After initially grabbing the audience’s attention as Skye Hart in the Disney Channel’s “The Lodge” in 2016, Sophie Simnett went on to appear in beloved television shows such as “Poldark” and “Endeavour.” Tomorrow, Simnett is set to reach a whole new audience as her latest project, Netflix original “Daybreak,” hits screens worldwide. The postapocalyptic action comedy looks perfectly primed to find a place in the audience’s hearts like preceding Netflix originals “Atypical” and “Sex Education.” Her starring role in the series, alongside an appearance in Sky Cinema’s upcoming modern adaption of “Oliver Twist,” sees the talented actress embark on a whole new step in her career, and Euphoria caught up with 21-year-old Londoner to hear her story so far and her hopes for the future.
How did you initially get started out in acting? I remember going to the theatre when I was younger and just being desperate to get on stage and be in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Oliver, and after begging my mum she put me in an acting school. I think she was thankful for it because it got me out of the house for a couple of hours and gave her some peace, haha!
Although I was never any good, I was very shy and was the classic Villager #7 for many years but I still absolutely adored it. Then, they created an agency and I joined and got a tiny job in an online series, so I thought if I can get a job… I couldn’t be that bad. I ended up just listing myself online as an actor and going to all the open auditions I could find and hopped through a couple of agencies. My parents’ rule was that I could do whatever I wanted as long as I stayed in school and did well, which seemed fair. I then produced and acted in a play at the Lyric in Hammersmith (which was fully funded by me selling candy in my locker at school) and did a performance at school and my agent, who I am still with now, came to see it and signed me from there. From signing, I did a couple of small jobs and it was a really great incline into “bigger” projects, so I got time to learn a lot about acting and how to be on a set before being given greater responsibilities. I love my agents to pieces, they really helped me from knowing nothing to everything I know now.
Out of all the roles you’ve played so far, what’s been the most challenging part you’ve played? I think each character comes with its own challenges. I haven’t done anything that has been a complete and utter physical and emotional turnaround, in an obvious way like The Joker or Monster were, but moving halfway across the world away from your friends and family for Daybreak was challenging.
Everyone kind of has a preconceived notion of who you are and what you do based on your online presence before they meet you, and usually, there’s the pressure that everything is fantastic and we live this seemingly “perfect life.” This is showcased really well with Sam’s character in the flashbacks. There was an idealized version of herself made by the other characters, and when the audience actually meets her, we discover she’s a layered woman who is, might I add, much more interesting and truthful than the perceived “character” she is seen as by her classmates. I felt this was very important; particularly to shine some truth on what young people, and everyone really, experiences with social media today.
Whose career are you most inspired by? Olivia Coleman, always. She’s done such a wide array of incredible work and continually provides fresh takes on characters and stories. I love her. It is incredible to be in a television climate where we are beginning to see a diverse range of female characters on our screens.
It’s really thrilling to imagine what kind of, particularly previously male-dominated, roles will be made available to female filmmakers in the future. I would love to explore directing, writing, producing my own work in the future… So people like Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who are trailblazers in that department are huge inspirations. Also, Viola Davis, Laura Linney, are a few of the careers that really inspire me. I am also so keen to do theatre, so actors like Andrew Scott, Sophie Okonedo & Maggie Smith who seem to master both.
You starred in the Disney Channel’s The Lodge, what’s the most important thing you learned about yourself during starring in that show? I went from being 17 to 20 on that show, so I learned a lot about myself during that time, particularly how I like to work. We spent so much time with our characters that I knew Skye like a sister and I had a clear image of what I wanted her to represent and how to portray that on-screen. Before I knew it, I was making costume mood boards and writing pitch decks for the writing team. They liked my ideas so they ended up hiring me as a story consultant, which was wonderful. It was so creatively satisfying and allowed me to start writing my own projects and get more of an idea of how a show is created and run. It opened me up to the possibility that I didn’t have to limit myself as just an actor.
If you could back to when you were initially filming The Lodge, what would you say to your younger self? Ride the damn wave. I have such wonderful memories from that show, but I had also never played a lead before and it was a very demanding shooting/rehearsing schedule that I was not prepared for. That alongside trying to juggle doing my A-Levels at the time, I got pretty worked up trying to work out the best way to do everything and please everyone, when I didn’t need to get in such a tizz about it. But it took that to allow me to learn how best to navigate a long shooting period.
How did you make sure you kept grounded when you appeared on the Disney Channel show The Lodge? I think surrounding yourself with authentic people is a great general rule for keeping grounded in life. I am lucky enough to have ridiculously wonderful friends and family who remind me of who I am outside of that world. It’s the same in any job really, just a bit more extreme in an industry where people tend to want to tell you who you are or who they want you to be. I think also not allowing yourself to get caught up in immediate shininess of it all is important; and if your priority is your work and creating great stories that’ll happen naturally and you can just enjoy the seemingly flashy perks for what they are. As soon as you care more about image and lifestyle is where I think you start to struggle.
You’re starring in the new 10-episode Netflix series Daybreak, as the protagonist’s missing girlfriend who he’s searching for in the post-apocalyptic world. What can you tell us about your character in the show? I play Sam Dean, who is fondly known as The Queen of Glendale as she is very well-liked at school, not because she is necessarily the typical “popular girl” but because she is smart, funny and caring. She acts as a warm light in the corner of a room that the kids at the school can’t help but be drawn towards. Her character defies the cliche highschool stereotype of popularity, which is something that drew me to her originally when reading the script. She lifts people up. She drew Josh out of his shell before the apocalypse and we see their very charming coming-of-age love story told through his flashbacks.
You’ve appeared on the likes of BBC’s Poldark, ITV’s Endeavour and CBS’ Ransom. How was the experience of working on Daybreak, compared to those aforementioned shows? I think working on Daybreak will be different to any show I will ever work on. It’s just so nuts! It was so wonderful to work with our incredible crew every day for 5 months; we were all very close by the end and I miss them all being in England. Feels like I am living a double life!
The source material for Daybreak is Brian Ralph’s graphic novel. Does knowing that there’s already an established fanbase, who ardently love the source material, adds to the pressure that surrounds appearing in the show? I think so, but only if you see it as pressure. Brian Ralph is amazing. I’ve actually only met him once but I just think he’s brilliant, even without his graphic novels (they are amazing you should 100% check them out). So, of course, there was a part of me that was really hoping he would like what we created; it would be heartbreaking if he didn’t. However, if you look at the original novel, it is quite different from what Daybreak is as a series. The novel shares the same tone, the character Josh and the “breaking the fourth wall” element of speaking to the reader/camera. So none of the other characters were in the original comics so therefore I don’t think it’s the same “pressure,” but Colin playing Josh probably feels it more!
For your part on The Lodge, you auditioned 13 times. How was the audition process for Daybreak? And, how did you react when you found out you got the part of Samaira Dean in Daybreak? Haha yes, I did indeed! What a three months that was! Daybreak was very very different; because I am based in London, at the time I was doing self-tape after self-tape for all the new series and pilots that were casting at that point. I was going through months of being “last two” over and over again almost to the point of comedy.
Daybreak really stood out to me amongst all the others. It’s originality just spews out the script. I filmed a tape with my agent, and I remember him asking me what did I did differently to prep for the character and honestly, nothing! I was working 3 muggle jobs and was just trying to get through the hoards of scripts.
She just felt 100% in me. I got some feedback from the team and did another scene and then got told I was in the final mix and had to negotiate the contract. I had to wait five days to find out and they were the longest days ever! My agent called me while I was at work and told me I got the offer and I bawled my eyes out. It was beyond surreal I couldn’t process it. I had to leave the conversation and finish up an 8-hour pub shift. I was the happiest barman in all the land… or West London, at least.
When you’re reading through a script, what draws you to characters you’d potentially portray? I am always looking for something different. In such a highly saturated market, it is rare to find a script that offers something new and original. So when Daybreak came through, I absolutely fell in love with it. I think it’s easy to sidestep something just because of the genre, but Daybreak provides so much more than your average apocalypse wasteland.
As a female, I’m also always very aware of what part my character plays within the film. Even if she is the lead, is she really just a “girlfriend” – if the character description is “pretty, but doesn’t know it” or “sexy but vulnerable,” I honestly just pass now. Even when I wasn’t on Daybreak, and was working a bunch of muggle jobs, my attitude was the same. I think it’s important to have respect for your work as an actor. Sure, sometimes you’ve just got to pay the rent and it’s better than whatever muggle job you are doing, but I’ve found that I feel much more comfortable doing things I really believe in, rather than just because it’s a job. It keeps the fire in my belly alight.
Recently, there seems to have an avalanche of TV shows and films that incorporate post-apocalyptic elements. What do you think it is about post-apocalyptic settings that’s so enthralling to viewers? I think part of it might be as our technology becomes more and more advanced, people get a little scared and can’t help but be drawn to the more primal/survival side of humans. I think it’s a safety thing. It may also just literally be to do with so much environmental damage going on in the world– People being fantastical about the idea of some sort of apocalypse. It’s also just always interesting to see how people react when everything is taken away from them and their true priorities are exposed.
Joining you in Daybreak is a cast of extraordinary actors, including the legendary Matthew Broderick. How was working alongside such a talented cast? Just wonderful. We have such a fantastic cast and everyone is as unique as the characters, so there were always different things being brought to the table. It really is such a treat to work with talented people; you can’t help but be inspired. Not to mention it makes your job much easier!
What advice would you give to any aspiring actors? Don’t expect opportunities to come to you. Enjoy the hustle, work hard, and stay creative in every way you can. Don’t stop just because a job stops. And other cliches.
Finally, looking forward to the future, within the next ten years what do you hope you’d have accomplished? Honestly, I just hope I am happy! I would love to work on projects that inspire me and pushes boundaries as much as Daybreak does. I also write, so I would absolutely love to produce one of my scripts and do some directing. I would love to explore the different sides of the industry. But most importantly, I better have a dog.