When Jodie Turner-Smith pops onto my screen in January, she’s running down the stairs of her London, England, home, trying to escape the clutches of her almost three-year-old daughter. Off in the distance, I hear muffled cries followed by the soothing voice of her husband, Dawson’s Creek alum Joshua Jackson. “Is she OK?” I ask, aware that I’ve caught the model turned actor in mom mode. “She’s OK,” laughs Turner-Smith, and it’s a great laugh: joyfully loud, infectiously warm and, as I will discover later, a constant in our hour-long conversation — and in her work during the past 12 months.
Turner-Smith is having a year of comedy. She first burst onto our screens in 2019’s Queen & Slim before making headlines for her controversial casting in the titular role in the 2021 Anne Boleyn miniseries. But in 2022, Turner-Smith wanted to start the year laughing, so she did. Enter White Noise, a dark comedy by Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story) about a family trying to escape a chemical outbreak in the ’80s, and Bad Monkey, Vince Vaughn’s detective series for Apple TV+, scheduled to premiere in 2023. However, based on how Turner-Smith lights up when we talk about it, nothing made her giggle like her new film, Murder Mystery 2, starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, coming to Netflix on March 31.
“It was difficult to keep a straight face, but I had the absolute best time with those two,” she beams. “I hope they continue the ‘Aniston-Sandler Cinematic Universe’ until they’re hobbling with walkers!” That’s the great thing about Turner-Smith: She’s not afraid to be enthusiastic. Where some celebrities often feel the need to prove they are too cool to care, Turner-Smith is delightfully and refreshingly the opposite. She speaks without trepidation and pronounces her opinions, both good and bad, fearlessly. When we video chat, her hair is berry blue and she’s wearing gigantic goldrimmed glasses that she dramatically puts on and takes off when trying to emphasize a point. She calls me “babe” repeatedly, laughing both with me and at me at different times, and I have to strongly resist the urge to ask her to be my new best friend.
It would be easy to believe that the actor’s enviable confidence is innate. But, she reveals, it took some time to build. Turner-Smith was born and raised by Jamaican parents in Peterborough, England, but moved to Maryland when she was 10. After attending the University of Pittsburgh, Turner-Smith pursued a career in banking. “As an immigrant family, we weren’t wealthy by any means,” she explains. “When I was in school, I did theatre. But when it came to choosing a career, there had to be an element of practicality; being a performer or in the arts was not realistic.” It didn’t take long before Turner-Smith felt unfulfilled and left her job to become a writer. “I got this crazy idea that I should be happy,” she says with playful sarcasm.
When writing jobs proved to be scarce, a pivotal encounter with Pharrell Williams — whom she met at a N.E.R.D. concert in 2009 — changed the trajectory of her life. “I wouldn’t say that he discovered me, but he encouraged me to try to be a model,” she begins very nonchalantly, glossing over how incredibly surreal and frankly cool that statement is. “That was a big moment that made me decide to take a chance on myself. I had this mentality of ‘I have nothing to lose and everything to gain’ — I just tried and tried until I saw results.”
Although Turner-Smith describes herself as an “unsuccessful model,” this statement is more likely due to her humility and lack of vanity than her actual resumé. Diehard Zayn fans will be quick to clock her for her appearance alongside Gigi Hadid in his 2016 music video for “Pillowtalk,” and it was because of projects like these that she decided to try acting. Even so, Turner-Smith admits that she’s always been a storyteller, animatedly describing how, when she was younger, she used to fabricate fairy tales for her mother and has continued the tradition with her daughter.
Turner-Smith takes a similar approach to red-carpet dressing. “I always look at clothes and think to myself: ‘Who is she? What’s her energy?’” she says. According to the internet, she’s a bona-fide fashion icon. The star of The Independent made global headlines this past August for serving daring and dazzling looks on the Venice International Film Festival red carpet. And thanks to the help of her stylists, Wayman + Micah, her outfits have only gotten bigger and bolder.
“Babe, I’m a Virgo, so I’m constantly sending my stylists photos of things I like,” she shares, talking about her collaborative process. Those items just don’t necessarily all look the same. “Everything I wear is about bringing my personality to the forefront of things, and there’s a legion of women who live inside me,” she laughs. “It’s about feeling comfortable in my skin — not actual comfort — and telling their story. And some stories are jagged and painful.”
One could also argue that in terms of pregnancy style, Turner-Smith walked so Rihanna could run. While pregnant with her daughter in 2019, Turner-Smith regularly rebelled against traditional maternitywear by rocking fitted silhouettes and trendy separates. Unfortunately, not everyone was supportive. After she appeared on The Graham Norton Show in 2020 wearing a crop top, the actor was severely body shamed by U.K. fans and media outlets for daring to bare her pregnant belly. Never one to not speak her mind, Turner-Smith clapped back on Twitter, posting a photo of the outfit with the caption “Gives zero f*cks about your disdain for pregnant women’s bodies in British television.”
Three years later, Turner-Smith reiterates that she’s never been shy about expressing herself but she has to be conscious of how she’s perceived. “Everything I say and do becomes a political statement because I’m a dark-skinned Black woman living in America and married to a white man,” she shares, referencing her and her husband’s home base in L.A. “There’s a different level of scrutiny.” She’s quick to clarify that this isn’t her feeling sorry for herself but, instead, her “just acknowledging a part of reality.”
I tell Turner-Smith that this sounds exhausting; she very quickly agrees, revealing that it can be. But, ever the optimist, she doesn’t dwell on it for long. “I don’t have control over how the world sees me,” she says. “I’m going to make mistakes, but integrity is owning that and choosing from moment to moment to be the highest version of myself.” Which is how she got involved in the charities Equality Now, a feminist organization fighting to protect the rights of women and girls around the world, and Samburu Girls Foundation, which is focused on ending female genital mutilation and child marriage in Kenya.
“Any and every day that I have an opportunity to help women and girls is a day that I’m going to fight to do that,” she emphasizes. “I’m certainly not as famous as a Kardashian or a billionaire, but I am someone in the public eye who can have conversations that can influence larger conversations that can hopefully move the needle.”
And even after her string of successful comedies, being cast in the hotly anticipated new Star Wars series The Acolyte (release date still TBD), ruling the red carpet and fighting for women’s rights, Turner-Smith doesn’t consider herself a role model. “I’m a human being, and I think that everyone should want to be a good human being,” she says thoughtfully.
Her priority right now, however, is getting back to her daughter, whose patience has clearly run out as she can once again be heard calling for her mom in the background. A few silly comments and laughs later, Turner-Smith has logged off, but I realize that I’m still looking at my computer screen and smiling; I recall an earlier point in our conversation, when she shared: “I think when you see someone who is genuinely having a good time, it’s infectious. There’s something very powerful about enjoying life.” Indeed there is.
Photography by ROYAL GILBERT. Creative direction GEORGE ANTONOPOULOS. Styling by KAREN CLARKSON. Hair by MARCIA LEE for ONE REPRESENTS/WELLA PROFESSIONALS. Makeup by BERNICIA BOATENG for AGM. Nails by LUCY TUCKER for LOUELLA BELLE. Fashion assistants: MAGGIE CURWIN, MOLLY ELLISON and ELLEN REINERSTEDT. Production assistant: JOSHUA ONABOWU. Digital tech: ALEX CORNES. Lighting by MICHAEL O WILLIAMS.
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