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Karen Gillan: Worlds at her feet

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After being immortalised in craft form by the most loyal Doctor Who fanatics, Karen Gillan will soon be swapping Amy Ponds for supermodel Jean Shrimpton in We’ll Take Manhattan. Here's what Ms Gillan had to say to Stylist about her latest role, along with some pictures from the shoot she did with our brothers over at Shortlist...

Karen Gillan is en route to Hollywood. Literally. When Stylist calls her on a Tuesday afternoon the 23-year-old actress is in travel mode, having just arrived at New York’s JFK airport. Her journey’s not over either. Now she has to catch a flight to LA as part of a promotional tour for Doctor Who, the series in which she made her name two years ago as the Time Lord’s sidekick, Amy Pond. Straight afterwards she’ll be jetting back to Cardiff to resume shooting series six, before going on to New York to film BBC Four drama, We’ll Take Manhattan, in which she’ll play Sixties supermodel Jean Shrimpton. Just hearing about her schedule is enough to exhaust us but Karen, upbeat and chatty, seems to thrive on being busy. As for now she’s got a plane to catch so we’ll keep it brief.

You’re currently back on TV screens in Doctor Who. Two years on, is the role still challenging you?

I’m actually finding Amy more challenging than ever; she seems to get more difficult, which is good because I don’t want stuff to get stale.

The show has a huge cult following and sci-fi fans can be quite intense…

They’re very passionate and dedicated and literally know every line from every episode and every detail about your character. I’ve never had any inappropriate fans though. People ask me a lot about men making advances but I swear, no [one does].

What’s the most interesting fan mail you’ve received?

I’ve been getting postcards from one guy for a while now. He seems to be travelling around the UK and sends me a card from every place he visits. It’s actually become quite normal to have this conversation written on a postcard now, like “Hey Karen. How are you doing?” [Laughs].

You’re about to shoot a new BBC4 drama, We Take Manhattan in which you star as model Jean Shrimpton. Were you surprised to be cast as her?

Yes. I don’t think I look like her. But they came to me with the script and I thought, “This is exactly the sort of thing I’ve been waiting to do.” I didn’t want to do a project for the sake of it so this felt right because it’s such a departure from Doctor Who. It’s about a love affair [between Shrimpton and David Bailey] and these two people misbehaving.

How are you preparing for the role?

I’ve been trying to watch footage of Jean Shrimpton but it’s so rare – she wasn’t really interested in fame so there’s hardly anything where she’s talking. She was a huge icon though – way out there before Twiggy. My boyfriend [photographer Patrick Green, 25] has been showing me David Bailey’s pictures and I’m reading her autobiography. She wrote it late in life and she’s quite honest in it.

Having been a model before becoming an actress, can you relate to her world?

Totally. There are lots of things she’s written that I understand completely. I know how it feels to traipse around eight castings every day and to be at a photo shoot and feel wooden.

Is modelling something you’ll go back to?

I think I’ll stick to the acting in all honesty. Modelling isn’t something I ever intended on doing – it just kind of happened when I moved to London. I went to the Italia Conti stage school for a few months then dropped out because I got a job on [TV crime series] Rebus. When that finished I started working in a pub in Kennington, south London, and went “Oh my god, what have I done?” Then I was scouted in the street and started modelling – it was a better way to make money.

Were your parents surprised you wanted to be an actress?

I think so. I think they were surprised at me leaving home at 16. I moved to Edinburgh to study acting and then to London at 17.

How has fame changed your life?

Life is different professionally but not so much personally, because I’ve made sure of it. I’ve got the same friends from school who still live in Inverness [where Karen grew up] and they’re not in the industry – they do everything from working with the elderly to cleaning. I’m also in a very stable long-term relationship – I’ve been with my boyfriend six years.

You’re loved for your fashion sense as well as your acting…

It’s funny, it just seems to have panned out that way. I’ve always been interested in clothes but when I started Doctor Who I just wore a lot of cheap vintage dresses. If I wanted to wear designer clothes for an event I had to work with stylists just to get access to the clothes. Recently it’s become a little bit easier for me to borrow…

Karen is the face of Fashion Targets Breast Cancer; facebook.com/Fashion TargetsBreastCancer. Watch Doctor Who Saturday at 6pm on BBC1.

Words: Megan Connor. Images: Lee Jenkins

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