ECCC | Karen Gillan Looks Back on ‘Doctor Who,’ Ahead to ‘Guardians’
Toward the end of any three-day convention, the feeling of enthusiasm begins to dwindle as exhausted fans, exhibitors and guests prepare for their journeys home. However, in the final hour of Emerald City Comicon 2014, the atmosphere remained charged for the appearance by Doctor Who and Guardians of the Galaxy star Karen Gillan.
“Some will say we’ve saved the best for last,” moderator Clare Kramer (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Bring It On) announced to the roaring crowd as the actress walked on stage.
Having played the fan-favorite companion Amy Pond on Doctor Who, the actress was greeted with screams and cheers from people dressed as the Eleventh Doctor, Weeping Angels, Daleks, and, of course, different incarnations of her character. Gillan recently filmed her role as the bald villain Nebula in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, so she sported a pixie-like hairdo.
Gillan noted that this was her first time in Seattle, which reminded her of home. “It’s really beautiful, and the weather’s kind of like Scotland,” she said.
Kramer eased into the questions by asking how Gillan felt when she landed the role of Amy Pond. The actress explained that her mother was a huge Doctor Who. “Instead of telling her over the phone, I decided to travel up to Scotland with all of the executive producers of Doctor Who – it was a subtle affair – and I arrived at her house while she was doing the dishes,” she recalled. “And I was like, ‘Mom, I’m going to be the next Doctor Who companion!’ She just stopped doing the dishes, turned around, and burst into tears.”
The moderator followed up by asking when Gillan realized she was part of the Doctor Who juggernaut and that her life was likely to change. Did it occur right after the first episode aired?
“It was probably then because, after getting the job, we were shielded away from everything because we were in Cardiff and Wales shooting for nine months, and we did that every single day,” she replied. “I kind of forgot that anyone was going to see what we were doing … but then the first episode aired. I went home to Scotland to watch it, and then the next day, we were all over the newspapers!”
The audience then joined in with questions, with one fan asking, “If you could go back, is there anything you would change at any point about the way you played Amy?”
Gillan nodded her head and replied, “There’s so much. I look back on those early episodes and think, ‘That’s the worst acting I’ve ever seen.’ Oh! I’ll tell you what I’d change – specifically, when [Amy] walks up to the TARDIS for the first time, I do this really weird face that’s like … hmmm.” The actress then made a facial expression that had the audience in stitches.
The next fan to the microphone was surprised by the actress’ height (according to the Internet, Gillan stand at 5 feet 11 inches). She admitted that is something she hears often. As her Doctor Who co-star Matt Smith is also tall, she said most people don’t realize her height until they see her in person.
During her time responding to audience members, Gillan had several questions about her “favorites.” To summarize a few of these, here is how the actress responded to:
Her favorite Doctor Who episode?
“I have a few, but to pick one, it’d probably be ‘The Eleventh Hour.’ I just feel like there was a certain magic to that episode, and Matt and I were introducing our characters and Arthur for the first time. We were three episodes in when we shot that … so we were really in the swing of things, and it felt like we were going to be OK and not wreck Doctor Who for everyone.”
Her favorite aliens on the show?
Silurians and the Weeping Angels
Her favorite scene to act?
“I really liked playing the older version of Amy in ‘The Girl Who Waited’ … There’s a scene between Rory and Amy at the end of that episode where they’re talking through the TARDIS door – that was really emotional.”
On the topic of acting, Gillan was asked whether there were any characters she would love to play. She answered Lady MacBeth first, but then added that she thought it would be fun to play William Wallace. Chuckling, she grimaced and said, “That would be terrible.”
For fun, an audience member asked where the actress would go if she had access to a real-life TARDIS. She replied, “I would go as far into the future as possible before the world ends. I want to see what’s happened to us. Maybe we’ve developed weird body parts we don’t have yet …”
The next fan introduced himself as an employee of the science fiction museum at Seattle’s EMP. (Hyperlink – http://www.empmuseum.org/) As they have a full-size Dalek at their facilities, he asked if Gillan had any stories about the prop that he could share with visitors. Luckily for him, she did.
“I know the guys who operate the Daleks – and that’s their jobs, by the way,” she said with a laugh. “It’s like something out of The Flintstones: They sit inside and run their feet across the floor. They’re, like, flexible dancer guys, because the Dalek insides are not that comfortable. … They actually have the toughest jobs, because they have to sit there all day, and there’s only so much air in there and it gets really hot.”
While it’s clear that fans love the show’s entire cast, one posed a prickly question to the actress, albeit with a wink and a smile: What’s the dumbest thing Matt’s ever done?
“Oh, there’s so many to choose from,” Gillan laughed. “My favorite moment ever was not when we were filming but … I remember he was talking to this girl, and she was really pretty. And he tried to look really cool and leaned against this light stand and it fell over. It is genuinely the funniest thing I have ever seen.”
Getting back to more serious topics, Gillan was asked whether she knew River Song was Amy and Rorrie’s daughter when she was introduced on the show. “We did not know that River was our daughter – that only got revealed to us as late as possible,” she replied. “But Alex Kingston, who played River Song, knew from the beginning. Steven Moffat likes to keep everything a secret from the actors … I think it’s because he doesn’t want it to affect our performances – he didn’t want us to have that knowledge, which is fair enough.”
Asked about her departure from Doctor Who, Gillan responded, “It was the saddest thing that’s ever happened to me. … Saying goodbye to that TV show was the hardest thing in the world because I had the best years in my life on it – I truly did. I made my best friends in the world there, and to walk away from that was so difficult.
“But, you know, it’s the nature of the show,” she continued. “The companions change over more regularly than the Doctors. But I just felt like the character had gone as far as I wanted to take it. I didn’t want to overstay my welcome – I wanted people to care that she was leaving. But it was sad to leave Matt.”
As Smith also recently concluded his time as the Doctor, fans wanted to know what Gillan thought about his successor, Peter Capaldi. “First of all, he’s the biggest Doctor Who fan ever,” she said with a grin. “So the fact that he has the role makes me really happy, because he’s been so passionate about it for a long time. I think he’s going to do a great job – he’s a brilliant actor. I feel like he’s probably going to have to watch his language, though. Either that or they’ll have to bleep it out with vortex sounds.”
As Gillan has a few upcoming projects on her plate, she was asked which she was looking forward to the most. She responded that, at the moment, it was the horror film Oculus, primarily because it’s opening in theaters April 11. She said the movie is unlike anything she’s done before, and the parts she’s seen truly frightened her.
The moderator then brought up getting into superhero-fighting shape for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. “The training for Guardians of the Galaxy was really intense,” Gillian said. “I had to train for two months. Every day I wasn’t filming, I had to work out and eat loads of protein. I had to train all the time and I learned how to defend myself. Some of my fight sequences were with Zoe Saldana, who is amazing at it, and I look like spaghetti.”
Kramer also noted that Gillan had to shave her head for the film, and asked how that came about. “It helped me play the role, because I suddenly felt intimidating, which is a new sensation for me,” she responded. “And the decision was made before I even got the part. They said, ‘The actress who plays this role has to shave her head.’ I said, ‘Absolutely,’ thinking that I wasn’t going to get it. I mean, it’s like this big Marvel movie! And then I got it, and I was like, ‘Oh. I guess I’m going to be bald.’”
That statement led a fan to ask about a rumor that both she and Smith had shaved heads in the episode “The Time of the Doctor.” Gillan smiled, saying, “That is true. We were both in wigs. People have asked if we ever swapped wigs, and I wish we did. That would have been so funny! Or, can you imagine that scene but with both of us bald?”
The entire room roared at the idea, but \went back into a more serious mode as an audience member asked the actress how it felt to return in “The Time of the Doctor” and just utter one single, yet essential, line to Smith.
“I was going over that line – over and over it – because when you just have one line, you focus on it like a weirdo,” Gillan said. “And then I remember getting onto the set, and I remember watching Matt film his regeneration and the scenes leading up to it, and it was a tough time for him because he was saying goodbye to this very important part of his life. And then I realized – I don’t even need to act this line. I was just going to tell him that it was going to be OK, like, just in real life.”