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Doctor Who – Matt Smith reinventing being old

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Doctor Who (2000's) - Arthur Darvill, Karen Gillan, Matt Smith and Alex Kingston
Arthur Darvill, Karen Gillan, Matt Smith and Alex Kingston at the New York City Premiere © 2011 BBC America

Fresh from his rock star reception at Comic-Con in San Diego, Matt Smith, the new Doctor Who, came by the TV Critics Association tour to speak with the journalists about the second half of the series, which premieres on BBC America on August 27th with an episode entitled, Let’s Kill Hitler.

In the midseason finale, A Good Man Goes to War, Amy Pond (Karen Gillen) was kidnapped. This marked the Doctor’s darkest hour. While the Doctor and Rory (Arthur Darvill) were able to save Amy, his enemies carefully concealed trap allowed Madame Kovarian (Frances Barber) to escape with Amy’s newborn daughter Melody.

In Let’s Kill Hitler, the desperate search for Melody begins with the TARDIS crash landing in 1930s Berlin, bringing the Doctor face to face with the greatest war criminal in the Universe.

I spoke with Matt Smith after the panel, and there was no difference in his persona on screen and in real life – in other words, he IS Doctor Who!

A lot has been made about your being the youngest Doctor. What do you think about that?

Doctor Who Season 6 - The Doctor (Matt Smith)
The Doctor (Matt Smith) © BBC 2011

Yes, a lot was made of me being the youngest, and interestingly, I think it’s worked to my favor because I think there’s an interesting contradiction of having a young face and an old soul. There’s something a) very funny about it, and b) it allows you to reinvent being old. And so that’s interesting because when I first took the part on, obviously that was an area of contention for some of the diehard fans.

Did you ever dream of being Doctor Who?

Weirdly, no, but it feels like a dream to do it. It’s a wonderful part, and also a wonderful experience in my life. It’s good to see the genuine love, enthusiasm and affection from the fans. That’s something that is astounding to me.

How close did you come to getting the role of Sherlock, and how close did Benedict Cumberbatch come to getting the role of Doctor?

Well, I didn’t audition for Sherlock and Benedict didn’t audition for Doctor Who. Ben is a mate of mine, and I love Sherlock. I did audition for Dr Watson, which is how I got the audition for Doctor Who, because that’s where I met Steven Moffat. But, at that point, Benedict was cast as Sherlock Holmes.

Being a fan of the show did you know how you wanted to play Doctor Who before you started shooting?

Doctor Who 6.7 A Good Man Goes to War – Matt Smith and Alex Kingston
Episode 6.07 A Good Man Goes to War – The Doctor (Matt Smith) and River Song (Alex Kingston) © BBC 2011

I think that every artistic venture is a risk and it has to be that way, so you do as much preparation as you can and make that as thorough as you can possibly make it, until you turn up on set. It’s about taking risks, and some might work and some might not, but that’s what makes it interesting.

Did you have any apprehension about doing the show?

Yeah, of course. There’s always a bit of career pressure that comes with playing a role like the Doctor, and being involved with this show, but I think it translated as a good pressure and one that hopefully I’ve thrived off of. We’re very lucky to have (writer/producer) Steven Moffat. We get along famously well, so it’s a happy place to work. And, every two weeks on Doctor Who, the set is completely different, the world is different and there are new actors coming in. So, it’s constantly surprising and it’s a pressure that you relish, actually.

What were you most nervous about in taking on the role?

It’s like any part that you play and the usual things that actors get nervous about. It’s about delivering and doing it justice and making it as brilliant as it should be.

Your version of the Doctor is very quixotic, which has gone over well. Is that something you brought to the role, or is that something that was on the page?

Doctor Who 6.01 The Impossible Astronaut - Matt Smith and Alex Kingston
Matt Smith and Alex Kingston behind the scenes in Utah © BBC 2011

Well, hopefully that’s a response to the material. I try to be as inventive with Steven’s writing as possible. He certainly allows you to be playful with the scripts that he writes, and I think the Doctor, with anything that he does, plays a bit and he explores it, much like a child would. So, it’s about being like that. As an actor, I like it. I don’t know how much of it is me, though. It’s all a jumble.

While you’ve made the Doctor your own, you’ve also been able to keep the core of who the Doctor is. Did you specifically set out to look for that core of the character?

I think the essence of the character is always there, and has always been there. Fundamentally, he is a good man. Fundamentally, he is very brave. There are fundamentals there, but it’s a bit like playing Hamlet, but every actor has to reinvent it. That’s the key. You have to be brave with your interpretation with the Doctor. They’ve got to be brave choices.

You mention all the actors who have reinvented Hamlet, but your viewers don’t have reruns of Hamlet that they can watch over and over again and compare like in Doctor Who. People can constantly compare you to past Doctors.

Yeah, but at the same time, I know people who have seen Hamlet ten times. Everyone will always have an opinion on how Doctor Who should be played. Everyone will always have an opinion on Hamlet. It’s great to see the dedication, enthusiasm and commitment to opinions from the fans, but as an actor and an artist it’s my responsibility to make the creative choices. I do that independently.

What’s been the most fun about playing this role?

Doctor Who 6.5 The Rebel Flesh – Matt Smith
Episode 6.05 The Rebel Flesh – The Doctor (Matt Smith) © BBC 2011

The fact that he’s always the most intelligent person to walk into a room means that he’s the most stupid and the silliest. You can explore him in any direction. He really can go from A to Z. He’s a remarkable man to play. He’s someone that I’m actually very fond of, weirdly enough.

Do you have a favorite Doctor?

Yes, I do. Patrick Troughton, because I think what is wonderful about him is he’s weird and peculiar without ever asking you to find him weird and peculiar, and I think that’s quite a feat when you’re playing the Doctor.

How has your life changed since you’ve become Doctor Who?

It’s changed remarkably. Being a part of a show like this I get to come to America a lot more than I used to. It very much places you in the public eye, in a more dramatic sense.

Do you get mobbed when you go out in public in England?

No, not mobbed, but of course it changes the nature of things. It changes that bit of your life, but in a good way.

With such a cult favorite like this, is there a fear of getting typecast into a role like this in the future?

I’m young, in twenty years the part will be very different.