Sophie Cookson

I’ve had a bit of time to get my head around it, but it’s still mental seeing pictures of me and Michael Caine in the same room. ‘Did that happen? Yeah, it did.’ Sophie Cookson

Last spring, 24-year-old Sophie Cookson was in her third year as a drama student in her native England. Then, along came Kick-Ass (2010) auteur Matthew Vaughn, who, despite reported interest from Emma Watson and other known-knowns, cast Cookson in the lead role of The Secret Service, his adaptation of the action-espionage comic series, alongside a league of extraordinary gentleman, including Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, and Michael Caine. After meeting Cookson at a café in the West Village in April, it is easy to see why. In person, the actress is warm and bright and incredibly at ease for someone who is about to be famous overnight—and not only because she was sitting on the sunny side of our table.

CHRIS WALLACE: Do you feel like your whole life is changing?

SOPHIE COOKSON: I was training at drama school for three years, working hard for this. I left drama school early to do a job in May, and by August, I was involved in things. So it was very quick. I’ve had a bit of time to get my head around it, but it’s still mental seeing pictures of me and Michael Caine in the same room. “Did that happen? Yeah, it did.”

WALLACE: Is this what you always wanted?

COOKSON: I’ve always wanted to act, but I never dreamed I’d be doing something like this [a blockbuster-scale film with worldwide release].

WALLACE: What were you into as a kid?

COOKSON: I was really sporty and loved singing. I started off doing musical theater. I left university to go to drama school. So I was a bit of a black sheep.

WALLACE: Everybody loves to bring up the fact that Matthew Vaughn cast you in The Secret Service instead of Emma Watson. Why do you think you got the part?

COOKSON: Because Matthew knows what he wants—I think it’s that simple. Matthew’s eye for detail is crystal clear. He did it with Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloë Grace Moretz [who were relative unknowns when he cast them in Kick-Ass]. A lot of people want someone they feel in safe hands with and know that they have a history of work behind them, but Matthew knows what he wants and he goes and gets it. I wasn’t aware of the people I was possibly up against, and it was such a long shot. I got an e-mail saying, “Do you want to put yourself on tape for this film with Colin Firth?” Okay. It wasn’t like I had anything to lose.

WALLACE: What is your worst nightmare? Clearly it’s not auditioning.

COOKSON: I always have this weird falling sensation. I used to be terrified of a particular film—I can’t remember what it was called. It was set in a forest, and there was lots of oil coming from trees. And someone fell, and ever since then … Oh, and I also dream about my teeth, losing a tooth, which I think means that you want control back.

WALLACE: Do you feel out of control?

COOKSON: No, I feel fine. But I know if I’m stressed or worried, because I’ll have that dream again.

WALLACE: Do you have any pet peeves?

COOKSON: People being rude. I love the English people—if you don’t want to speak, you don’t speak. And I’m quite like that sometimes, too. But there is something very nice about coming to New York and how everyone smiles—even if they don’t mean it. When I go back home to London and say hello to people, they look at me like I’m crazy.

WALLACE: Heaven help you when you visit L.A. Do you have a model for the career path you’d like to follow?

COOKSON: There’s a British actress called Lindsay Duncan, whom I adore. She just did Le Week-End [2013] with Jim Broadbent. She picks her roles very cleverly. She’s done a lot of theater—there’s a lot of dignity about the way she works, and that’s definitely something I aspire to. I want to take things as they come and enjoy it. There’s no point looking down the line because no one knows what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone four years from now.

WALLACE: Did any of your Secret Service co-stars give you any really good advice?

COOKSON: Mark Strong is an amazing person. I just kind of enjoyed watching him. And that’s really nice being on set—just watching someone do their thing. He is just so calm, dedicated, professional, and an absolute gent as well.

WALLACE: Is there a classic movie that you wish you were in?

COOKSON: I’d say Gone With the Wind [1939], just because it would make my grandma very proud. But, Breakfast at Tiffany’s [1961], just to be Audrey Hepburn for a day.

WALLACE: Did you have an imaginary friend growing up?

COOKSON: I did. But it’s one of those things where I don’t remember if I really remember or if I’ve just been told about it and decided I remember it. We used to have this driveway with a five-bar wooden gate, and I, apparently, as a three-year-old, would sit on the wooden gates and just talk to this old woman.

WALLACE: Where did you grow up?

COOKSON: I grew up in Sussex. I moved to Suffolk, but then I went to drama school at the Oxford School of Drama, which is gorgeous because it’s really secluded, with no distractions. Then in your third year, you go to London and have your showcase.

WALLACE: Did you have intense relationships with your classmates?

COOKSON: You can’t help it at such a small school. There were 17 people in my year. And you’re with those people from seven in the morning to 11 sometimes, five days a week, the weekends, for three years. It’s sometimes quite hard when you slip back into the real world and you realize that you are all there for a reason, ultimately. You want a job at the end of it; you do want to be working.

WALLACE: It’s probably good preparation for set life, because that’s how relationships are on productions.

COOKSON: It’s true, and true in life. Sometimes relationships are short, sometimes long, sometimes they’re very deep and intense, and drama school is a hell of a learning curve.

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