Sophia Di Martino’s Chaotic Turn in 'Loki' Changed the MCU Forever. So, What’s Next?

·13-min read

This story contains spoilers for the season finale of Loki. Come back and read after you've watched.

"She'd be spinning in her grave if she knew that I'd given it out."

Sophia Di Martino is guarding her Nonna's seven-layer lasagna recipe with roughly the same intensity that her Loki doppelgänger, Sylvie, would go about whacking a TVA goon in the face. Di Martino is 50 percent Italian, which is enough, apparently, to protect this recipe with her very life. She's known to post pictures of the lasagna piping hot. The next day, she shows what the leftover lasagna looks like, when it's cold enough that you can see each and every one of those seven layers with the detail of a Michelangelo painting. It took Di Martino 25 years to get the recipe, so she'll be damned if it comes out now, in a magazine profile, to a bunch of hungry Marvel fans.

"There's nothing sadder than when you go to a restaurant, you order the lasagna, it arrives, and it's two-layer, really flat and sloppy and more sort of white sauce and cheese than anything else," Di Martino adds. "It makes me quite angry, actually."

Aside from shitty restaurant lasagna? There hasn't been too much bringing Sophia Di Martino down lately. Her surprise role as Sylvie in Marvel's newest Disney+ series, Loki, has already cemented the English-born actress as a fixture in the superhero world. Over the past six weeks, Di Martino has hop-scotched through space and time, breaking out in Loki's long awaited solo vehicle—which sees the antihero battle the mysterious guardians of the multiverse. She's squared off against Tom Hiddleston's God of Mischief, Richard E. Grant in a banana-yellow cape, and the notorious Alligator Loki, all while pushing the MCU in directions it's never been before. Di Martino's turn as Sylvie has already blown far past many of Marvel's depictions of women—and that's not even mentioning her arrival, along with Loki, as one of the universe's first LGBTQ+ heroes. Now, following Loki's finale—where, no biggie, Sylvie instigates a multiversal war— Di Martino told us the story of what she calls "the most intense and wonderful year" of her life.

Photo credit: Joseph Lynn
Photo credit: Joseph Lynn

Di Martino arrived to the interview in what is surely the most colorful shirt ever worn in human history, a red-green-sky-blue-flower-scattered-Jimmy-Buffet-esque masterpiece. "I stole it out of someone's wardrobe," she says, stretching it out so you can see sailboats on the shirt in perfect detail. "It needs an iron!"

You can immediately understand why Di Martino is the person Marvel chose to trade barbs with Hiddleston, the king of barbs. A random assortment of quips from Di Martino, just for you: Alligator Loki. ("Such a diva. He was demanding all kinds of things.") How Hiddleston brings a speaker with him everywhere he goes, in case anyone needs instant hype. ("They're really loud.") Filming Episode Five's battle against a giant cloud, rain and ginormous air fans swirling all around. ("I felt like Emily Bronte on the moors.") And why she wants to play Emily Bronte on screen someday. ("She's basically like an emo goth of her time. And she had this crazy little aggressive dog that she would corral in quite a feisty way.")

Let's talk Di Martino's origin story. "I don't know if there was a root cause of this problem," she jokes of why she turned to acting, but putting plays on in the living room growing up had something to do with it. Di Martino was the oldest kid in her family, so she attended to important logistics like casting decisions and putting chairs out for everyone. When she neared college-decision time, she enjoyed the art as a "way to have time out from being me for a sec and just experience someone else's thing for a while," but chose to not go to drama school. Still, though, the acting bug never left, so Di Martino took small parts in soaps, dramas, and short films.

"I was always sort of looking for something a bit more," she says. "I think it was when I started to play characters that were more character parts or more comedy-leaning, that I started really enjoying it and figured out that maybe I was quite good at it. But that took a really long time. For years and years and years, I just had huge imposter syndrome and felt like I was totally blagging it. I mean, honestly, I still do. But enough things have happened to make me think, All right, come on. Sophie, You can do this. You're not meant to be doing something else."

One of those comedy roles? Amy in the British cult favorite series Flowers, which ran from 2016 to 2018, where she plays a goth musician in a mentally-ill, frenzied family. If you've seen a minute of Di Martino's performance in the show, you'll immediately understand how she effortlessly made Loki's Sylvie an embodiment of chaos. Later this year, Di Martino will appear in The Electrical Life of Louis Wain, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It's a biopic of a British artist who painted trippy cat portraits, with Di Martino playing the president of a cat society. "We have this scene with a lot of cats on set," Di Martino says. "The cats were really well-behaved, curiously. It was really warm in the room, so I think they were all just very sleepy. There must've been like 50 cats."

About a year ago now, Martino gets a message from Kate Herron, the director of Loki. (They previously worked together on a short film.) Herron wants her to read for a part. The scene, which she shot herself, is a deep conversation between an intrepid pair named Bob and Sarah. Next thing Di Martino knows, she's FaceTiming Tom Hiddleston, because Bob is Loki, Sylvie is Sarah, and she's up for a role in Disney's billion-dollar-making empire. Di Martino gets the part. The rest is a blur: Getting on a flight to Atlanta, watching an epic lecture where Tom Hiddleston taught the entire cast the ins and outs of Loki, and late, late nights, sprinting in, out, and around alien worlds. Mind you, Di Martino is a new mother at this point, with a couple-months-old child. Around Loki's midseason, fans praised her outspokenness for working mothers, after she revealed that designer Christine Wada built concealed zippers in Sylvie's outfit so she could breastfeed without changing out of costume.

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"There's a lot of working parents out there," Di Martino says. "And a lot of single moms out there. You just got to do what you've got to do. I'm very fortunate in a lot of ways that my work supports me through it. They did everything they could to make it as easy as possible for me. It's not so easy for a lot of people. I hope by saying things now and again, that people might take note and help a sister out—maybe make it easier for people because it's just not easy. The two worlds aren't created to work together, work and parenthood."

Photo credit: Disney
Photo credit: Disney

Before we really get to the beautiful, Hiddlestonian clusterfuck that is Loki, there's something fairly incredible you need to learn about Sophia Di Martino. She's the kind of person who chases—interrogates, really—the right answer to every question. It's there. Somewhere. Just gotta find it. It's like she's finding mini glorious purposes in each sentence, as if the fate of our humble corner of the multiverse depends on whether or not she's able to follow the thread to its truest, best, most rightful end. About halfway through the interview, I asked her if, at any point, there was a moment where it all clicked. The acting. Her career. We all have the time, the one where we knew—not felt—that we belonged. Di Martino couldn't quite think of the moment off the top of her head. A couple days later—and this is something absolutely no one does, ever—she emailed a follow-up, written in the font colour of Loki emerald green (!). It's about her part as Amy in Flowers.

She’s the first character who I’ve felt like I’ve really had the space to work with the writer (Will Sharpe) and really create someone special. I hadn’t had the chance to play such a well-developed character before that. She’s this broken biscuit. Full of anger and desire and sadness and eventually there’s this hope that she finds that helps heal her spirit. I really felt like having the opportunity to play a character who is funny but also wild and sad and confused and angry and vulnerable was the first time I felt like, this is it… I’m doing it… This character is really living and breathing. Maybe this is my job now. Actually I guess Amy and Sylvie have similarities when I think about it. They have a sort of funny bravado that they use as a wall against anyone getting too close. But when it comes down, you see that they’re scared, frightened like all of us. A misfit who is just desperate to make a connection.

Broken biscuit! (Urban Dictionary: "all is not good.") While we're on the topic, how about the most broken biscuit of them all: Sylvie, introduced in Loki to fanfare reserved only for those who enter the MCU with the level of Di Martino's blend of gravitas and charm. When we first meet Sylvie in Episode Two, she's revealed to be a variant of Tom Hiddleston's Loki—one from another timeline, where she never had it quite as easy as the guy who's used to chugging wine out of Asgardian goblets and roasting his jacked brother. Sylvie was captured when she was a just a kid, leading to her mounting a revenge mission against her captors, the Terry Gillam-vibed TVA. When Sylvie and HiddleLoki meet, Sylvie clearly doesn't need his help. To put it bluntly? Sylvie's arrival as a flat-heeled, independent antihero is a far cry from the depiction of women in the early, mostly-duded MCU—typified by what Scarlett Johansson called her "hyper-sexualization" in Iron Man 2.

"Just the thought of little girls watching these new characters is so cool," she says. "It's not about leotards and long, flowing hair anymore. It's about more than that. Not only are they strong and powerful and on their own journey, they're showing their vulnerability and learning things about themselves in the world and carving out their place in it. It means everything."

In Loki's third episode, we get another Marvel first. In a My Dinner with Andre-esque, conversational battle of wits, Loki and Sylvie reveal their bisexuality—finally making two LGBTQ+ characters canon in the MCU. It's virtually the same "Bob and Sarah" scene that served as Di Martino's audition, too. "The representation was super important for a lot of people," she says. "And it's great to be a part of that, finally." The moment ignites a slow-burning romance between Loki and Sylvie, which was important to Di Martino. Loki can't be Bridgerton, even if that crossover would be so epic that it would detonate this planet. No. It should be a big deal when Loki and Sylvie, you know, hold hands. Because how could someone who was so alone, for so long, even begin to learn how to love?

"It's subtle," Di Martino says of the flirtationship between the two Lokis. "I didn't want to make it too easy for them to be really open with each other because they're characters that have huge walls built up around themselves. They cannot trust other people. And it's a very vulnerable position that they're both in feeling that they like another person. It's all tied into this idea of self-love—and whether they can each find something in themselves that they can like."

"I think everyone feels lonely at times," she adds. "And it's great to have some glimmer of hope that your person is out there."

Excuse me. We need to take a break from the sweet stuff. During the interview, Di Martino's only tease about the finale was that "so much happens in like two minutes," which, looking back, will go down in human history as the understatement of the millennium. Jonathan Majors's Kang the Conquerer shows up, after all, as the man pulling the strings on the events of the show. He offers Loki and Sylvie a seat on the throne, where they'd rule the TVA. Loki considers the offer. Sylvie does not. So, holy effin' shit, it's Sylvie who plunges a dagger in Kang's heart and kicks off Marvel's biggest storyline since Thanos showed up at the end of The Avengers: The multiverse of madness. "I mean, honestly, I know nothing about [a potential season two of Loki], or even if it's going to happen... honestly, they haven't told me anything about it," Di Martino says. Considering that Sylvie did the damn thing that'll likely allow for three Spider-Men on a single screen this December and the finale's end credits confirm a season two for the series, we'll certainly see Di Martino in the MCU again.

Photo credit: Joseph Lynn
Photo credit: Joseph Lynn

A couple days before I met Di Martino, something occurred to me. Loki is the God of Mischief. And because Sylvie is a Loki, that makes her the Also God of Mischief. But what, exactly, does mischief mean? Think about it. Try to define mischief in a Merriam-Webster-friendly way. It's a word that if you ask 100 people to define, you'll get 100 different answers. There's a horrifying WikiHow article on how to be mischievous, which involves a dentist, Kanye West, dirty socks, and a banana. Don't look at it. The best way to define mischief, as it stands in our chaos-saddled year of 2021, is the precise way Tom Hiddleston's trickster grins and/or says the words, "Believe me!" But that's cheating. We need to put words to it. Sophia Di Martino has words. She's ready to interrogate this one.

"Playing...?" she starts. "Finding the fun in every situation or in other people. Even if they don't realise that it's there. Entertaining yourself, maybe. Yeah. It's magic, isn't it?"

But that’s not quite it. Mischief is the life of Loki. It’s not glorious purpose, not the way Richard E. Grant squats and twists his face up when he’s conjuring a CGI Norse city, not even Alligator Loki’s little gator grunts. Mischief is what makes lonely ones tick and how the well-acquainted show affection; it’s a way for good people to be bad, and maybe, just maybe—a way for bad people to become good.

Now she’s landed on it.

“It’s energy, maybe. It’s a spark,” Di Martino adds. “It’s that magic spark of energy. Of life. Of something that you can either go after and grab—or decide not to play around with.”

I'm sure that's code for: Don't ask for Nonna's lasagna recipe.

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