Schön! – Over her career, Scottish-born actress Karen Gillan has played a vast spectrum of characters. She’s led both Jumanji films, portrayed Nebula in the Marvel Universe’s Guardians of the Galaxy and starred in a host of acclaimed television series. With her latest film Gunpowder Milkshake, currently streaming on Netflix, she’s managed to crank things up a notch, kicking down boundaries and proving that gender is nothing when it comes to true power. […]
How has it felt going back to film sets after the massive change brought about by the pandemic?
It was weird going back to set for the first time after the pandemic. I think that like everyone, we all kind of grew weirdly accustomed to staying inside our homes. It felt a little nerve-wracking to go back into a workplace, but also, it’s nice to be able to go back to work and do what I like doing. So, I felt lucky, but a little nervous. Actually, I shot three films during the pandemic, which was like a particularly busy time.
[…] What is your preparation process more generally? As in, how do you get into the mindset of a new character?
I do the same thing for every character, which is that I’ll go through the script, and I’m like a detective — looking for all the clues [about] who this character is. I write down everything that my character says about themselves. I do it from my point of view, so it’s everything I say about myself, and then I write down everything other characters say about me. They might say, ‘she doesn’t care about anyone but herself,’ and that tells you, oh, she’s being perceived in a very different way. Then I look for all descriptive stage directions. So, if she ‘nervously approaches the door,’ we get the sense that maybe she’s more of a nervous person. It gives you a really broad sense of who this person is. Because of that, I read psychology essays, where I’m usually looking for one emotional hook with the character. In the film Gunpowder Milkshake, for instance, she was abandoned by her mother when she was 12, and that was something I could grab onto. I read a lot about abandonment issues and how that affects the person later in life. That was like a steering wheel for me.
Speaking of Gunpowder Milkshake, what did preparation for this role look like? Did you have to do any martial arts training or anything like that?
I had a lot of training. That was probably the thing that I did the most. And I’ve done action sequences before in films but usually, there’s one or two that I get to focus on. But this was a lot of action — sort of nonstop. I had about three weeks before we started filming between my previous job and Gunpowder. So, I just went to Berlin and started training with the stunt team every single day, and they were teaching me how to box. We were running around the studio, we were rolling around, and then learning the routines as well. During that time, I was also learning how to fire guns, gun safety and how to change armour quickly. So, it was like a boot camp, essentially.
Samantha is a great example of equality and power that isn’t sexualised. Did you feel empowered to play a leading character in such a feminist movie? Were there things you liked about that the most?
I love the character. I completely fell in love with her and loved playing her. The thing I liked most was playing around with the vulnerability of her emotions and how tough she is when she’s fighting. She probably has a lot of anger toward her mother, and that all comes out when she’s fighting. It was fun to play this slightly muted character that, as soon as she’s fighting, this beast is unleashed, because all of her aggression has been bubbling under the surface. As soon as somebody wants to fight, she’s brilliant. This is a release for me.
I was proud that our director was quite insistent that nobody is wearing a sexy outfit. That is not what this film is. This is just about a group of powerful women coming together to take on a mission. It’s not a male fantasy at all. And it’s cool that we don’t explore some love life; I think that it’s pretty irrelevant for the story and kind of just separates the female assassin depiction from others. It’s just about her work life and dealing with some family issues.