Matt Smith and Karen Gillan Interview DOCTOR WHO

     August 2, 2011


After a very impressive and shocking first half of the season, that left viewers waiting on the edge of their seats to find out how one of the most exciting cliff-hangers and plot twists ever would resolve, Doctor Who returns to BBC America on August 27th. Although they were very tight-lipped about any plot points, co-stars Matt Smith (who plays the Doctor himself) and Karen Gillan (who plays the Doctor’s companion, Amy) talked at the BBC America portion of the TCA Press Tour about how their lives have changed since becoming a part of the show, how they both enjoy taking unexpected risks with their characters, what they were most nervous about and what they have the most fun with when it comes to taking on such iconic roles, who their favorite actors are in Doctor Who seasons past, and they promised more twists and turns, as the dynamic changes after the big revelation in the last episode. Check out what they had to say after the jump:

matt-smith-doctor-who-image-01Question: Matt, how has life changed since you’ve become Doctor Who?

MATT SMITH: Well, it’s changed remarkably because life does change.

What’s been the most significant change for you?

SMITH: Just 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 London?

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

Karen, how has your life changed?

KAREN GILLAN: 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 a lot of places in the world. And 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.

SMITH: It was remarkable.

GILLAN: So, it comes into your awareness then.

Matt, did you ever dream of being Doctor Who?

SMITH: 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 the Doctor?

SMITH: 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 [Moffatt]. But, at that point, Benedict was cast as Sherlock Holmes.

karen-gillan-doctor-who-image-01Did you have any idea about how you wanted to play your roles before you started shooting?

SMITH: 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.

GILLAN: I kind of had an instinct about her, when I 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.

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

GILLAN: 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.

Karen, you just played the model Jean Shrimpton in a film, didn’t you?

GILLAN: Yeah, for a film 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.

And that takes place in the ‘60s?


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

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

Did you know much about her, before doing the role?

GILLAN: 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.

Had you done any modeling yourself?

GILLAN: I did for two years, when I was about 19. 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 playing Jean Shrimpton?

GILLAN: 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.

When will that film air?

GILLAN: It’s going to be on BBC4 in October. I’m not entirely sure about it airing in the States, but it’s going to be on a channel called Ovation.

Did either of you have any apprehension about doing Doctor Who?

SMITH: 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 we’ve both thrived off of. We’re very lucky to have 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.

GILLAN: Yeah, it’s a good pressure.

karen-gillan-doctor-who-image-2SMITH: But, looking back, there was definitely a pressure there.

GILLAN: Oh, yeah. It’s worse in retrospect, weirdly.

What were you each the most nervous about, in taking on these roles?

SMITH: Well, it’s like any part that you play and the usual things that actors get nervous about.

GILLAN: Yeah, we just wanted to do it justice.

SMITH: It’s about delivering and doing it justice and making it as brilliant as it should be.

GILLAN: As it has been already. It’s already been so successful, so there’s a pressure there.

Matt, what’s been the most fun about playing this role?

SMITH: 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, and he’s a remarkable man to play. He’s someone that I’m actually very, very fond of, weirdly enough.

Matt, 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?

SMITH: Well, hopefully that’s a response to the material. I try to be as inventive with Steven’s writing as possible, really. 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.

GILLAN: What’s interesting about it is that you’re not just doing it for the sake of it. It’s all rooted somewhere. He’s not human, so he’s not familiar with the everyday things that we are, as humans. And, he’s also running away from something. I think that’s what’s interesting for me.

matt-smith-doctor-who-image-2While 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?

SMITH: 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. There are fundamentals to Hamlet, but every actor has to reinvent it. That’s the key. You have to be brave with your interpretation with the Doctor, much like with the companion. They’ve got to be brave choices.

Actors have reinvented Hamlet, but viewers don’t have reruns of Hamlet that they can watch over and over again and compare. Do you think it’s different with Doctor Who, in the sense that people can constantly compare you to past Doctors?

SMITH: Yeah, but at the same time, I know people who have seen Hamlet, 10 times. You can see Hamlet, if you want to go and see it. It’s just how much you can seek it out. And, everyone will always have an opinion on how the Doctor should be played. Everyone will always have an opinion on the President. 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.

Karen, did you take anything from past companions?

GILLAN: I just responded to the material that was there and went with that. So, 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.

doctor-who-imageIn the second half of this season, everything changes and all bets are off, with relationships and dynamics changing, now that viewers know who River is. Did you guys enjoy the second half of this season, and all the twists and turns that it brought?

GILLAN: Absolutely! It’s going to take some twists and turns, and all relationships and the whole dynamic is going to change, after the big revelation at the end of the last half of the series. I had some fun with Alex Kingston, with that.

SMITH: There’s the great revelation that’s probably the biggest of the series. We’ve still got to understand just what happened to the Doctor in Episode 1. I think “Let’s Kill Hitler” is maybe my favorite episode to date. It just rockets along. Steven [Moffatt] has always delivered the payoff to all these revelations, in a way that is exactly what you would want it to be. It doesn’t disappoint.

The “Let’s Kill Hitler” episode is the ultimate time travel conundrum. How does Doctor Who approach it?

SMITH: You’ll have to watch and find out, I’m afraid.

GILLAN: It’s funny, I’ll give you that.

SMITH: It’s a great episode. It truly is. It’s one of my favorite episodes, actually.

In what way is it funny?

GILLAN: It’s funny. You have to watch and see.

Matt, a lot has been made about you being the youngest Doctor Who. What do you think about that?

SMITH: Yes, a lot was made of me being the youngest. 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 very funny about it, and it allows you to reinvent being old. When I first took the part on, obviously that was an area of contention for some of the die-hard fans.

Do you have a favorite Doctor Who?

SMITH: Yes, my favorite Doctor is Patrick Troughton. What I think is wonderful about him is that he’s weird and peculiar, without ever asking you to find him to find him weird or peculiar, and that’s quite a feat when you’re playing the Doctor.

matt-smith-karen-gillan-doctor-who-image-2What are the qualities you share with the Doctor, and how are you completely different?

SMITH: Well, I’m not 900. I’m not an alien. No, I’m being facetious, sorry. The Doctor is such a wonderful benchmark of how to live your life. With any character, the more that you play them, you spend a lot of time with them, so it’s quite strange. You can take a bath as the Doctor. You can go and order fish and chips as the Doctor. You can live via them, in a very interesting way, and living via the Doctor is so interesting because he’s a wonderful man.

How would the Doctor taking a bath be different from Matt taking a bath?

SMITH: Wow, I don’t know. The Doctor would probably have some sort of duck that could talk, or something. His bath would be way more interesting. That’s the thing. My point is that every detail of your live that you look at, if you look at it through his eyes, it’s more interesting. That’s what is great about playing a character like this. It’s why children like him. He doesn’t dismiss anything. He’s not cynical. He’s open to every single facet of the universe. I think that’s a remarkable place to be in.

Karen, did you watch Doctor Who growing up?

GILLAN: It’s so funny because, when I was in Inverness, quite a bit younger, my dad was, like, “Doctor Who is coming back.” That must have been around 2005. My dad was like, “Oh, they should do a story about the Loch Ness monster,” but that had been done. So, I remember watching Billie Piper play Rose, and she’s my favorite companion because I thought she was really brilliant with Chris Eccleston, and the chemistry she had with David Tennant was brilliant. It just made me realize how important it is, in the show, that the chemistry between the Doctor and companion is at the heart of the show.

matt-smith-karen-gillan-doctor-who-image-01Did you know about the big revelation for your character?

GILLAN: No, I didn’t. Alex Kingston knew, the whole time. We all had our own theories, but I did not see that coming. Then, there was a dummy ending, at the end of Episode 7, and we didn’t know until after the read-through, and Steven took us into a corridor and showed us the real ending. We all just ran up and down a corridor going, “Oh, my god!”

SMITH: I think it’s an abuse of power, frankly.

Amy Pond is a very different companion from those who have come before, both in her relationship with the Doctor and in the way that she conducts herself. What makes her who she is?

GILLAN: When she burst on the scene, she was almost as mad as the Doctor, which I hope was quite entertaining. What I like about her is that, as an audience, you really 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. Now, she’s had a child. We’re getting quite a bit of her life, which I think is great.  Maybe it will go full circle.

SMITH: It’s also a testament to Steven, with the way that was set up, because I don’t know if an introduction to a companion was as inventive as that was. Amy Pond is pretty special, isn’t she?

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

GILLAN: 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 that you want to do.

SMITH: We’re young.

GILLAN: And we’re young, yeah.

SMITH: In 20 years time, the parts that we’ll be playing will be very different.

If you could choose your next role, what would you want to do?

GILLAN: I want to be Lady Macbeth.

SMITH: And I want to be Macbeth, so lets do that. Who knows? I’d quite like to do a play.