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Doctor Who – Karen Gillan on her transformed career

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

Karen Gillan made her first appearance as Amy Pond, the Doctor’s new companion, in Doctor Who on April 3, 2010.

In this year’s midseason finale, Amy is kidnapped and the Doctor called in his long-held debts and solemnly given promises to raise an army to save her. But even though he successfully rescues her, Amy’s newborn daughter Melody is taken away by Madame Kovarian (Frances Barber). At that moment, the time traveling professor River Song (Alex Kingston) arrived and finally revealed her most closely guarded secret – she is Melody, Amy and Rory’s (Arthur Darvill) daughter.

I spoke with Karen at the TV Critics Association tour about the iconic series and her first experience at Comic-Con.

Amy Pond is a very different ‘companion’ for those who have gone before, both in a relationship with the Doctor, and in the way she conducts herself. Can you talk a bit about what makes her the way she is?

Doctor Who 6.6 The Almost People – Karen Gillan
Episode 6.06 The Almost People – Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) © BBC 2011

I think when she burst on the scene, she was almost as mad as the Doctor, which was quite entertaining, I hope. And what I like about her is that you really, as an audience, invest in her because you meet her as a little girl.

You see that relationship form and then you see her as a young woman, and then you see her get married. And now she’s had a child. So we’re kind of getting quite a bit of her life which I think is great. Maybe it will go full circle.

Being a fan of the series, did you know what kind of companion you wanted to be?

I kind of had an instinct about her, when first read the script. All I really knew that I wanted to do was keep the child very much alive in the character. That was my aim.

Did you take anything from past companions?

I just responded to the material that was there. It’s a bit different because I’m not playing the same character. She’s written differently and she’s got a completely different backstory. It’s a bit different from taking on the Doctor role.

Do you have a favorite companion on Doctor Who?

It’s so funny because when I was in Inverness when I was quite a bit younger, my dad was like, ‘Doctor Who is coming back.’ That must have been around 2005.

So I remember watching Billie Piper play Rose, and she’s my favorite companion because I thought she was really brilliant with Chris Eccleston.

The chemistry she had with David Tennant I thought was brilliant, and it just made me realize how important it is in the show that chemistry between the Doctor and companion, because it’s kind of at the heart of the show. So, yeah, it has to be Rose

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

Doctor Who 6.02 Day of the Moon - Karen Gillan
Episode 6.02 Day of the Moon - Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) © BBC 2011

I just wanted to do it justice. It’s already been so successful, so there’s a pressure there.

What has this done for your career, and for getting other film and television offers?

Well, I hadn’t really done much before Doctor Who, so it’s pretty much transformed my career in that sense. It’s really good.

Didn’t you just played the model Jean Shrimpton in a film?

Yeah, it’s called. We’ll Take Manhattan. I’ve just finished that, and it’s looking really good. It was amazing. We shot some of that in New York, so we were running around the Brooklyn Bridge and 5th Avenue shooting the film.

Did you know much about her before doing the role?

Doctor Who 6.3 The Curse of the Black Spot - Karen Gillan
Episode 6.03 The Curse of the Black Spot - Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) © BBC 2011

I actually was aware of her. She was completely iconic, but weirdly not really remembered, compared to someone like Twiggy, who actually came after her. But, I knew about her because I’m interested in photography and I knew about David Bailey.

Have you done any modeling?

I did for two years, when I as about 29. I was working in a bar in London, trying to get acting auditions and all of that, and then I got scouted as a model and thought that had to be a better way of subsidizing myself than working in a bar. So I just did that for a couple of years.

I did some runway stuff and some campaigns and editorials.

Did that help you with your role as Jean Shrimpton?

Yes, I didn’t have to learn about what a model’s life was like. I know what it’s like to go to eight castings a day and traipse around.

Did you like the 60s clothes you got to wear?

Oh, my god, yeah! They were so beautiful, and I was in my absolute element, as I love vintage.

When will that movie air?

It’s going to be on BBC 4 in October, and it’s going to be on a channel called Ovation in the States.

Is there a role you’re dying to play?

I want to play Lady Macbeth.

How has your life changed since doing Doctor Who?

Doctor Who 6.7 A Good Man Goes to War – Karen Gillan, Arthur Dar
Episode 6.07 A Good Man Goes to War – Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) & River Song (Alex Kingston) © BBC 2011

It’s changed rather a lot. It’s funny because we film for nine months of the year, and so you’re shooting and you’re in this little bubble. You almost forget that it transmits to lot of places in the world.

Then we go to something like Comic-Con, where you suddenly realize how many people actually watch the show. We were walking around the streets of San Diego, running into people dressed up as us. It was the most bizarre, surreal thing. It comes into your awareness then.

What was your experience like at Comic-Con?

We did a panel to six and a half thousand people, all with sonic screwdrivers in the air!

Are you worried about being typecast?

I don’t worry about that because you’re in control of your own career, at the end of the day. You can choose the things you want to do.