You know that saying about how anything Fred Astaire did, Ginger Rogers did backward and in high heels? It comes to mind as Jodie Turner-Smith recounts filming the action movie Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse while in her second trimester of pregnancy—something her costars Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell were quite assuredly not dealing with. “The men think they’re hard-core,” the actress says, cracking up, “but they could never do what they do while also making a baby. They just couldn’t.”
For Turner-Smith, the fight scenes took a back seat to the humanity of the story. “True strength is not found in force and brutality, but in vulnerability,” she says. “I would love to do more action, and action where I’m allowed to be a woman,” she adds, citing Sigourney Weaver’s classic turn in Alien. “I know we don’t maybe class that as specifically an action film, but I mean, what she’s doing in that? Fucking brilliant.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum—except in the sense that she’s also what a streaming-service menu might consider a Strong Female Lead—is Anne Boleyn, whom Turner-Smith has signed on to play in an as-yet-unnamed series. The English queen’s tragic story has been told countless times via film (The Other Boleyn Girl), musical theater (Six), and literary fiction (Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies), but Turner-Smith has a theory about why we’re still, nearly a half-millennium after her beheading, so enthralled by her. “We can only infer who she was, because she left no paper trail that would hint at her imagination. She’s endlessly fascinating for that reason,” she says. With her portrayal, Turner-Smith wanted to “tell the story of the woman who sits at the center of the myth, and make that story an accessible one—one that’s not entirely about class, but about humanity. Because whether a woman is a queen or a housekeeper, she is not exempt from any of the challenges and trials that women face in navigating their bodies, love, or the patriarchy,” she says. “There’s an opportunity to tell a really human story and for it to feel that much more accessible because a Black woman is playing her.”
- Beauty Tip: Buff Gucci Fluide de Beaute Fini Natural across skin for a perfected, luminous canvas.
As if this weren’t already enough range for one person, Turner-Smith is also playing opposite Colin Farrell in After Yang, about a family with a robot among its ranks. While the film has a sci-fi bent, it also has, she insists, a very intimate focus on “family and connection and what that really means in the age of technology.”
Turner-Smith, of course, is no stranger to tackling weighty issues onscreen. In 2019, she starred in Melina Matsoukas’s Queen & Slim, a tale of Black love and survival that has become even more powerful in the wake of this past summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. “I really think that we made a classic, and [that] 10 years from now, it will be viewed that way as well,” she says. “Black artists are not only the engine, but also the car. We are in the driver’s seat, telling our own stories.” Including Turner-Smith herself, who made her directorial debut this fall with Jackie, a short film created in collaboration with Gucci and Dazed magazine (she became an ambassador for the house in 2019). To finally be behind the camera, she says, was “so incredible, so empowering. To have my hand in everything—to choose every shot, every look, and approve every piece of set decoration; to see the edit, and sit for hours and select the color grade” was her idea of heaven. Her husband, actor Joshua Jackson, “sat with me, being my biggest supporter and my brain trust, and we watched all these references, and he let me bounce all these ideas off him until all hours of the morning.” Her relationship with the Gucci team, including the house’s polymath creative director, Alessandro Michele, sounds similarly collaborative. Working with them “is so natural and feels so lived-in,” she says.
Speaking of natural and lived-in, here Turner-Smith wears pieces from the house’s glamping-friendly capsule with The North Face. Thanks to Jackson, who grew up in Vancouver, she’s been converted to the outdoor lifestyle. “If we can mix fashion with me getting my outdoor situations on, it’s a very beautiful marriage of two things,” she says, adding that for her lately, fashion has become a form of self-care. She likes “this idea of dressing up for you, of putting something on to enhance your own mood, just to do what you want to do and not necessarily even leave the house—because right now we’re not even doing that. It’s like telling a story about how you feel with what you wear,” she says. “We all need a little bit of carefree energy right now.”
In between acting and directing, Turner-Smith recently gave birth to her daughter. Doing so during a global pandemic has been challenging, but Turner-Smith is grateful to have had her mother by her side throughout. “Navigating parenthood at any time is difficult,” she says, “and it’s even more difficult without support, when everything is shut down and you can’t really see other people or go anywhere.” She’s quick to point out that moms of school-age children have it much harder right now: “I’m not having to sit on Zoom with her and suddenly become her educator as well as her caretaker,” she says of her daughter. Childbirth ultimately taught her another lesson about strength. “Patriarchal society really is out here, scamming women into thinking that they’re not supremely powerful beings,” she says, chuckling. “Because damn, it’s some goddess-level shit.” ▪
Hair by James Catalano for Dyson Hair; makeup by Rebecca Davenport for Gucci Beauty; set design by Luke Kene; produced by Yasser Abubeker.
This article appears in the February 2021 issue of ELLE.