Is there nothing a TARDIS cannot do? On Doctor Who, actress Karen Gillan spent years traveling through time and space in the familiar blue box — and it even helped put Gillan at her ease when the Scot first Skyped with director Mike Flanagan about appearing in the haunted mirror horror film Oculus, which opens Friday. “I was like, Okay, I’m going to impress this American director. And then he takes a swig of coffee and he’s totally oblivious to the fact that the mug is a TARDIS. I was like, I got this.”
Below, Gillan talks more about Oculus, this August’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Who, and deep-fried chocolate.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The last time I spoke with you was outside your trailer at Shepperton Studios in the U.K. and you were totally bald for Guardians of the Galaxy.
KAREN GILLAN: [Laughs] Just another day! It’s coming in, gradually. I’m beginning to look like a human.
Tell us about Oculus.
The script was sent to me by the director. I was in Scotland in my family home and I read the script and I loved it. It was really interesting and also just this damaged character. I wanted to explore that and see if I could do it. It felt like a challenge. I Skyped with Mike, we talked about it and then I made an audition tape with my Dad reading the other lines, which was hilarious, and then we sent it off to America.
Is your Dad a good actor?
You know, it’s not his strong suit. [Laughs]
You shot the film in Alabama. How does that compare with Scotland?
You know what? It’s quite similar. I just feel the attitude and the mentality is quite similar. And they fry everything.
Even Mars bars?
They do not do that in Alabama. That’s very specifically Scottish, I think.
In the film your character is obsessed with the idea that an antique mirror has killed a vast number of people, including her own parents. Has it given you a morbid fear of reflective surfaces?
Not really. I think (Gillan’s Oculus costar) Katee Sackhoff has gotten that, rather than me. She said that the other day she was in a rental house and she had to take the mirror down.
How much did you work with Katee?
Not that much. The story plays out in two separate timelines and she’s in the past, I’m in the present, so not so much. But I definitely got to watch her work and it was really exciting for me because I think she’s such an incredible actress. She’s a bit of an inspiration to me. Because she’s come from sci-fi. She totally gets that whole franchise thing
Did you swap any notes about being TV sci-fi veterans?
We had some nice chats over a glass of wine.
Are you a fan of horror movies?
Oh, absolutely. I love horror films. This is a bit of a dream of mine, to do an American horror film. The Ring is my favorite horror film closely followed by Scream. And then I love The Shining and The Exorcist.
You’re very well known in the UK. But how often do you get recognized in the States?
Only over the last month. It’s been getting crazier. I don’t know why. Before I could totally walk around and the odd person would come out of the woodwork. But it’s been happening more recently. But not anywhere as much as the UK.
What do people say to you?
I think a lot of them are Doctor Who fans. Which is funny, because I’m not even in it any more.
But no one ever really leaves Doctor Who, do they?
Well, that’s it. It’s like, [you're] in it for life.
Speaking of which what was it like filming your cameo appearance for last year’s special Christmas episode (which was also Matt Smith’s final episode as the Doctor)?
It was really weird. It was such a surreal experience. Because those were three very important years of my life on that TV show and then to go back and be on someone else’s TARDIS was a really weird sensation. And sort of be on the outside looking in. But also knowing that life is okay after you leave Doctor Who. It was just a really interesting experience and important to me that I was there for Matt’s final moments in character.
Were there tears?
Everyone was crying! Everyone! Me and Jenna (Coleman) were hugging. Oh my God
What is your enduring memory from the Guardians of the Galaxy shoot?
I loved every second of working on that film. It was so exciting, I love my character so much. Just working on a film of that scale, I’d never done that before. So it was amazing to see what it’s like. And all those fight sequences! Whoa.
It’s such a fantastically odd cast. Who was your best friend on set?
I worked a lot with Lee Pace, because we’re the bad guys, and we went around antagonizing everybody. He was really fun to work with and he gives such a great performance as the male villain. Oh my god, it’s really something. And also, just watching Zoe Saldana work was really inspiring to me.
I recently interviewed your Guardians director James Gunn and asked him what question I should put to you. He said he wanted to know how you managed to keep your hands off him.
[Laughs] Well, you know, I like to keep it professional.
I also spoke with Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy showrunner Shonda Rhimes a couple of years back and she mentioned that she wanted to cast you in something “top secret” but that you were off doing movies. Did she ever reach out to you?
Um, there were some communications. [Laughs] I obviously won’t divulge that information. There were definitely talks but I unfortunately couldn’t do it because of the things I’d already signed on to do.
Could you have been on Scandal? Is that what you’re saying?
I mean, I can’t really tell. [Laughs] That’s top secret, as Shonda says.
Fair enough. What’s next for you?
Well, Guardians is coming out on the first of August and I just finished a pilot for ABC and Warner Brothers called Selfie. I’m really excited about it because this is a totally different character. It’s an out-and-out comedy and I’m playing this real narcissist.
What’s the setup?
Basically, she is a social media-obsessed girl with no friends and she tries to rebrand herself as a more likeable person in real life. It’s like My Fair Lady. She’s called Eliza Dooley.
If all goes well with the pilot, you would move to the States?
If it gets picked up I would have to, yes. I’ve kind of been here a lot for a long time now so I think I would really love it, actually. But I miss Scotland.
What do you miss most?
My family, because they’re all there, and all my friends. And the gloomy weather and the humor. All of it. I miss it. Scotland’s a thing of its own.
You can check out the trailer for Oculus below.