Rising star Sophie Simnett talks to Chantal Borciani about switching Putney for Poldark
Sophie Simnett has a career roll call that belies her 20 years; she landed the lead role in Disney’s drama The Lodge when she was still studying at Putney High School, starred in the ITV series Endeavour, CBS action series Ransom, Harlan Coben’s The Five and has most recently appeared in the award-winning series Poldark as London socialite, Andromeda Page.
Some might say it’s all a far cry from school in leafy south west London, but not Sophie: “I was on the Poldark set for a couple weeks; I think I was more excited than nervous. A set can quickly feel like home and everyone was so welcoming I felt very at ease.” she recalls.
School of acting
Sophie took her role on the esteemed period drama in her stride, working alongside the smoldering Aiden Turner on set and learning some key, albeit unusual, tricks of the trade from her co-stars. “I learnt how to eat sugared almonds, really quickly,” she laughs. “In the main party scene we had to shoot a lot of coverage, which meant long days and a bit of waiting around. Most of the prop food was real so everyone was chomping on sugared almonds, frantically chewing them before they had to do their scenes.”
Sophie got her big break in The Lodge while still at school. “I had to take eight months off for filming. We were in Northern Ireland and working full days so there was no chance of popping in for a geography seminar. The schedule left little time for sleeping let alone annotating Wuthering Heights. But I was lucky to have such a brilliant, encouraging crew who helped me a lot. In between takes our boom operator would test me on geographical landscapes from my flashcards.”
Despite filming commitments, Sophie managed to ace her A-levels. “I loved school. I have a lot of actor friends who had to drop out of education because their schools wouldn’t allow them to audition whilst enrolled. Putney High not only let me take time off for work but encouraged it. The agreement was that I kept my grades up, which was pretty fair.”
Sophie’s film debut in Mum’s List saw the young actor star alongside Rafe Spall, Emilia Fox and Elaine Cassidy. “I am always grateful that Mum’s List was my first big project to work on as I was so well looked after. Niall [Johnson, the director] epitomises what a good filmmaker should be – creative, understanding, open and authentic. We are desperately working to find or write something where we can work together again.”
She may be in the early stages of her career but Sophie knows what she wants from her co-stars. “Any actor who gives you character and energy in scenes, especially when the shot isn’t on them is pretty brilliant to work with. Max Bennett, who was my partner in crime in Poldark, is a wonderful example of this and also came up with some great games to play between scenes – vital!”
Sophie’s next film is family comedy Surviving Christmas, which stars Sally Phillips and Joely Richardson and is due for release later this year. “I really wanted to do a comedy; and to do it alongside some of my own favourite comics like Ronni Ancona, Patricia Hodge and Sally Phillips was a huge plus.
“Joely is an incredible woman and actor. Watching her create and perform Lyla was extremely inspiring – and she has so many good stories! Playing my mother was hilarious – particularly because my character is such
a brat. Sally [Phillips] is really lovely and over the course of the film became an expert at flossing – the kids in the film were adamant we all were flossing masters by wrap.”
“I have very funny memories of hopping on the 93 bus on a Friday after school to take us up to Wimbledon Common to meet all of our friends and boys at King’s College School”
It’s no secret how tough the acting game can be and like all actors Sophie has had to deal with her share of disappointments. “[The biggest learning curve] would probably be coming to the realisation that you can be the most talented, hard-working creative under the sun, but sometimes it’s just not the right time – whether that be the scripts and characters just aren’t right for you or you just aren’t ready for a particular job. Nothing that is meant for you will pass you by and I can’t stress that enough. Trust that the right projects are waiting for you. And if they aren’t – write them yourself.”
Sophie says young actors should work hard and stay inquisitive, advising them to watch all kinds of cinema, plays and theatre and to create their own projects.
She now lives in Chiswick but still feels a kinship with Wimbledon, Wandsworth and Putney. “My local cinema is in Wandsworth, so I go there at least once a week. When I come back from a job these areas really feel like home. I have very funny memories of hopping on the 93 bus on a Friday after school to take us up to Wimbledon Common to meet all of our friends and boys at King’s College School,” she laughs. “We thought we were so independent and cool yet still had to be back for curfew,” she recalls.
Headstrong, undoubtedly talented and with her feet firmly planted on the ground, it’s little surprise Sophie doesn’t really get starstruck.
“There are people I probably would be a bit starstruck if I met – some of my idols like Olivia Coleman, Viola Davis, Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, oh, and Michelle Obama – I love the Obamas. So I’ll come back to you if I ever meet any of them!”