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The Mary Sue Interviews Karen Gillan of Doctor Who


As we promised a few days ago in our Doctor Who Season 7 premiere photo gallery, we’ve got three very special interviews from our time spent with stars Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, as well as new Executive Producer Caroline Skinner at the event. Since Gillan is a fellow redhead, I’ve decided to let her go first! See what she had to tell us about her own time travel preferences, how she feels about leaving the long-running sci-fi series, and who she thinks could make a great female Doctor.

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This interview was conducted with several other journalists at a roundtable discussion. Questions from are so noted, otherwise this is how the conversation went…

If you had to go back in time, where would you go?

Karen Gillan: Does it have to be back in time? See I always think I would probably go as far into the future as possible before the sun explodes, and just see what the world is like and how it’s progressed and just see what we look like physically because, I have a theory that we’re going to, because we have all these computers and stuff, that we won’t do anything for ourselves and we’ll develop these massive brains and have really frail bodies because we don’t actually do anything for ourselves, like robots do it.

Would you ever like to develop that into a Doctor Who episode?

KG: I would love to. If I could write anywhere near as well as Steven Moffat, I would definitely write that.

Any aspirations for writing/directing?

KG: Yeah, I think I’ll always probably be an actress but I do like writing. It’s kind of more of a bundle of notes in a pad rather than anything with any sort of structure.

What’s your favorite episode?

KG: Actually, what was really fun was shooting “The Doctor’s Wife,” the episode was called, where the TARDIS became female and me and Arthur, who plays Rory, got to run around the TARDIS, and we got to see bits of the TARDIS that we’ve never seen before. Which was actually one corridor that we made look like many. And then, actually my favorite bit of it was going into the old console, which David Tennant had as his Doctor. I thought that was really cool because it was a nice crossover.

The Mary Sue: There’s always stories floating around about “if a woman ever played the Doctor,” is there anyone you think could do it really well?

KG: Well I think there was talk of Helen Mirren actually being interested in playing the Doctor, which would be amazing! She was like, “I have no interest in playing the Companion.” She said, “I would definitely play the Doctor,” and I think that would really work. Who else? Maybe someone who’s a bit bonkers in some way. Who’s a bit bonkers? [The room suggested Helena Bohnam Carter] Yeah, she would make a great Doctor. Or Alex Kingston if she wasn’t already River Song.

What was it like to shoot on location in NYC?

KG: Just the best experience, it really was. And it’s kind of interesting because when we did that Paley Center thing it was kind of at the beginning of introducing it to America for the first time and then we were saying how much we’d love to shoot there. And actually, my final episode was shot in New York, which is kind of weird. But it was amazing. We were in Central Park and we started shooting and then all these people turned up and we didn’t expect it at all, at all. So we didn’t have any sort of security or anything like that and then more and more turned up to the point where there was just hundreds upon hundreds of people lining Central Park and just screaming. And they were like, “Sign my TARDIS!” It was just the most amazing thing. And then we ran to Time Square and quickly shot this scene and trying to draw as little interest as possible. It was really funny seeing Matt running around Time Square in his bow tie. I was like, “Am I imagining this? This is so weird!”

How does it feel to know you’ve inspired people to cosplay and recreate scenes?

KG: It’s just really difficult to comprehend but then you see people dressed up as you but it’s just the weirdest sensation. But it’s amazing because you feel really flattered and honored that they’d gone to that sort of effort.

How has your time on Doctor Who changed you as an actor?

KG: I just feel like I’ve learned actually how to act through the show. When I look back at what I was like as an actress when I first started I just think I didn’t know anything about acting. And then through this show I feel like I’ve learned so much, and I’ve learned so much from Matt Smith as well just because he is the most inventive [actor] I’ve ever, ever seen work. I mean, he just doesn’t do it the same way twice, he just constantly creates something new so you don’t know what’s going to happen. And then it provokes a real reaction in you and then you realize it’s actually what acting is all about, which is more the transaction rather than just standing there, delivering it the way you want to. It’s alive.

Any performance you’re particularly proud of?

KG: I really enjoyed “The Girl Who Waited” because I got to play two characters. Sort of. That was really fun. When I first got that they were going to cast an older actress to play the older version of Amy. I was like, “Please let me play it! I’ll wear all the prosthetics in the world!” And they were like, “Ok, we’ll give you a test,” and it looked really good. And then I suddenly realized what I’d offered to do which was play an old version of the character, which is really difficult because, where do you pitch that? That was a real challenge for me. And then I went to all these classes and stuff like dialect, kind of like voice classes and movement classes just to subtly change it all. I just loved it.

The Mary Sue: At the end of your journey here, if you could take a TARDIS, go back in time to right after you got the phone call saying you got the role, what advice would you give to yourself?

KG: I’d probably say, “Don’t be scared because it’s going to be alright.” Actually though, I wasn’t that scared at the time, I was only 21 so I had blind optimism on my side, that you have with youth. Where I was just like, “Yeah, I can do this!” Whereas if I had gotten the phone call at this age, I really think I would be far more nervous now. Which is funny because you’d think it would go the opposite way but I swear as you get older you get more nervous. I don’t know if that’s true but that’s what I’m starting to feel. And I would just say, “Enjoy every second of it,” because it doesn’t actually last forever, even though it feels like it will at the time. So if you’re ever slightly bored one day, which I wasn’t really, but I guess it happens sometimes, I would just say, “Savor every moment.”

How’s the journey been from friend to mother-in-law?

KG: It’s just been the most epic journey for these two, it really has. Which is amazing because it’s always nice to have somewhere to go. I don’t think she ever really fancied the Doctor in that way, she was never in love with the Doctor, it was more like a deep connection that they started off with from her as a kid. And then it just evolved and all these crazy things happened and then what’s interesting is it starts off with her gazing at him as a child, as some sort of godlike father figure, and it’s kind of gone the other way now. And she’s the mother-in-law and she’s telling him what to do and sort of disciplining him.

What will you miss most?

KG: I think the thing I’m gonna miss most is working with Matt and Arthur [Darvill] because we’ve become best friends, genuinely, we’re not just saying that because we’re supposed to. It’s true! We spend time together outside of work and it’s going to be really weird. I mean, I’ve been working on other stuff since I finished and it’s just weird not having them to run around with every day. And also, I’m going to miss running away from monsters because that is the most fun ever. It really is. You’re just running away from these strange looking things going, “This is my job! Yes!”

How was it getting used to acting against a green screen or acting to nothing?

KG: Yeah, that’s really weird at first. It’s so funny how used to it you do get. So now, we’ve become to in tune with it we can just switch it on straight away and be really scared of that glass over there. Also, we’re so insync with eachother, me, Matt, and Arthur, we can know whether it’s going to be a slow turn or a quick one. But at first I was like, “How am I supposed to be scared of this tennis ball on a stick?”

Are you prepared to be linked to this series for the rest of your life? Will you be back for the 5oth?

KG: I can’t say anything about the 50th anniversary. Nice try though. I actually don’t know what they’re plans are for the 50th because I’m not involved with it anymore which is a really weird sensation.

What does the future bring for you?

KG: My hopes are to do really good projects, I want to do some good films, and I want to do more theater. I’m coming over to America to do my first American thing which is called Oculus and it’s a film which will be shot in Alabama which is really exciting because I’ve never been there.

Last day, walking into the TARDIS with Matt and Arthur, did you delay it at all?

KG: Honestly it was the weirdest, most serene feeling on set all day. And then it was our last scene walking into the TARDIS and then we did about twenty takes of it though, which was really weird, maybe the director was delaying it. It was lovely though because then Matt closed the door and it was complete darkness and we all just hugged in the dark. It was like, “It’s done!” It was just the most emotional feeling, it really was.

Stay tuned for The Mary Sue’s interviews with Matt Smith and Caroline Skinner, coming tomorrow and Saturday, the day of the season premiere!

Previously in Doctor Who

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Jill Pantozzi
Jill Pantozzi is a pop-culture journalist and host who writes about all things nerdy and beyond! She’s Editor in Chief of the geek girl culture site The Mary Sue (Abrams Media Network), and hosts her own blog “Has Boobs, Reads Comics” ( She co-hosts the Crazy Sexy Geeks podcast along with superhero historian Alan Kistler, contributed to a book of essays titled “Chicks Read Comics,” (Mad Norwegian Press) and had her first comic book story in the IDW anthology, “Womanthology.” In 2012, she was featured on National Geographic’s "Comic Store Heroes," a documentary on the lives of comic book fans and the following year she was one of many Batman fans profiled in the documentary, "Legends of the Knight."

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