After she played Amy Pond in Doctor Who, many wondered what Karen Gillan would do next. Eddie Harrison speaks to the Inverness actor about making the leap to the big screen with her first lead role in Glasgow-set film Not Another Happy Ending
Even if you’ve been hiding behind your couch for the last few years, (and viewers of Doctor Who are well known for doing exactly that), Karen Gillan needs little introduction. Playing Amy Pond opposite Matt Smith in the BBC’s highest-rating drama, the Inverness girl has become a genuine household name. Now making the transition from television to feature films, she spent part of the summer of 2012 shooting Not Another Happy Ending, a romantic comedy developed by Scottish company Synchronicity Films.
‘Actually, this film came about because my director John McKay, back when I was working on television for We’ll Take Manhattan,’ said, “You’re really good at falling over, you should read this script,” and gave me Not Another Happy Ending. I suppose I am one of life’s naturally clumsy people, I don’t drop stuff all the time, or break things, but I’m just generally a bit flustered.’
In Not Another Happy Ending, Gillan plays Jane Lockhart, an author who has hit writer’s block after the success of her first novel.
‘The problem is she can only write when she’s a bit miserable, and she’s now a huge success,’ says Gillan. ‘So her publisher Tom [Stanley Webber] goes on this secret mission to make her life a misery, and it’s all about how their relationship develops.’
Playing the role gave Gillan the chance to immerse herself in the rom-com genre, and enjoy a crash course in the most romantic comedies in cinema history.
‘I watched in chronological order the greatest rom-coms of all time, starting with His Girl Friday, then The Apartment, which is amazing, and then I was naughty because I watched a later one because I couldn’t wait to see Manhattan, then back to Annie Hall and then When Harry Met Sally… what I took from seeing them all was just how important the chemistry is between the two lead actors.’
With Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Woody Allen and Rob Reiner setting the bar high in terms of getting chemistry from their leads, Gillan’s viewing left her plenty to ponder, not least how to create the right kind of connection with her leading man.
‘How do you create chemistry? If only I knew that! Some people say it’s a natural thing that you have with someone, and maybe it is to do with that, but I think you can work on it. We’ve been so lucky with Stanley Webber, because he’s so spontaneous and inventive, so I have no idea what he’s going to do next.
‘I’m used to shooting at this momentum and pace from working on Doctor Who, so coming onto this film with the busy timeline we have feels quite natural. I was allowed to jump on the sofa if I wanted to, so I just did, because it just felt right in the moment. There’s lots of improvisation in the film, we spoke about it with the director, and came to the conclusion that it was better when it was just free, and things could just pop out.’
Gillan’s next project takes her to Los Angeles for a horror drama Oculus, but she’s setting her sights even higher: she’d like to appear in darker, more dramatic films, and says her dream is to work with the Austrian director of The White Ribbon and Hidden, Michael Haneke, whose 2001 film The Piano Teacher is Gillan’s own favourite film. But for now, she’s keen to keep developing her craft, and Not Another Happy Ending gives her the chance to expand her repertoire with a coveted leading role.
‘Acting is all about finding the truth within whatever world you’re in,’ she says. ‘You just have to keep it truthful, rather than all this heightened acting. These are things that I’ve learned from watching the episodes of Doctor Who, just learning how to pitch a scene, so that you felt that you were doing enough to give the audience what they want at that moment.
‘I watched all the episodes as they were airing. At first, when I saw myself, I really did cringe, but that’s how you learn and get better. Now, I feel like I understand acting so much more, I’ve learned so much from working on Doctor Who and that’s really coming into play on Not Another Happy Ending.’
Not Another Happy Ending is due for release in early 2013.