How Karen Gillan, Who Had Bad Luck in Her Career, Was Able to Go From an Impersonator to a Blockbuster Star
Scottish actress Karen Gillan is known to many from the TV series Doctor Who. It made her famous all over the world and allowed her to develop her career further, taking to the United States. However, as a child, Gillan dreamt of a different profession; acting helped her gain confidence and fulfil her life-long dream.
As a child, Karen wanted to make films
Scottish actress Karen Gillan’s career could have turned out very differently, as she was more interested in directing as a child. When her parents gave young Karen a video camera as a gift, she began making her own horror films.
Although she loved it, Gillan was hesitant to take up filmmaking seriously. One possible reason: she had never seen a female director, so she hadn’t even thought about it as an option.
She ended up choosing a career in acting
Karen did manage to get on a film set though, as an actress. Her career path may have been influenced by the fact that she was an only child. Young Gillan spent a lot of time alone, immersed in a world of fantasy and making things up. Over time, she realized that she would be able to capitalize on this passion if she became an actress.
Success came to Gillan slowly. She was rejected on her first audition at a local theatre. The actress thinks it may have been because of her height: she turned out to be too tall for the costumes they had. Karen didn’t manage to get into school plays either, but she wasn’t going to give up: “My drive wasn’t ’I’m going to show them,’ but ’I know I can do this and you just can’t see it yet.’ A lot of people might have been put off by those rejections, so that is why I think it is so important to have self-belief.”
Gillan managed to try her hand at modelling
Karen moved to London and enrolled at a drama school. She soon dropped out, as she landed a role, but after that, her career came to another halt. The girl was notable for her tall stature (5′ 10¾“), so someone pointed out that she should try her hand at modelling. She took the advice and participated in a fashion week, presenting the work of design students. Gillan described those outfits like this: “Really weird things with arm holes in weird places.”
Early in her career, Karen did celebrity impersonations
Karen didn’t stay in the fashion world for long and continued to act. Her filmography includes some very unusual entries. She took part in the comedy show The Kevin Bishop Show, in which she portrayed fictional characters, like Vivian Ward and Mary Poppins, and impersonated real people, such as Katy Perry.
The actress missed out on a role in Game of Thrones
Karen also tried to get her foot in on big projects. For example, she played the Soothsayer in an episode of Doctor Who. She also auditioned for Game of Thrones. Gillan didn’t get the part, but there is something that connects her with the series: Karen is often confused with actress Sophie Turner, who played Sansa Stark.
Gillan had to hide from her mum that she landed a role in Doctor Who
Karen soon found herself back on the set of Doctor Who, but this time in a new, more significant role: she played Amy Pond, a companion to the new Doctor. The actress had to hide the news from her mum, as she adores the series and would probably have talked about her daughter’s success to everyone who would listen before the news was even officially announced.
Gillan starred in several seasons of the series before deciding to leave the project. She knew that executive producer Steven Moffat could have come up with many more interesting stories for her character, but opted to leave on a high note.
Thanks to Doctor Who, Karen starred in an American film
After finishing working on the TV series, Karen began to build her career in the US. Her first major breakthrough in American cinema was the lead role in the horror film Oculus. Gillan managed to get it precisely thanks to her work in Doctor Who. That’s because the director of Oculus, Mike Flanagan, is a huge fan of the series. As he worked on developing the main character, he quickly decided that no one would do a better job with the role than Karen.
It wasn’t difficult for the actress to portray an American woman: even as a child, she used to play with dolls using an American accent.
Gillan almost had another role in a Marvel film
Karen tried to join the Marvel universe and auditioned for the role of Agent 13 in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Although another actress got the role, the casting director remembered Gillan at the time of casting for Guardians of the Galaxy. There, and in other MCU films, she played the role of Nebula. During the screen test Karen burst into tears, but it wasn’t a problem as it fit the context of the scene.
The actress donated her hair to the Star Wars franchise
Gillan had to shave her head to play Nebula. It was not easy to accept such a drastic change of image, but on the set everyone supported the actress and lifted her spirits with jokes. Her hair was used to make a wig, which was used on the set of one of the parts of the Star Wars franchise.
Gillan is a big fan of the original Jumanji film
Karen Gillan loves the film Jumanji. When the actress was offered an audition for the new film, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, she was wary of the idea. However, she liked the script and decided that she had to get the part. Gillan succeeded, and ended up playing the avatar within the game.
Karen met many famous actors on set, including Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Dwayne Johnson. The latter had a particular influence on Gillan: she feels that because of him, she worked harder.
Karen collects action figures of her characters
At heart, the actress remains a regular geek and collects various items related to her films. For instance, she has several Nebula and Amy Pond action figures, and even her own Infinity Gauntlet. And she bought the Jumanji board game even before she starred in the new movie of the franchise.
She performed on Broadway and lent her voice to an animated film
The actress works on films and TV series of various genres (from the comedy Selfie to the western In a Valley of Violence and the thriller Gunpowder Milkshake), but her career isn’t limited to this. In 2013 she took part in the project The 24 Hour Plays on Broadway, appearing in one of the plays.
In 2019 Karen voiced Eyes in the animated film Spies in Disguise, and it proved to be an unusual experience for her: “So, that was a challenge at first, and then I get into it and then it became really fun. But it was new for sure.”
Karen has finally started making her own films
Through her acting career, Gillan has gained a better understanding of the filmmaking process and has decided to pursue a life-long dream of hers: to make her own films. In 2018, she released a feature film, The Party’s Just Beginning, which was nominated for several awards. Karen herself played the lead role and stated: “That was a nightmare, but a nightmare in the best way.”
What’s your favourite film or TV series starring Karen Gillan? What do you think of her debut as a director?