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Rethinking the future of equality with Jodie Turner-Smith ​

‘Right now, [equality] means recognizing what's come before and doing better’: The actor talks style, sustainability and her hopes for a fairer future.

Jodie Turner-Smith (she/her) is unequivocal about what needs to happen to make the future a little fairer. ‘Equality means evening the playing field, because there is so much inequity that we're working to undo,’ the British-born, US-based actor says when we sit down to speak. ‘Today, that means recognizing what's come before and doing better, now and in the future.’

For Turner-Smith, it means using her roles – as the spellbinding Queen in Melina Matsoukas’ dazzling, devastating Queen & Slim, as Henry VIII’s ill-fated second wife Anne Boleyn in an eponymous psychological thriller, and as female Navy SEAL Karen Greer in Without Remorse – to continue conversations about systemic racism and sexism. But it also means using her voice, on issues such as maternal healthcare rights and sustainability, wherever she can. As her presence on-screen grows, so does her platform, offering her more and more opportunities to push things forward.

We sat down with Turner-Smith to talk about equality, the power of performance, and how her worldview has changed since she became a mother in early 2020.

‘Equality means evening the playing field. [It] means recognizing what's come before and doing better, now and in the future.’

ON MOTHERHOOD
‘The journey of motherhood has offered me a new perspective on a lot of things that I never even considered before. I have a much larger space of compassion for mothers, firstly, but it's also really highlighted to me the ways in which women are underserved by their communities. It takes a village, and that village needs to be provided by society. Where are the resources for supporting women on this journey? There's no real time, no real care, no real respect given to motherhood. No matter what a person's journey is toward becoming a mother, each part is so very sacred.’

ON HER HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
‘My greatest hope for the future is that we will move away from a self-centered existence, and towards empathy for the other. I think that would solve so many of our problems. We are so driven by our own personal needs, and I think that is what makes us turn a blind eye to what would actually work best for the planet; that's what makes us turn away from our neighbor who is seeking refuge, when they're experiencing a crisis in their country. I think if we really, truly saw ourselves in one another, it would change the way we operated in the world.’

ON SUSTAINABILITY
‘Obviously, there’s the day-to-day – what I can do, personally, to lead a more sustainable existence, whether that’s composting or using reusable diapers, reusable bags, things like that. I think it's important that we each as an individual try to do what we can. But the most important thing is that we engage corporations to behave differently, to make these larger shifts. In my work, I try to have those conversations – for example, when I'm going on sets, as the amount of waste that is created by the film industry is extraordinary. More than just asking individuals to recycle, we need to hold the movie industry accountable, we need to hold the fashion industry accountable, we need to hold all of big business accountable. For me, sustainability is really about having those conversations, whether it's on a corporate level or an individual level.’

ON USING STYLE AS SELF-EXPRESSION
‘Style is an expression of the self – and who you are in this moment is different in so many ways to who you were in the moment before. We're choosing, moment to moment, how we feel, who we are, what moves us – and we're also responding to our circumstances. So much of my style now is centered around what makes me feel comfortable and what makes me feel empowered, to accomplish the things I need to get done or to express the energy I feel inside. In the middle of a pandemic that might be cosy sweatpants, one day – but another day, it might be a jeans and a tank.

‘I'm not super attached to my clothes; I love to give them away, to recycle them. We are constantly moving, and you can't bring your whole closet with you every time you move around the world, or the country, to go and work. So I have this lack of attachment to things. It makes me feel good to know that I've passed things on.’

ON THE MOMENT SHE DISCOVERED HER PASSION FOR ACTING
‘As a child, I did theater here and there. It was always interesting to me, but never something that I would live and die for. What first took me to that place was actually an audition. That was the first time that I really understood what it meant to dig deep. I really felt it. Once I had that feeling, once I knew it could feel like that to perform with all of yourself, I was just hooked.’

ON WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO PERFORM
‘At first, it's a whole lot of anxiety. Performance requires you to live inside of whatever emotion it is that you're conveying, whether you're singing opera, or dancing, or doing ballet, or a film. Are you heartbroken? Are you ecstatic? When I'm truly in it, when I'm in the pocket of whatever it is that I'm doing, what I feel is connected. I'm reaching for authenticity.’

ON USING HER CAREER TO FURTHER THE CONVERSATION AROUND EQUALITY
‘As my career grows, so does my platform. The ideas and the messages that I choose to share reach more people. That's one of the really amazing things about it. It's because of my career that I'm given the opportunity to share my thoughts on birthing, and on BIPOC maternal healthcare outcomes. I really feel privileged to be able to speak to more and more people, to get the messages that I feel are important out to more people.’

‘I think if we really, truly saw ourselves in one another, it would change the way we operated in the world.’

QUICKFIRE Q&A

Which actor would play you in the movie of your life?
‘I'm still young enough to play myself, aren't I? In the movie of my life, it would still be me.’

What do you collect?
‘At this point, I collect children's books, especially with Black, indigenous and children-of-color characters, so that my daughter can see images of more than just white children as protagonists. They're stories that are teaching her about humanity.’

What was the last thing you googled?
‘I'm working with André Benjamin on a movie with Noah Baumbach right now, and my husband and I were listening to OutKast's Aquemini. We were discussing who, in OutKast, is the Aquarius, and who's the Gemini? And as I had suspected, in case you’d ever wondered – André is the Gemini, and Big Boi is the Aquarius.’

Words by Maisie Skidmore

Photography by Jack Davison

Styling by Clare Richardson

Jodie Turner-Smith (@jodiesmith) wears the Autumn Winter 2021 collection for COS. Watch Jodie live in conversation with activist Janaya Future Khan @cosstores at 10am PDT / 6pm BST on Thursday the 16th of September.


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