In honoring the legacy of the longest-running and most successful sci-fi series in history, the groundbreaking television event, Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor, Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary special, brings together the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith and the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, with companion Jenna Coleman, Billie Piper and John Hurt, and sees them embarking on their greatest adventure across space and time.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actress Jenna Coleman talked about what it’s been like to play Clara, how determined she is to embrace and enjoy the experience, how emotional it got towards the end of Matt Smith’s run as the Eleventh Doctor, how amazing it is to be a part of the iconic series during its 50th anniversary, what she’ll miss most about working with Matt Smith, when she learned what Clara’s story arc would be, filming her episodes out of order, what she thinks would most surprise fans about the way the show is shot, her favorite episodes, and what she’d most like to have from the set. She also talked about the type of questions fans ask her, her experience on Captain America, what attracted her to Death Comes to Pemberley, and the type of roles she’d like to do, in the future. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
JENNA COLEMAN: I can! It’s a strange thing because I was asked that question a week into the job and I was like, “I don’t know yet.” I’ve had a little bit of downtime now, and it’s been really good. What I’ve realized, with Matt [Smith] leaving and how when I started, Karen [Gillan] and Arthur [Darvill] were leaving, it’s like this lottery ticket of an adventure that I get to have. I just really want to embrace it because, before you know it, it’s gonna be over. You get to tell the story once, you get to do the TARDIS moment once, and you get to meet the Doctor for the first time once. All of this is only ever going to happen for a limited amount of time, so I just feel really determined to embrace it all and really, really enjoy it.
Matt Smith said that he knew he was leaving when you were cast, but did you know?
COLEMAN: It was Matt’s third series, and obviously it was a question of when, but we were all having those discussions, as soon as I joined. It’s been a strange thing ‘cause it’s something I’ve known since I started. Art informs life in so many ways, and vice versa. We were getting to know each other last year, and that was very much what was going on in the story. Now, we’re at a very different place. But then, it’s going to change and the show is going to go off in different directions.
Did it get more emotional, the closer you got to the end of his run?
COLEMAN: Totally! Every time I was asked about it at Comic-Con, I was like, “He’s not going yet. What are you all talking about?” I think it was denial. I was like, “I am not finished with him yet. What do you mean, the new Doctor?” My head wasn’t there yet because we hadn’t said goodbye yet. We were still very much in the midst of our adventure time, and we had more to do. I’ve got until probably really the end of this year with Matt, with promoting. It’s not over yet. And we’re not filming until January now, with the new Doctor.
It probably won’t even fully sink in until your first day with the new Doctor.
COLEMAN: Exactly, yeah. Then, things will have changed. Matt will have finished filming, and we’ll have begun prep. That’s when I can move on.
What’s it like to be part of Doctor Who, during the 50th anniversary?
COLEMAN: It’s really amazing! I struck it pretty lucky, I think, for my time in joining the show. We met Peter Davidson, one of the old Doctors, and Carole Ann Ford, the first ever Companion. It just feels like a celebration, this year. Filming the 50th felt like that. It’s a year where we had the 50th anniversary, we’re going to be welcoming in a new Doctor, and we’re saying goodbye to what I think has been one of our greatest Doctors, as well. It’s a really big year for the show.
COLEMAN: There’s a day that I remember, that was one of the first days, where I expected to be the cool one on set who was in charge of them and making sure everyone was all right, but I was the one who was geeking out. I was the giggling girl. I was just so excited. And then, watching the three of them work, and looking at these three Doctors, all staring at you, I went to pieces. It was just so exciting. Seeing three Doctors on the stage together and seeing what happens, and I got to witness it all and be a part of it all, it was great. Not just that, Clara has been with every single Doctor. Thanks, Steven Moffat. That is really damn cool!
You and Matt Smith have an ease with each other. Was that instantly there?
COLEMAN: I always remember, in the first audition with him, I definitely left the room feeling [excited about it]. I was quite relaxed about the whole audition process. I thought, “Okay, this could be cool, but it’s probably not going to happen.” But as soon as I read with Matt, I was like, “Oh, I want this! This would be really cool, day in and day out.” There was definitely something there, but there’s also definitely a getting to know you process. The funny thing is that we went into the middle of the series. We hadn’t shot the first five episodes before we shot Episode 6, so it was a strange thing. We were assuming this experience that we hadn’t been through yet, which was a very difficult thing. But it was interesting because the story was us getting to know each other, and we can’t quite figure each other out. Us tip-toeing around each other a bit was in the story. Now, we’re really great friends. We’ve done so much traveling together and we’ve been through so much. There is that ease now. That mystery isn’t there anymore. We’re in a new place and we’re going in a new direction now. The 50th felt very different, with our dynamic.
COLEMAN: I’ll just miss his energy. He’s very funny. He is like a big older brother. He’s so much like my brother. He’s like a wind-up. I’ll miss so much about him. He never fails to make me smile. He’s great. He’s just such a wonderful leading man to have on set. He has this energy and pure enthusiasm and love for this show, and he tries to find something new to make it better or explore, with every scene. It’s just great fun to be on a set with him. It’s changed the way I work, for sure.
How early did you know about the story arc for Clara? Were you told stuff ahead of time, or were they very secretive with you?
COLEMAN: I wanted it to be kept a secret. Steven hadn’t completely written it yet, either. I did do most of the series without knowing, but I heard rumors. I knew the gist of it, but I like reading a script, not knowing what’s going to happen. I don’t want to turn each page, waiting. You’re experiencing it as a viewer, in that way. And since the character is oblivious to it, because she’s just Clara, it was a good way for me to do it. I didn’t really understand it, which is what I needed, as the actor. And it was a nice reveal, for me. So, it was quite late in the day, that I got the full sense of it.
Once you start shooting, are the scripts pretty well locked, or do you experience changes on set?
COLEMAN: Yeah, they are. Last year was quite different, actually. I came in mid-series, so the first five episodes were with the Ponds. I think normally the first four episodes are locked. When I came in, nothing was really locked down, so we jumped into Episode 6. I started in May, and it wasn’t until September that I shot my first episode. They like every episode to feel like its own episode, and it’s about the adventure. There are these arcs and these threads, but you’ve really just got to be in that episode and be self-contained. It was interesting because me and Matt were a new dynamic, so we were trying to figure that out. At the end, we just stopped trying to do that and went with it and enjoyed it. It’s interesting, watching it back, to see how it has played out, when we didn’t film it in order.
When you’re on these sets, especially for the TARDIS, is it hard to stay focused on not think about where you are?
COLEMAN: The TARDIS I walked onto had never been seen before, but there was the console. Working on a set with so much green screen and prosthetics was all a new experience for me, but it’s amazing how quickly you adapt to talking to a tennis ball, instead of an alien. It just becomes your world and it just becomes your job, but it’s an incredibly cool, fun job. We went back for the royal visit with Prince Charles, and it was just so lovely. He came through the doors, and it was just great to really welcome him into what feels like our home. Me and Matt got so excited.
What do you think would most surprise fans about how this show is made?
COLEMAN: That’s a really good question. It is probably the green screen stuff, I would say, and the amount of CGI. There was an episode I did, where they were like, “Oh, there’s an explosion here, but it’s going to be CGI afterwards.” You react to a lot of stuff that isn’t there and you just get into the mode of it, but people would start to feel a bit silly, seeing that. Nothing is around you, and you’re just reacting to nothing.
COLEMAN: Yeah. Our costume designer is amazing. He’s really collaborative. It was really fun for me, last year, to get Oswin and Christmas Clara. Those costumes at Christmas were made from scratch, totally. For Clara, we’ve steered a little bit in one direction, and I’d like to go back to this arty student look. That’s what I like. I like the idea that she’s in a cute dress, but she’s got biker boots and can kick ass a bit. The two next two each other, you don’t expect it. Clara has different costumes for every episode, so it’s quite a big job. She’s not got the one staple, like the Doctor.
What’s been your favorite episode to shoot?
COLEMAN: For me, a big one was “The Snowman.” I had filmed two or three episodes before that, but it was really great to go to the beginnings of their meeting. Leading the double life, and having her be quite active in the adventure, the whole episode was really quite fairy tale. I loved her meeting the Doctor and experiencing everything the first time. “The Bells of Saint John” was pretty amazing, as well. I feel like that was a really good time for me and Matt, where we were experiencing it all, as well. I think those were probably my two favorites.
When fans talk to you, what do they want to talk to you about most?
COLEMAN: It’s always the Impossible Girl. Before it was revealed, they wanted to figure out how and why, and they would always ask me questions. It was quite fun to hear people’s theories. The theories were all over the place. And I get Souffle Girl a lot. I don’t know. They just want to talk. They often tell you about episodes they’ve seen, and what they thought and what they enjoyed, which I love. People have asked me, “How have you found being recognized?,” but there’s such a love for the show that people are just so excited to tell you about their experiences with the show. It’s a lovely recognition, that people are just as excited about the work that you do, as you are.
Is it always Doctor Who that they want to talk to you about, or do they ever bring up Captain America?
COLEMAN: A couple people do, yeah. Yeah, they do, actually, which I find quite amazing. I had the tiniest part in Captain America, but it was a great experience, to be honest. It was a nice way to do it because I could sit back, take it all in and figure out what was going on. It was such a tiny part, but it’s a cult thing.
Hypothetically, if you could take something home from the set of Doctor Who, what would you want?
COLEMAN: My painting, which is the Doctor’s painting in “The Bells of Saint John.” Our production designer’s daughter painted it, and it’s amazing. I’d quite like to have that. I think my mom would love it. But, it’s locked away in the Doctor Who experience.
After having the experience on Captain America, did it give you the desire to do more projects like that?
COLEMAN: To be honest, I don’t know. For me, it’s all on a script by script basis. Maybe after doing something like Doctor Who, I’ll want to do a bit of theater to have a complete change, or maybe do a little indie film. It depends on where you are, at the time when a script lands on your desk, and you get that instinct that you want to do it.
You also did Death Comes to Pemberley. What attracted you to that?
COLEMAN: Yes. It’s basically Pride & Prejudice, but six years on. It’s completely different, with the costumes, horse and carriages, and big stately homes. I found that really liberating and lovely, having done Doctor Who for so long. It’s a really rich script. It’s all those characters that you love and know very well, but you’ve got the murder mystery set against the world of Pride & Prejudice. That’s driving the story on, but you’re with all those characters that you love so much and know so well from the books. It’s a big ensemble, as well. It’s a really lovely cast of very rich characters. It’s gonna be really good.
The Day of the Doctor” 50th Anniversary special for DOCTOR WHO premieres on BBC America at 11:50 am PST / 2:50 pm EST on Saturday, November 23rd