Interview | Karen Gillan, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’ and Her Directorial Debut
Karen Gillan seems pretty nice in real life. You enter her hotel room for a sit down interview and she’s pleased as punch to see you again and have her coffee by the couch, with the temperature of the room set just the way she likes it. The star of Doctor Who and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies is an affable, charming human being… but as Nebula, the daughter of Thanos, she’s one of Marvel’s greatest villains.
Nebula returns in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and she’s got a different sort of storyline this time. Whereas in the original film she was a pawn of her father, Thanos, she now seems to be on a very different path, full of righteous sisterly vengeance and a hunger for strange, alien flora.
Meanwhile, Karen Gillan is on a new path too. She’s making her feature film directorial debut with The Party’s Just Beginning, which was called The Tupperware Party when I first entered the room and got a whole new name by the time I left. I spoke with Karen Gillan about the unexpected change, her popular Marvel character and more in this new CraveOnline interview.
Crave: I think we’re all very excited to see Nebula again. I think my first question is… where has she been?
Karen Gillan: Where has she been…?
Yeah, did you talk to James Gunn about what she’s been doing in the interim?
Actually we didn’t have a full conversation about that, but what I feel like is that she probably was on a mission for a new hand, because that’s a big priority, because she’s got no hand. And then she got herself caught up with The Sovereign and then got herself captured. So she’s been dealing with that.
So she got herself captured stealing things…
…stealing things, like a thief.
Was she fundraising?
Well, she says she wants to buy a warship at one point in the film…
Ah, yes. Yeah.
Is she all goal-oriented right now?
I think she has clear agenda and that’s to seek revenge on her father, Thanos. So I think everything that she does is geared towards that.
In the first film you were still very much under Thanos’s thrall…
What’s that transition like, for her as a character, to finally say screw it?
First of all, as an actress I’m just so happy that she’s reached that transition. I think it’s one of those situations where she was suppressed for so long, and she was the overlooked child, the least favorite, and that can send someone to the breaking point where they’re like, okay, enough’s enough.
Was it difficult in the first film to keep playing a character who is obviously very strong, but is under Thanos’s thumb the whole time?
Well actually, that was what was amazing about the character because I want layers, as an actor, to play with. I mean, people can be strong on the surface and then just suffer weakness underneath, or weakness towards certain things, and that’s what’s interesting about people, you know? And I think that she is a sadist and she’s cruel and that’s kind of fun, and she’s extremely strong physically, but emotionally she has some major weaknesses, and that has to do with her father. And I think that’s true of a lot of people. [Laughs.]
We also get to deal more with your relationship with Gamora in this one, and you get to talk a lot more about your backstory together.
But you don’t actually have much screen time together. Can you tell me about building that relationship up? Is it all backstory or do you work with Zoe…
…Zoe Saldana? I mean, we sort of work together. We worked together a fair amount in the first movie, just on the fight sequences and stuff like that. We spent a bit of time together. So we were pretty invested in this relationship anyway. And then when we read the script for the second movie we were like, “Oh my god, this is going to be so good!” and we were all so excited.
And then filming those scenes where they sort of have this emotional explosion together was incredible, and she’s just such an amazing actress to work with, because everything that you throw at [her] I can just see her absorbing it. She’s such a natural, instinctive actor where she just feels it and you just see her break down, and it’s like, whoa, you’re just really affected by energies. And I think that’s such a cool trait for an actor.
Has the physical side of playing Nebula changed between films? Has the makeup altered? Do you still have to shave your head?
I did not have to shave my head. [High fives.] Yeah! I look like a woman! So that was exciting. And the makeup has gone down from like five hours to, probably, four hours in total, but with hair. So that’s pretty good.
That is pretty good. Are you getting used to that?
Does it help you as an actor, or is it annoying after a while?
Well, it’s claustrophobic and intense. I’m not going to lie. However, it has become part of my ritual in terms of getting into character. Like, I did this rehearsal with James [Gunn] and everyone, as Nebula, without the makeup on, and it was so weird for me. I was like, ugh, I don’t feel like her at all. I think the makeup just does so much for me, even if it’s just a subconscious thing, like a mental thing. Like, I’m literally wearing her skin, which is the closest I can possibly get. So it’s cool. [Laughs.]
There’s this little moment – and this might be the sort of thing only I think about – but there’s this weird subplot about a piece of fruit that isn’t ripe yet, and then you finally get to eat the fruit, and it’s still not ripe yet.
What was it?
What was it in real life?
Yeah, what was it on the set?
It was actually made out of dairy-free milk chocolate.
Oh, so that was probably pretty tasty in real life.
It was amazing.
I was like, “I need another take. So I can just eat more.” Yeah, although the makeup guys were freaking out because the makeup was so delicate. And it was the first thing I shot in the movie, and then I just was taking huge bites out of this thing, and you could just see them like, “Noooo!”
Do they do post-processing work on your voice, or is it all you?
It’s pretty much all me. I think they do a little processing on it to make it a little, slightly mechanical. Like, it’s a minute amount of tinny sound to just [make] it a little robotic, but no, no it’s pretty much me.
Where does the voice come from? Where did you decide that that was how Nebula talked?
It is an impression an impression of Marilyn Monroe and Clint Eastwood.
Okay… that’s an interesting choice.
Yeah, so basically on the first day of filming on the first movie, James and I, actually, we kept on trying to have a conversation and then for some reason my schedule didn’t work, or his. So we just didn’t have a full conversation before the first day of filming. So I just turned up on set and I had these ideas for the character, and it was very “villain-y.” And he was like, “Okay, let’s just switch it up. Why don’t you just do an impression of Marilyn Monroe? She has a very similar voice to Clint Eastwood.”
…which was my reaction also, but then when you listen to it, the breathy thing, there’s a similar vibe going on there in terms of voice quality.
Yeah, so I just channeled… mainly Marilyn Monroe, and that really informed the whole character and the movement and everything.
I’m excited [because] you directed a feature.
I’m stoked to find out more about that. It’s Tupperware Party?
Yeah, except we’re not calling it that anymore because we can’t, and we’re still decided on a title and I feel like I’m just going to make a decision right now on it. Ready? The Party’s Just Beginning.
I like it.
Do you like it?
That’s not bad. I’m curious why… is Tupperware Party copyrighted?
Yes, because it’s a brand name.
Yes! Who knew?
My god, all those kids playing at their Tupperware parties will have a cease-and-desist against them.
I know. Yeah, so we can’t call it that. We’ve been deliberating on titles for such a long time. So I think I’m just going to go with The Party’s Just Beginning, because that feels like an apt title for a girl who’s… she’s 24 and her adult life is about to start. And yeah, it’s about this girl dealing with the suicide of her best friend, and it’s one year later and she’s having a really hard time connecting with people and so she’s being a little self-destructive.
Is there an actual Tupperware party in it or is it all a metaphor?
The Tupperware party was a metaphor but there was a Tupperware party in the movie, and we can do that, but I feel like I’m liking the new title.
I know the title is changing and that’s cool…
…why is the Tupperware party significant?
Within the movie?
Or to you as a storyteller. What does it represent, really?
Are you talking about the Tupperware party or the movie in general?
Both, I guess.
Well, there’s a pivotal scene that takes place at a party where there’s Tupperware being passed around, and for me it was always like if you could… it’s such a random thing to do, to me. Like, in my mind it just seems like a random way to spend your time. I’m like, wow, this is so interesting, and people are so happy doing that. I feel like if you could just do that without questioning it then maybe you might stand a chance at just being content and happy.
That sounds nice.
I’d take that.
So that’s the relevance of it. However, it’s not relevant anymore because that’s not the title! [Laughs.]
You should cut that scene entirely.
No, no, it’s going to be in the movie but it’s a very small part of the movie.
I’m looking forward to it!
I hope you like it!
I hope I like it too! When’s it coming out?
We’re almost finished and then we’ll do like a festival run with it.
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Top Photo: Karwai Tang/WireImage/Marvel Studios
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.