Sophie Kennedy Clark: Sex and sweaters

SHE’S Pringle’s new poster girl, but that hasn’t stopped Sophie Kennedy Clark becoming an icon of carnal abandon

Sophie Kennedy Clark. Picture: Roe Ethridge/Pringle
Sophie Kennedy Clark. Picture: Roe Ethridge/Pringle
Sophie Kennedy Clark. Picture: Roe Ethridge/Pringle

DOES Sophie Kennedy Clark’s face look familiar? Seen her somewhere before but can’t quite place her? That sort of thing is probably happening to her rather a lot these days. Because right now, her “sex face” – eyes closed, brow furrowed, head thrown back, mouth open in ecstasy – is popping up all over the country’s billboards.

It’s part of a controversial but powerful promotional campaign for Lars Von Trier’s latest film Nymphomaniac, starring, alongside Kennedy Clark, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Uma Thurman, Shia LaBeouf and Stellan Skarsgard. All of them have been photographed in similar states of arousal.

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“It’s such an unsexy situation,” she says. “You go into a room and there are lots of people there, but in my mind I’m like, ‘Come on Soph, Uma Thurman’s done it; if she can do it you can do it.’

Sophie Kennedy Clark in Nymphomaniac
Sophie Kennedy Clark in Nymphomaniac
Sophie Kennedy Clark in Nymphomaniac

“In the end you just have to swallow your pride and get on with it. It’s a job.”

The Aberdeenshire-born actress – bright, chatty, engaging, and on the phone from La La Land – has admitted she was a little uneasy about what her parents’ reaction might be when they saw the images (apparently her father thought she looked as though she was being crucified), but is quick to defend the subject matter.

“I think it’s bizarre that we’re more willing to watch war scenes and people being massacred on screen than we are sex,” she says. “We are more than happy to sit and read Fifty Shades Of Grey by ourselves on our Kindle, but the moment it’s on screen and in front of you…

“And, anyway, Nymphomaniac is the story of a woman with a sex addiction. It’s not even sexy; it couldn’t be further from porn. It has nothing to do with that, it’s just a very true depiction of one woman’s story. It’s an incredibly serious subject matter. You hear so much about male sex addicts and I couldn’t tell you one female in the public eye who has come out and said, ‘I’m a nymphomaniac.’ You just get called a slag, don’t you? People wouldn’t even think that women would have sex addiction, but with men it’s more acknowledged.”

Nymphomaniac is released this week but, in the meantime, Kennedy Clark is in the US to promote a very different but no less thought-provoking film. Philomena is the acclaimed screen version of Martin Sixsmith’s book which tells the true story of a woman’s search for her son, after he was taken from her when she became pregnant and forced to live in a convent. Dame Judi Dench plays the title role, with Kennedy Clark playing the younger Philomena. “I still actually can’t quite believe that I’ve played a young Judi Dench,” she says. “It’s the most undigestible piece of information for me. I mean, it’s Judi Dench! To have been able to have my name anywhere near hers in a film is a huge privilege.”

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The production has been nominated for a not-too-shabby four Oscars – best actress for Dench, best picture, best original score and adapted screenplay – and, for the moment at least, the LA lifestyle seems to be one that suits 23-year-old Kennedy Clark.

“I’m a bit of a nomad anyway so I find it quite easy to settle in places very quickly,” she says. “As long as I have my local and my coffee shop, I’m really pretty happy. But I don’t think I could live here. I prefer a slightly more European way of life – New York even – I like to walk around.”

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Born in the countryside about half an hour from Aberdeen, Kennedy Clark is the granddaughter of Calum Kennedy, the Gaelic singing legend; her parents are Fiona Kennedy, also a singer and actress, and Francis Clark, who owns a fishing business. Hers was a creative, bohemian childhood. She has described herself as a “feral” child, but she adds: “It’s funny, when you’re growing up, it doesn’t feel creative or uncreative or whatever – it’s just what you know. But I suppose now I look back on how my other friends were brought up, it was incredibly creative. My parents are a wonderful mixture of bohemian eccentric but also incredibly practical and not airy-fairy.

“My father really introduced me to film,” she says, “I watched a lot of films with him. And mum tells stories in a variety of different mediums, so I think the influence was there. But my brother and sister are completely immune to any creative gene. They narrowly escaped this life of ups and down.”

Kennedy Clark knew she wanted to act from the age of five, she says, and wouldn’t shut up about it, eventually quitting school almost as soon as she was able to pursue the dream.

“My parents were quite liberal and were like, ‘OK, Sophie, it looks like you’ve beaten the education system, what are you going to do?’ As long as I had a plan and was willing to stick to it, and it was reasonable, they would help me try to achieve what I wanted to do.

“I suppose, too, it helped that I had one creative parent who understands the life.”

Which is how, at the age of 17, she found herself living the unfeasibly glamorous life of an acting student based in a Lower East Side loft apartment in New York for nine months. On her return she did some drama coaching in Glasgow, then moved to London for what she describes as “the long, arduous journey of getting an agent”.

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Having identified the agent she wanted, she then embarked on a ten-month “pestering” campaign. “I blush when I think about it, but I so wanted it. You’ve got to have dogged determination to get your foot in the door.”

On her first ever audition – to play David Tennant’s daughter in the 2010 BBC drama Single Father – she got the part and the agent promptly agreed to take her on.

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Then, in the middle of filming, she was spotted shopping at Portobello Market in London by a model scout and was signed up for a campaign with Burberry. What are the chances?

“What I find relatively funny,” she says, “is that I’m not a model. I’m five foot six and a half, I have absolutely no dream or desire to be a model, I don’t live for fashion. But when an opportunity comes your way very early in your career, like Burberry, you do it.”

She has now been announced as the face of the SS14 campaign for Pringle of Scotland. And, while she is wary of being tagged actress/model, with whatever connotations that might bring, she reasons: “Tilda Swinton’s been doing it. Pringle really praise the artist as a whole and not beauty as purely something on the outside. 
It seemed like a great thing to sign up for.

“And it’s Pringle of Scotland,” she says. “I grew up with it. I have a long heritage of very offensive jumpers that I still own and love that were my father’s and grandfather’s. And Pringle just have the most beautiful collection of clothing so I’m really proud to be part of it.”

Her personal sense of style tends to the well-made, classic side of fashion, and she says: “If anyone can prise me out of vintage shops in my spare time, they’re miracle workers. I love old things, things with stories, even just an old book. My apartment at the moment looks like some kind of very eccentric theatre set. It’s full of lots of bizarre vintage oddities.”

That flat is in London, where she is now based, though she comes back to Scotland as much as she can. “I need to go back more, I swear to God. I went back a few weeks ago and there was something so wonderful about it. My barometer of happiness is how much I’m working and what I’m working towards and getting my next job, things like that.

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“I went back home and, after a Burns supper, I lost my phone. It was eventually found. It was in the house – a few whiskies had been drunk. But I went for three or four days with no phone, so no emails, no nothing, and it was wonderful to realise there are so many other things that are completely free and keep me as happy as work does, and I only truly appreciate that when I’m home and there are no distractions.”

The current buzz around her – not to mention the fact that Vogue has named her one to watch for 2014 – would seem to indicate that she’ll have rather a lot of distractions for the foreseeable.

Twitter: @Ruth_Lesley

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Nymphomaniac, Volume 1 (18) is on general release from 22 February