“It took a while to sink in. It wasn’t until I was actually stood in the middle of the Timekeepers’ chamber with Tom Hiddleston when I was like, ‘OK, I’m in a Marvel Disney show and this is actually quite a big deal…’” laughs Sophia Di Martino. “I’m the kind of person who just gets on with it. If I think too much about the big stuff it just sends my head into a massive spin.”
Like it or not, Di Martino has had plenty of big stuff to think about over the last couple of years – rising to the top of the British indie acting scene, directing her first shorts, joining the MCU in Loki and having her first child in the middle of a pandemic. Soon to be seen alongside Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy and Andrea Riseborough in The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain (directed by husband Will Sharpe), Di Martino’s next film is a funny, smart, queer teen drama.
Sweetheart, directed by Marley Morrison, sees Di Martino as an annoying older sister to 17-year-old AJ (played by newcomer Nell Barlow) in a crowded Devon caravan park – the best and worst possible place to go through the awkward pain of falling in love for the first time.
“Being 17 is awful,” laughs Di Martino, talking to NME from her home office in London. “Everything is so huge when you’re that age, the feelings are so massive and so completely take over everything. I went through so many phases of trying to find my identity, literally trying on different outfits and different haircuts… I was definitely one of those teenagers who was trying to go against the grain all the time. I just didn’t want to conform to what everyone else was expecting. I think that feeling has probably stayed with me too.”
Growing up in Nottingham the eldest of three siblings, Di Martino didn’t get serious about acting until she saw her first proper play at the theatre when she was in Sixth Form. “It was this feeling of, ‘I’d really actually like to do that, but I probably can’t, can I?’ And then I just spent the next decade trying to get over the fear of imposter syndrome.”
When she did finally get her first professional gig (playing the victim of a traffic accident in Holby City), Di Martino’s next big hurdle was getting used to seeing herself on screen. “I remember thinking I was awful,” she says. “I had such a strong Nottingham accent. And I remember really hearing it on TV because I didn’t sound like anyone else. It was not a very comfortable experience for me and I still find it hard to watch my stuff back.”
Other mainstream TV jobs followed, including long stints on medical dramas The Royal Today and Casualty, but a supporting role in 2011’s eccentric British indie Black Pond saw her career take a left turn into offbeat comedies – culminating in 2016’s dark sitcom Flowers alongside Olivia Colman and Julian Barrett.
“Honestly, I get emotional thinking about Flowers because it was just such a such a special show for so many reasons,” she says. “It was the first time I played a character and thought, wow, this is real acting. A lot of us are still in touch and hang out too. That’s when you know it’s a special job when five years later you’re still meeting up for coffee!”
Spending her time writing and directing her own short films, as well as starring in indie shorts for other directors, Di Martino met British filmmaker Kate Herron on the set of Smear (a film which sees her attacking a roomful of doctors with her angry alien vagina), accidentally earning herself one of the biggest roles in the world without even knowing it.
“Kate messaged me to say that she was working on something, but it was massively top secret and she couldn’t say what it was,” Di Martino remembers. “She told me to expect an email from someone asking me to do a tape. It was all very sort of vague and secretive. But I recorded a tape, and then before I knew it, I was on FaceTime with Tom Hiddleston in New York getting cast in Loki. I never actually even met anyone in person.”
Suddenly finding herself in the middle of Marvel’s biggest new TV series playing Sylvie – a female variant of Hiddleston’s Norse god, Di Martino found it all a lot less overwhelming than she expected. “It still somehow felt quite indie because it was so collaborative,” she says. “Kate really included me and Tom in everything. It was still always a conversation, always talking about the script and always working together.
“It also helps that Tom had been working on that character for 10 years. I obviously didn’t do an impression of Tom’s Loki, but it was great to draw from his energy and that sense of mischief that he embodies when he plays him.”
Juggling stunt training, fight choreography and the weight of fan expectation, Di Martino had also just given birth to her first child when she started filming Loki – posting a picture from the set that showed how her super-suit had been specially designed with secret zips to let her breastfeed. “There were days when it was it was a bit overwhelming, but on the whole it was a really positive experience because the people I was working for did everything they could to support me,” she says. “I was just so grateful that I could go to work and do my job, but also be a parent and a mother. It isn’t possible in a lot of jobs to bring your baby to work and feed them, and I think it should be.”
Quickly becoming a fan favourite, Sylvie’s sarcastic Midlands snark was one of the best things about the show – with even the big reveal of the MCU’s new main antagonist getting less online love than any scenes of sparking romance between Sylvie and Loki. When we tell Di Martino that there’s a Twitter account made up entirely of GIFs of her (and another that’s just different cats dressed up to look like her), she isn’t too surprised.
“Yeah, all that’s been… surreal,” she smiles. “But really lovely, you know? The majority of things that people have been saying have been really nice. I try to make sure I see people’s artwork and things because people put so much time into it. And they’ve obviously connected with the character, which is a good thing. It means I’ve done my job. It’s nice to know people love Sylvie as much as I do!”
Filming Sweetheart before Loki, Di Martino shot the whole film while she was eight months pregnant – getting the part of AJ’s big sister, Lucy, after meeting director Marley Morrison on another short, Baby Gravy. “The character was supposed to be pregnant so it was all just perfect timing really – they didn’t even have to buy a prosthetic bump!” she laughs. “It was super fun to be the annoying older sister who’s a bit above her station. I was as irritating as possible, just because I thought it was funny.”
Staying in the same holiday park the film was set in, the cast and crew of Sweetheart spent weeks living together in a caravan, all reliving their own childhood memories as they helped to tell a sweet coming-of-age story about a girl’s first holiday fling.
“I’m always interested in playing characters who are real,” says Di Martino. “Most people have something important to say, most people have a story or a struggle, and I just want to play those characters. Loki has opened up a certain amount of doors, for sure. There are lots of exciting things on the horizon. But I’m still very much living the life I was before. I don’t have a limo or anything. I just had packet noodles for lunch…”
Still hoping to write and direct as much of her own work as possible, Di Martino is looking forward to more interesting, well-written roles in small films, big films, weird TV shows and everything in between. Currently waiting for Kate Herron to ring so she can find out when she’s returning as Sylvie, all she knows is that that season two of Loki is definitely happening.
“It’s a tricky one because Sylvie could literally go anywhere now,” she smiles. “I mean, this multiverse is so vast that I have trouble getting my head around it because the opportunities are so endless. I have no idea what it’s going to be about, but I hope I hear something soon though because it’s driving me up the wall just as much as it is everyone else! I can’t wait to get started again.”
‘Sweetheart’ arrives in UK cinemas on September 24