By Derek Lawrence
April 12, 2021 at 10:45 AM EDT
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Jodie Turner-Smith knows a thing or two about being badass on camera.

Opposite current Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya, the former model made her big screen breakout in 2019's Queen & Slim, a powerful and stylish story about a young Black couple becoming the face of a movement against police brutality. She then faced a new acting challenge costarring with Michael B. Jordan in the action-heavy Tom Clancy's Without Remorse (out April 30 on Amazon Prime Video): During filming, she was just months away from giving birth to her daughter. "I'm that person who throws myself into something," says Turner-Smith, 34. "I couldn't always do those things because I had a life inside of me."

Without Remorse
Credit: Nadja Klier/Amazon Studios

After wrapping her turn as Navy SEAL Karen Greer, the pandemic gave the British star an extended maternity leave. She's got roles ranging from an elite warrior in Netflix's Witcher prequel to a doomed queen in Anne Boleyn up next. Not bad for a career that (accidentally) began as a music-video dancer for Kanye West.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why Without Remorse and Karen Greer?

JODIE TURNER-SMITH: I thought it would be cool to play a woman so intelligent, strong, driven. The rules matter to her, but she also has a really big heart, and that's what ties her and Michael's character together. At the end of the day, just like Queen in many ways, she's a ride-or-die type chick. She's down for the fight.

What did you bring to Karen from your research of Navy SEALs?

We have this idea of what men who do these jobs are like, and then when someone decides, "I'm going to make this a female character," they 're trying to impose this machismo. That's not how it works. When we met a lot of these guys, one thing that really struck me was how emotional they all were. I found it interesting to translate that to a female.

Are you a fan of spy thrillers?

I love them: Mission: Impossible, all the Bourne films. I obviously love to go see something that makes me think, but I also just love to go and see s--- get blown up!

So you had to have had a ball with the countless action scenes you got to do on this one.

I was very excited. I was pregnant at the time, so we did the best we could to hide my growing baby bump. They say whatever you're doing when you're pregnant affects the baby, so I wonder [what] the impact all the gunfire, jumping in and out of helicopters, has [on] her temperament. [Laughs]

Without Remorse
Credit: Amazon Studios

With Queen & Slim being your first lead role, what did you take from that experience that you carried forward?

I learned a lot from Daniel [Kaluuya], in terms of how to show up on a set and exist in that space. Also just seeing badass women like Melina Matsoukas and Lena Waithe, who are so clear in their vision and what they want. I got to learn how to advocate for myself, [and] that's important to learn as a Black woman on set.

Queen & Slim was released in late 2019 and spotlighted police brutality and the resulting movements against it. What was it like a few months later, seeing those same issues playing out all across the country?

We knew we were having a conversation about something that'd been happening for a long time. I wonder how the film would have been received if it had come out last summer. But I'm proud that I made something that made a statement about what's going on in America, the violence against the Black citizens of this country. It's not a perfect message, but it was saying something. We may not have the answers, but the more we talk about it collectively, hopefully, carefully, we'll get there.

Pandemic aside, what's your past year been like? It feels like you're thriving, both personally and professionally.

It's all kind of flowed really beautifully. I was fortunate to do two movies right ahead of the world shutting down. That was also when I wanted to shut down anyway. I was so pregnant at that time, I basically got this glorious maternity leave. I think as mothers, we get so much pressure to get right back on the horse and aren't given space and peace. My body was like,"Sit your ass down," and the world was like, "Sit your ass down."

Later this year you're starring in a three-part series as Anne Boleyn, a historical figure who's been played by so many great actresses — all of them white. Why was it important to you to blaze a new trail with her?

As much as people have to say about it, nobody wants to admit how much the story of Anne Boleyn has always been treated as a work of fiction, whether that actress was a white woman or not…. Let's just suspend belief and enjoy Jodie Turner-Smith as Anne Boleyn. [Laughs] After I did Without Remorse, I was like, "My next [project], I want to be in gowns." It's like I manifested that.

What should we manifest next?

A comedy! Kevin Hart, call me. Dwayne Johnson, I'm here.

Watch our full interview with Turner-Smith above.

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