A Conversation with Karen Gillan

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Interviews

“Strangely it’s all become fairly normal, that’s the weird thing. Now I can just be really scared of tennis balls.”

There is a weird fanaticism that surrounds Doctor Who and within its ranks are some of the most heated passions and secular dedication that you’re ever likely to encounter in a sci-fi series. One of the main reasons for this division with the ranks of Whovians, as they have come to be known, comes from the shows very DNA, with each generation claiming their own Doctor as the finest, or the funniest or the most significant in the series 40 plus years in production.

And while the past few years have seen the show updated, both in terms of quality and scope under the leadership of showrunner Russell T Davies, the revamped series faces its biggest trial with the announcement that the new Doctor, the Eleventh to be exact, is to be played by relative newcomer Matt Smith, the youngest thespian yet to tackle the role of everyones favourite Timelord. Throwing more fuel on the reactor is the news that Davies will step down as showrunner to replaced by Steven Moffatt, a writer/ producer who brings with him a reputation as something of stubborn hard-arsed egoist. On the plus side, Moffatt’s resume includes the creation of the Weeping Angels, one of the series most chilling and popular new monsters.

But turmoil often travels is threes, and with the show receiving a new Doctor and showrunner, it was inevitable that a new Companion would be added to the mix. And that’s why fans around the globe have turned their attention to Karen Gillan, a red haired Scottish lass, classily trained in theatre with a solid modelling portfolio. And while she may be reasonably new to both television and the science fiction genre, Gillan seems ready to make her own mark on the Doctor Who universe.

Fletcher: I understand that you’ve only found out you had the role on Doctor Who over the past few days, and here you are already thrown into a press junket. Does the whole thing feel a little surreal?

Karen Gillan: It’s really kind of strange. Because it all just came up almost overnight; I mean you get a job in Doctor Who and then suddenly people know who you are and there’s this sudden level of interest in you. I’ve sort of come from pretty much obscurity. But the way I look at it is that it’s really great to be involved in a show that so many people care so much about; which people are interested in and that people are passionate about.

F: Were you a Doctor Who fan yourself?

KG: No, I wasn’t really. I’m too young to appreciate the older series, but I have seen a fair bit of the new series that came back in 2004 because my mother is pretty much obsessed with Doctor Who. My mum is really really into sci-fi, from all the Star Trek shows like Deep Space 9, Voyager right through to Doctor Who. But rather than sci-fi I’m a bit more into shows that are a little paranormal and spooky.

F: Doctor Who fans are very passionate about their fandom. Have you had any face to face with the fans as yet?

KG: Well I’m not really getting recognised on the street or anything like that. But we have been doing the Doctor Who tour where we have been previewing the first episode of the series to local children in lots of different places across the UK, so we’ve met loads of the fans through that and the response has been completely overwhelming and unexpected and crazy. I was kind of amazing. No one’s been kind of freaky yet.

F: Considering the longevity and mythology of the series, do you feel as if you’re walking into a living legacy? Or do see this new series as something completely fresh where the skies the limit?

KG: It’s kind of completely different now. I actually got to work on Doctor Who a couple of years back in a really tiny part and which is completely unrelated to my part now; but everyone has changed, from behind the scenes to those on camera, so its like a brand new fresh start.

And that’s the thing about Doctor Who; it’s all about reinvention, which is the key to it having lasted such a long time I think. But it still does have all the elements of the old Doctor Who as well. It’s still the same old action packed Doctor Who but we’ve just got a very different approach to it.

F: Speaking of which, how did you approach your character of Amy pond?

KG: It was kind of an instinctual process I think. I read episode one and just had this instinct about her, and how I was going play her. But then after I got the part I started developing her a lot more. I worked closely with the director who did episodes 1, 4 and 5 and we just literally went through every line and talked about her for hours until we found her and worked out why she does everything she does.

F: So having discovered Amy Pond, what’s Karen Gillan’s opinion of her?

KG: Well I love her, I really do and I feel so lucky being able to play her. The most interesting thing about her is her relationship with the Doctor actually. I think it’s something we haven’t seen before in terms of the dynamic between the Doctor and the companion. It rather turbulent, a rollercoaster; its up and down. It’s like a battle between them when they’re having a conversation and they just feel kind of connected. And I think that is quite important because it’s at the heart of the show.

Matt and I are both really aware of that and we have both worked really hard on the relationship between the two characters. But I just really love her, I think she is so much fun; she’s cool and funny, and sassy and confident… but then she has this element to her that’s like a lost little girl.

F: Can you give us some insight into how you landed the role? Was there an audition process?

KG: I just auditioned. I mean the casting director knew me from before, but none of the executive producers knew who I was. But I auditioned and then I got a re-call and read with Matt and then found out a few hours later I had the part. Normally your waiting for weeks on end, but I think I was the last girl to audition.

F: From what you’ve said I imagine your mum must have been excited. What was that phone call like when you told her?

KG: I didn’t actually make that call, I opted out of it. She is such a massive Doctor Fan that I didn’t actually trust her with the information. Also I didn’t want to tell her over the phone like that and then she wouldn’t be able to talk about it, so I waited and then I went up and told her an hour before it was released to the press.

F: Between the landing the role and shooting the first few episodes, were you able to have input into the character, or how she develops throughout the series?

KG: Steven Moffat created her so he knows her inside and out. But I guess through watching mine and Matt’s performance he’s formed the characters a bit more around us. The way we say things, how we would react things.

F: Is there anything you can tell us about your first season in regards to story arcs or themes?

KG: Well the first season is very magical and almost like a fairy tale when we’re drawn into it at the beginning, but there is a story arc that runs through the entire season which comes to a very scary climax at the finale where you find a lot of things out. So when you’re watching the series you need to take note of everything because there are all these little clues throughout the series that will make sense once you reach the end.

F: And how many of the finished episodes have you seen?

KG: Well they are kind of all in the process of being CGI’d at the moment. But I have seen episode 1 and its amazing to see it in its finished state. It has all this amazing music through it scored by Larry Gold, which just takes it to the next level.

F: From a performance angle is hard to find your bearings as an actor when your faced with working against green screens on such effects heavy show?

KG: Yeah, was a lot more difficult in the beginning working against so much green screen because you’re literally acting against nothing. You just have to conjure up the emotions without being driven by anything, so that was quite challenging. And also a lot of the time monsters are just tentacles on sticks so you have to try and be terrified of tennis balls and brooms. Yet strangely it’s all become fairly normal, that’s the weird thing. Now I can just be really scared of tennis balls.

F: Have you and Steve Moffatt ever sat down and discussed the long term plan for Amy Pond in the grand scheme of the series?

KG: Its all up in the air, I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen. But that’s very exciting.

F: And have the convention and expo invites started rolling in?

KG: Yeah, I’ve had quite a few but my schedule has been so hectic I haven’t been able to indulge in any of that.

F: Even though you’re basically working on a brand new show, is there anyone from the previous incarnation of the show you’d like to meet? Perhaps glean advice from?

KG: No, I haven’t actually talked to anyone since I got the role. I have met David Tenant before from when I worked on the series. But I would like to talk with Freema Agyeman. I think because we kind of share a similar story in the origins of our companion role.

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