When news broke that Doctor Who star Karen Gillan was to play model Jean Shrimpton, we were intrigued. Gillan is certainly one of the Doctor's most stylish assistants in recent years, but how would she fare as the sixties style icon? With We'll Take Manhattan hitting our screens next week, Stylist's Lisa Merrick-Lawless finds out what makes the actress tick...
You went to drama school at 16, what first inspired you to be an actress?
I’m not sure I can pinpoint it to one moment. I think it’s something to do with being an only child and having a lot of alone time. I started trying to question the difference between living in reality and just imagining it. I had to use my imagination to entertain myself.
What was your plan B if you hadn’t become successful as an actress?
I don’t believe in plan Bs. If there is something to fall back on you’re more than likely going to fall back on it, but if there is nothing then you can’t and you have to keep trying.
You’re about to appear as Sixties model Jean Shrimpton in the programme We’ll Take Manhattan. Did you meet her when you were preparing for the role?
No. I didn’t have the chance because she’s quite private. She runs a hotel in Penzance. Part of me was tempted to book in but I thought that might be a little weird. I read her autobiography and her modelling guide though. The guide was written while she was at the height of her fame, the autobiography was written late on in life, so she’s far more honest about how she feels in that. She hated the fame side of things.
Was there more pressure to ‘get it right’ because you’re portraying a living person?
Yes. Massively. But she’s watched the film and left a message for me saying that she loved it, so that was amazing.
You also used to model; do you share any of her thoughts on the industry?
Yes. I understand everything she says about modelling. As a model you just do what you’re told. It’s not something that ever bothered me really because I didn’t feel that there was a lot riding on it. I didn’t care about modelling, so the pressure wasn’t there for me.
There was quite a love story between Jean and photographer David Bailey. Are you a romantic?
I think so. I’m not really sure. I’m certainly not soppy in any way. Too much affection bothers me because I’m a Sagittarius and I need my space.
Are you easily moved by things?
Yes. If I’m really moved by something it doesn’t leave me for ages. I just saw the film Shame and I was so affected by it. And the book Veronika Decides To Die. It’s just so thought-provoking. I like things that make me question life.
How do you ensure your work stays challenging?
I recently appeared in a play [Inadmissible Evidence at London’s Donmar] and it was amazing. It was like going to war. That’s the difference between theatre and film, you get this immediate reaction. There’s something just incredible about it. And I’ve always tried to write. I don’t think I’m hugely talented at it, but I do really enjoy it and would love to produce something worthwhile one day. I like exploring life and what it’s all about and ways of thinking about things.
What other ambitions do you have?
I want to travel. I want to see all the natural wonders of the universe; that would be so cool. I recently visited Las Vegas and loved it. Everything is fake; it’s like a playground for adults. And also, on a serious note, I want to go to space. I find it amazing that people float around while they’re up there. It looks like so much fun.
Is it important for you to keep a sense of fun in your life?
Yes, I’m somewhat obsessed with it actually. My greatest fear is saying, “What if?” So I like to do fun things all the time.
I’ve always loved music and I’m a fan of magic and hypnotists. I love Paul McKenna. I’ve been hypnotised and it was incredibly relaxing. The subconscious mind fascinates me.
Karen stars in We’ll Take Manhattan, 14 January on BBC4
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Picture credit: Rex Features