Karen Gillan’s queen of the Jungle
IF YOU'RE going to be stuck in a jungle with a bunch of guys, it may as well be Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black, says Karen Gillan - who found herself in that very predicament in the wilds of Hawaii filming the new adventure comedy Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
"Hey, there are worse guys you could be stuck with!" says the rising Scottish star. "The value of these guys was high, they kept spirits up with their sheer hilarity. It was like being stranded in the jungle with the funniest men on the planet."
Having already proven herself a kick-butt action heroine as companion Amy Pond in Doctor Who and the blue-painted Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy, the effervescent Gillan (read everything she says as if she's laughing while saying it, because she usually is) reveals she's no slouch in the humour department, either, with her performance opposite Jumanji's comedy heavyweights.
Not so much a remake or sequel as it is a continuation of the Jumanji universe, Welcome to the Jungle begins with four high schoolers, stuck doing detention, stumbling across an old video game.
Sucked into the console, they emerge on the other side as very different avatars in the game: The nerd becomes a beefed-up badass (Johnson). The jock becomes the fraidy-cat (Hart). The bookworm becomes a kung-fu fighting "killer of men" (Gillan). And the self-absorbed mean girl finds herself stuck in the body of an overweight middle aged man (Black).
Given Gillan describes herself as "a deeply gangly, awkward person," it's not a great leap to surmise the timid teen Martha we meet at the start of the movie is closer to the actor's personality than the kick-ass Ruby Roundhouse she becomes in the game.
"That's why I was cast in the role!" she almost roars. "I think the director met me and went, 'Oh, you ARE this is girl!' Which is fair."
Yet Gillan has risen to prominence playing can-do, powerful women.
"Yeah, it's interesting," she ponders. "In a weird way Jumanji is mirroring my journey because I am an awkward, weird person and I keep playing these kick-ass roles and found my own inner kick-ass spirit (by) pretending to have it. It's the same journey for this character."
Funnily enough, Gillan kicks more butt than even Johnson in this film - "I was constantly doing all the action, as far as I remember," she says. But what really stands out is a sequence in which Martha/Ruby learns to flirt, then uses those new skills to distract two heavies.
"That was my favourite thing to do ever," she raves, "just like the worst flirting, the worst sexy face, then beat the s--- out of them! It's like my days back in Scotland," she guffaws.
For flirting tips, Martha relies on the popular Bethany, a role embodied with freakish realism by Black in the game world.
"It's so funny," says Gillan, thinking about her "girlie chats" with the School of Rock star. "Everyone's like, 'What does it feel like to be the only female in the cast?' and I keep forgetting. I mean, there are two female characters in this movie, it's just that one of them's played by a man, but so accurately that it makes me forget that I was the only female!
"It's an alarmingly authentic, accurate performance."
Some have been sceptical of Welcome to the Jungle, worried it will harm the memory of the much-loved 1995 Jumanji, which starred Robin Williams. Gillan was one of the first diehards the new production had to win over - she counts the original among her "Top 3 films of all time" and would never have let anyone ruin it.
"When I first heard they were making a sequel, I was like, 'What the hell are they going to do with it?' But I read the script and immediately realised that this was something special. They weren't trying to recreate the original and yet they weren't ignoring it. It's kept all the best elements of the original and they've evolved enough to be relevant to a new generation. So I'm really happy with it."
(For the record, the rest of her Top 3 is all Stanley Kubrick: 2001, The Shining ... "Or A Clockwork Orange. It's a ridiculous combination of films.")
Gillan, 30, hopes kids will grab on to the new movie's message of "embracing who you are".
Raised in Inverness, she moved to Edinburgh and then London as a teenager to study acting. She has ambitions behind the camera, too, having directed her first independent feature last year.
Gillan has been to Australia once, on a kamikaze holiday that lasted only twice as long as the flight over.
"I made the most ridiculous trip of my life when I decided I would go to Australia for two days. So my only experience of Australia is through the worst jet lag in the world. It was still amazing," she laughs. "I went to Melbourne and Sydney. It was pretty intense. So I need to come back and do it properly."
That return trip won't be happening any time soon, with Gillan tied up into the New Year filming back-to-back Avengers films.
She describes the experience of grafting the Guardians of the Galaxy team on to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe as akin to having "your immediate family, then suddenly meeting all of your cousins".
"It's been amazing to watch how all of the stories and characters are intertwining and integrating. It's gonna be the most satisfying experience for any Marvel fan."
Given the mind-boggling number of superheroes converging in Avengers: Infinity War, will Nebula get her chance to shine?
"Oh, I know she will," Gillan says. "I'm so excited for people to see how we expand on Nebula's story and her relationships with her family. It's gonna come to a big, explosive ... ah ... moment."
"I'm trying to be diplomatic!"
JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE OPENS BOXING DAY.