Cameron, that’s really lovely, you’re going to make me cry [laughs].
Oh my god, I’m sorry, that’s not my intention [laughs]. I just wanted to share my most sincere thoughts!
When someone’s genuinely nice like that, it’s very nice to hear. I definitely do have impostor syndrome and I always feel like I can do better, try harder, but I sometimes think that’s my biggest strength and my greatest weakness because it means that I always try really hard. But I am hard on myself which is not very good.
We’re all human and like that.
[Laughs] We are, it brings you down to earth doesn’t it though, kicking yourself up the arse sometimes.
Yes, it’s needed every once in a while. Anyway, what’s been the most insightful direction you’ve been given by a colleague or director when working on a project?
I’ve worked with so many great directors and there have been a few pieces of advice that stay with me and I sort of have internalised. I remind myself of it sometimes when I’m working. One of them is never play it for laughs, so try not to lean too hard on the joke. When you’re saying something funny, say it like you’re saying something serious and it will be even funnier. So that’s great, never play it for laughs, sort of under under play jokes. And the other one, I was doing Silent Witness years ago and the director, I’d been doing Flowers and I had done comedies where I’m playing unhinged characters. For Silent Witness, I was playing a serious forensic agent or a cop type. The director kept pulling me aside and said ‘you’re doing too much with your eyes, your eyes are massive, It’s too much, tone it down a bit’.
I became really self-conscious about how much eye acting I was doing, but it was so helpful because I had to really get out of the habit of being wide-eyed Amy Flowers and come back down to doing a more withheld performance. It helped me get out of a bad habit. So I’m very grateful for that piece of advice even though it stung at the time [laughs].
It’s impressive that any actor can remember a script and lines, it’s something I could never do. But what’s even more impressive is when you have to remember medical terminology as you did as paramedic, Polly Emmerson, in Casualty. Can you tell me about what it meant to you as it was one of your first major recurring roles?
I learned so much on that job and from people like Jane Hazelgrove especially. She was the other paramedic, who played Dixie. She was amazing to me and I learned so much about my acting on instinct, and not overthinking. I mean the medical jargon is a nightmare, but I used to cheat, I used to write it on my glove or hide my scripts under the structure because you have to shoot so quickly. You don’t want to mess up, so sometimes I just have to have it right there just to check it before the take and then get it in my short term memory and then I can do it. All of the other lines, the rest of the scene is sort of easy to learn. I find lines quite easy to learn, especially when it’s written well. But with medical jargon, sometimes you just have to cheat and get it right. Rather than try, get it wrong, and waste everyone’s time.
Yeah, I learned so much about working quickly. You don’t get more than a couple of takes on a show like that. Jane used to say: ‘just say it and get off’ which was her sure hand of saying don’t get in your head about it. Don’t think about it too much, follow your instinct, do it, and then we can all go home. It served me quite well because I’m a very instinctual actor and I’m not as cerebral about it. I don’t talk about the scene loads before we do it. I just feel like I need to do it and usually my instinct I think is right. It’s taken years to trust that, it’s a process I think.
Since season one of Loki dropped in 2021 and the world was introduced to the loveable badass, Sylvie, how have you found the surreal career-elevating experience? It’s been a thoroughly deserved whirlwind so far.
Yeah, it’s been wonderful and it’s really nice to be in a show and part of a franchise if you like that has a fanbase already because there’s lots of people who have said nice things and I’ve got loads of followers on social media but that also doesn’t really matter to me all that much. What matters is that people enjoy the show and connect with the character and it’s great to be working with people like Tom [Hiddleston], Kate [Herron], Gugu [Mbatha-Raw], Wunmi [Mosaku], and Owen [Wilson]. I mean, what a great opportunity. It’s just been really fun and still sort of seems like a fever dream.
It just seems like some crazy dream because I’m still sitting here in the same house, eating the same cheese and ham toastie for my lunch. It’s not like my life has drastically changed. It’s just that now, I’ll WhatsApp message Owen Wilson occasionally. It’s so surreal.
Sure, I want to stress the fact that it’s clear to see that you haven’t let any of these opportunities go to your head, when some actors potentially may let it. You’re still authentically your humble self. You’re keeping it cool!
My family would never let me be any other way. As soon as my parents sniff any kind of bullshit on me, they would stamp that straight out. Yeah, I’m not better than anyone else just because I’ve got a strange job [laughs].
Given how season two of Loki ends on an optimistic note for Sylvie and anything could happen for the character moving forwards. In the future is there anything you would love to see her do?
I would love to see Sylvie do anything, I think whatever she does, she’s going to do it with fight and she would probably surprise everyone by doing something that you don’t expect. I’m very fond of that character… who knows Cameron!
Of course! Anyway, given that this shoot and article is releasing in mid-December, how can I not include an obligatory Christmas-related question. What are your favourite and least favourite Christmas songs?
I mean, Fairytale of New York by The Pogues is just classic, isn’t it? I think that’s probably my favourite. My least favourite, what’s that really annoying one with a guy with a beard who shouts ‘It’s Christmas!’
You’re thinking of Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody.
It’s my least favourite Christmas song. If I heard it once a year, I wouldn’t mind, I would be able to get on board, I’d be like, ‘Okay, it’s Christmas. That’s fun’ but the sheer amount that it is played is unnecessary, in my opinion. Oh, I love Mariah Carey’s track as well.
What would you like to try your hand at next when it comes to acting roles? Are there any certain characters or roles that you’d love to take on? For example, I could imagine you killing it as Stevie Nicks.
Could you imagine? Oh my god, I would love to play Stevie Nicks, the pressure though. The pressure to get that right. Oh my god, I mean I would love to have a stab at that. One thing I’ve never done, maybe because of my regional accent and the industry being a little bit [pauses]… I’ve never played an upper-class lady, I would love to play someone high-society and a bit posh. Yeah, I’d like to have a go at that.
Finally, what is one thing you would like to manifest for yourself next year and why?
I would like to manifest making the most of every opportunity, slowing down, enjoying everything that comes my way, and also the bits in between. That was quite vague, wasn’t it?
I’d also really like to successfully grow a sunflower. I’ve grown one in my life and it was in the front garden which was a big mistake because someone walked past and snapped it in half. That’s what happens when you live in London.
Well, either that or a fox got it or something [laughs].
I’m sure you’ll grow many more sunflowers in the future. Thanks again, Sophia!
Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed this, thanks, Cameron.
Watch season two of Loki on Disney+ now. Follow Sophia by clicking here.
Interview & shoot production Cameron Poole
Photography Jemima Marriott
Styling Ruta Jane
Make-up Deanna V’lcevska (using products from Bobbi Brown, Clinique, Makeup For Ever, Nars, Charlotte Tilbury, Lips, Delilah Cosmetics, Lancome, KVD, Eylure, Anastasia Beverley Hills & Weleda)
Styling assistant Sharon Makanjuola
Special thanks to Sophia & Status PR