“I got a call from my agent and they were like ‘Are you willing to shave your head for a role in a Marvel film?’ and I said ‘Absolutely!'” she enthuses. “And then I just auditioned and then a few auditions later…this is a boring story, how can I make this more interesting?”
Nebula is the right hand of the film’s lead villain, the towering psychopath Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace). While Ronan is rhetoric and bombast as he prepares to destroy the universe, Nebula gets the job done, but she’s definitely got an axe to grind.
“Her character is almost like the Boba Fett of this movie,” says James Gunn. “And she has these little moments in the movie where you can see there’s a lot more to this character than being a villainess.”
“Karen’s screen test is my favourite audition of anybody in the entire process. She was so good, this character that she created out of this bald cyber-jerk.”
However, while Gunn can’t say enough good things about Gillan’s screentest, she tells us that she has quite a different impression of her first attempt.
“it was just so off the mark that I think I learned what not to do from that!” she laughs. “I mean, James really liked the screen test but it was just so the opposite of what I should have done. I played her more Scottish and I was crying so it was like ‘How not Nebula could I be!’ So I learned what not to do.”
Together with Gunn, Gillan worked to make Nebula a character who would fit the unique tone of Guardians.
“When we started he said ‘Do you want to just try it as Marilyn Monroe?'” she remembers. “And I was like ‘That’s a great note!” In terms of the voice, and that’s where this breathy American accent came from. When he gave me that we just saw the character form pretty instantly after that.”
“And also what’s really interesting is that he told me that Clint Eastwood and Marilyn Monroe essentially have the same voice. I was like, ‘Maybe they do…’ So if you have a bit of that about the character I think it will really work.”
Of course, the most-talked about aspect of Gillan’s character is her shaved head, but the actress tells us that it was a decision that she didn’t agonise over at all. “It’s really exciting to me to transform for a role. I don’t want to have a career where you’re just like different versions of yourself every time or all your characters are kind of the same. That bores me. So this is why shaving my head was really exciting to me.”
Guardians Of The Galaxy is the latest in a series of impressive post-Doctor Who movies for the erstwhile Amy Pond. We’ve seen her in Mike Flanagan’s excellent horror Oculus, and she’s recently finished her role in Ti West’s blood-soaked Western In A Valley Of Violence, and she stresses that she’s actively looking for exciting directors to work with.
“That is going to make or break a film, really, the person with the vision,” she explains. “So I want them to be good and it’s really exciting to work with young, exciting directors like Mike Flanagan and Ti West and James as well, he’s kind of in that group. But they seem to be finding me as well, so it’s like really cool.”
“I really want to work with Michael Haneke more than anything in the world! Can you make that happen for me? I love his films so much, he’s my favourite director in the world! I like big huge films as well but they’re far more manipulative, so they’re going to make you feel sad at this point and then the music kicks in, and you know what you’re supposed to feel and they’re telling you what to feel. Whereas with Haneke’s stuff it’s just this really unbiased view of events that happen and you get to choose how you feel towards it. And that’s really fun for me. And I love The Piano Teacher!”
Even though Guardians is quite a long way from anything resembling Michael Haneke, Gillan is thrilled to be a part of the Marvel Universe, and this film in particular. “This is the one that I would genuinely go and watch in a cinema,” she tells us. “The tone of it is different to all the other Marvel films, and it’s just really funny and the music’s amazing and it’s not like a good guy just being sentimental and saving people, these people are actually really dodgy and they’re criminals, they might turn on you.”
Guardians Of The Galaxy is due in cinemas 31 July 2014. To read our behind the scenes feature, pick up the new SciFiNow, read our review here and find out more about the comics that inspired the film with new digital magazine Uncanny Comics.