Sophie Cookson proved she could handle comedy when she starred in Michael Winterbottom’s 2019 satire, Greed, loosely based on the controversial British retail figure Philip Green.

And she confronted misogyny head-on as Christine Keeler in 2019’s The Trial of Christine Keeler, the six-part series that told of the scandalous Profumo affair, the subject of many an adaptation, from a rare perspective: Christine’s.

It was a project released during the height of the #MeToo movement, written and produced by an all-female team and about a woman who had long been maligned by history. “I read Christine’s testimony in her autobiography,” says Cookson. “We were kind of sick of the male explanation of the story. And so that was how I got her character—I just felt I had her words floating around my head all the time.”

Cookson, Shanina Shaik, and Asa Butterfield on the set of Greed.

Cookson’s latest film, Infinite, a high-concept, major-Hollywood-studio film directed by Antoine Fuqua and produced by Mark Wahlberg, shows yet another side of the 31-year-old British actress. “It was definitely much more physical for me,” Cookson says of the film, which involved high-intensity training and complex stunt work. “I got cast very late, and there wasn’t actually that much time to train. So it was kind of an accelerated process of nights of weapons training and just general fitness.”

“I just felt I had her words floating around my head all the time.”

Then there was the mental stuff. Cookson’s character, a warrior named Nora, is “supposed to be an expert in everything,” she says. The film’s premise is that reincarnation is possible and certain chosen characters—including Nora—can remember every language, every skill, every feat of artistry accrued from their past lives. “Suddenly I had four weeks to learn Russian, Japanese, boxing, all of these things,” says Cookson. “So, for me, it was just about making sure she seems flexible, both mentally and physically. That it felt realistic.”

And this is where Cookson excels: imbuing her characters with complexity and humanity. “I think it’s much more fun to play a character when something is kind of bubbling underneath the surface.”

Cookson as Nora in Infinite.

A consummate performer, brought up in the English countryside, Cookson participated in school plays and summer theater groups throughout her childhood. But she never thought about acting as a genuine career. “My parents really aren’t from creative backgrounds whatsoever. I didn’t know anyone who was an actor or a painter or anything like that when I was young.”

After graduating from high school, Cookson was accepted to the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, to study art history and Arabic. But something didn’t feel right, and after a few months she dropped out and applied to drama school. Cast as one of the leading characters in Kingsman: The Secret Service before she had thrown her graduation cap into the air, Cookson has barely paused since.

When asked about her decision to quit traditional university and pursue acting, she is nonchalant. “I just thought, I might as well give it a go.”

Infinite is now available to stream exclusively on Paramount+

Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor for Air Mail