In the frightening new horror movie Oculus, Scottish actress Karen Gillan plays Kaylie, who reunites with her brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites) 10 years after their parents died violently. Kaylie is convinced that the tragedy was caused by the Lasser Glass, an enigmatic antique mirror that came into the family’s possession after decades of leaving a trail of death and madness in its wake. But is the mirror truly home to some sort of supernatural evil or is Kaylie losing her mind?
Director/co-writer Mike Flanagan has created a genuinely unsettling experience, with the film alternating between the past and present in disorienting fashion and Gillan doing great work as the obsessed and calculating Kaylie. Gillan, coming off her breakthrough four-year run as Amy Pond on Doctor Who, will also be seen this August in the next Marvel epic, Guardians of the Galaxy, for which she shaved her head to play the villainous Nebula and revealed her bald scalp in a memorable moment at last year’s Comic-Con.
The infectiously cheery and friendly Pond sat down with Den Of Geek in Los Angeles to talk Oculus, Guardians and coming back for one last scene on Doctor Who.
Den Of Geek: What drew you to play this character, especially because she definitely walks a fine line between being sympathetic and not so sympathetic?
Karen Gillan: I think that’s what I kind of loved about the character. That’s what was appealing to me. I think she’s really interesting and compelling and so damaged. I mean, God, just so damaged and her way of dealing with it is obsessing over this mirror. And also she’s dancing on the line of sanity and insanity. I mean for me, as an actress that’s so interesting to play.
A lot of American actors have trouble with British and Scottish and U.K. accents. Do you have any trouble doing an American accent?
I feel like it’s different going to American because we’re saturated with American TV and film in the U.K. I mean I would even play with Barbies in an American accent from like when I was tiny. So I just feel like we’re so exposed to it all the time that it’s not totally foreign, whereas here you’re not saturated with British accents all the time. It’s actually probably quite a novelty to hear one in a TV show or something. So I think it’s not as huge a leap as it is the other way around.
What where some of the more challenging aspects of the production in terms of the physical and mental aspects of it?
Physical was actually pretty easy. I wasn’t doing any stunts or anything like that so it was more cerebral actually, like that’s where the challenges really lay. And it was just about accessing those really, really dark emotions really and trying to relate to them and connect with her in some way so that I could make it true to myself because I feel like that would show in the performance.
Did you work at all with Annalise (Basso, who plays Kaylie at a young age) in terms of like playing off each other or showing each other anything?
I just kind of watched her actually and just observed her. I wanted to check if there were any specific little tics or something I should probably take into the character. And also it was just written well enough and also years have passed between the character portrayals anyway. It was an extension of what she started, my character.
I found it interesting you watched her first. Because for some reason I would think that the kids would maybe watch the adults.
I think the director suggested it because maybe it’s a little bit easier for adults to emulate things then kids to think about those things. I mean maybe it’s not true; I’m sure she would’ve been amazing, but also they shot their stuff first. So we were kind of in Alabama waiting to do ours but they were already shooting so it made sense to do it like that.
Where were you shooting in Alabama?
Did you like your time there?
I loved it so much. That was my first experience of America, like an extended period of time. And I loved it. I went to the Bass Pro Shop all the time and ate all the cornbread. It was great. We were in the middle of nowhere. There were no sidewalks. It was crazy.
Even though you know how it’s done and you’re obviously seeing how they’ve rigged the things with the special effects, did you still cringe when you see yourself munching a light bulb onscreen?
No. It takes it out of it for me. I just know what was happening that day and I know it definitely wasn’t a light bulb so it kind of kills it for me. I mean I can appreciate if something turns out well and it looks realistic, but I won’t get that squeamish thing. I get it from other people doing things but not myself.
Did any of the film, not necessarily involving you, get to you?
Absolutely. Yeah. I actually like felt nauseous afterwards. Like as if I had been on a roller coaster or something. I realized that my stomach had been really tense for ages. And I was just like that was like a ride or something. To see it all just come together and come to this crazy climax I was like that’s insane.
You mentioned in the press conference you’re a big horror fan. So if I asked you to name say five of your favorite horror films could you do it off the top of your head?
Yeah. Number one, The Ring. Number two, Scream. Number three, The Exorcist. Number four, The Shining. Number five, Scream II.
You knew ’em right off the bat.
That’s hilarious. I really like those films.
So the hair is growing back.
It’s coming back in slowly but surely, looking more like a human.
That Comic Con moment when you took off the wig is going to be one of those moments that people talk about at that show for years.
That’s so funny. It was just such a spur of the moment thing as well. And I’ve been talking about it every since the interview. It’s so funny.
Was it liberating to go all the way and shave your head in terms of finding that character?
It did half the work for me. It basically put me in the character. It was amazing. I would highly recommend that if you want to play a character that’s at least like intimidating or something like that. And yeah, it made me feel scary for the first time in my life. Like I felt like people were intimidated by me in real life because I was bald in the supermarket and stuff.
How did you feel when you saw yourself like the first time in the mirror bald?
I was fine when they first did it and then I went to sleep that night and woke up in the morning and I was like “Oh my God, what happened?”
After many years of facing all those creatures on Doctor Who, has playing an alien adversary been a nice, different experience for you?
Totally ’cause it’s like being on the other side of things now. I was always the human in the Doctor Who situation and all these people would come in in prosthetics and I was like, “Oh God, you have to come in so early.” And then I was like, “Oh no, it’s my turn now.” It’s amazing ’cause it just helps you transform into a different person and that’s really what we’re all trying to do.
How long did it take to get into that costume?
Was it uncomfortable?
I mean, it wasn’t like the best way to spend five hours when there’s like glue on your face. But by the same token I was just like, this is so worth it because we saw the finished article and we were like, this is just so cool.
What was your overall experience like on Guardians of the Galaxy? How do you think it’s going to turn out based on what you saw and did?
From the beginning I’ve always believed that this is going to turn out really well and is going to be really original, because it’s just a new direction and tone for Marvel. It’s like James Gunn is putting his voice onto a Marvel film and is taking it in a whole new direction. It’s just so humorous and the music’s amazing and it’s not taking itself too seriously. I remember the moment at Comic-Con when they showed…the Guardians one and people audibly gasped because they were just like they weren’t expecting that tone and then I was like, “Oh, we’re onto something here.”
Who did you do most of your scenes with?
Zoe Saldana (Gamora) and Lee Pace (Ronan the Accuser).
Are you signed for more?
There are options but there’s absolutely no guarantee that they would take me up on them.
How do you feel about Peter Capaldi taking over as the Doctor?
Amazing. Amazing choice. That was a no-brainer. And also he’s the biggest Doctor Who fan in the world so for him to take on that role it just feels right. It’s like justice.
There’s some fan chatter online, I think a lot of people were used to seeing Matt Smith or David Tennant and there’s this older gentleman now playing the role and I think some of the younger fans were like, who’s this old guy.
When anything that people love takes a new direction people question it and they’re scared because naturally a human doesn’t like change, it’s just like an in-built thing. But get in two episodes and they’ll be in love with him. And also it’s just cool because like Jenna (Coleman) is so young that those two bouncing off each other I think will be really cool.
Have you watched the show since you left?
I’ve watched some of it but not all of it. I need to catch up because I want to keep going with it.
It’s very nice that you came back for Matt’s last scene. Was that planned way in advance or was it something very late in the game?
No, that came late in the day. (Steven Moffat) wrote me into the scene, I think, primarily so I was there for Matt on the day that he was finishing for emotional support. And he wrote me into the scene and I had said previously, “Absolutely no more cameos,” and then of course I was like, “Absolutely I’ll come back.” It was a no-brainer. And I went back and it was actually one of the most surreal days of my life because I was on somebody else’s TARDIS now and it was different and they were in the roles and I was just like watching from the outside.
I bet there weren’t a lot of dry eyes in the house that day.
Everyone was crying. Jenna was crying, I was crying. So sad.
So Oculus is out now, what are you doing next?
I literally finished, just the other day, a pilot for ABC and Warner Brothers called Selfie. It’s about a social media-obsessed narcissistic girl who tries to better herself as a person or make herself more likable in real life.
Oculus is out in theaters this Friday, April 11.