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Karen Gillan: from Doctor Who sidekick to Jumanji’s leading lady


Karen Gillan has come a long way from her Doctor Who days. Arguably one of the most successful stars to come from the show, Gillan has gone on to achieve global recognition, thanks to her roles in blockbusters such as Guardians of the Galaxy.

Next up for the Scottish actress is a leading role in the highly anticipated Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle opposite Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black and Kevin Hart. So we’ve decided to look back on her journey to becoming a massive Hollywood star.

Early projects

Before beginning her acting career Gillan started out as a model, after being scouted during her time at Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London.

Her screen career began with guest appearances on several television dramas, before she secured a position in the ensemble of the sketch series The Kevin Bishop Show – remaining there for two years and playing several celebrities including Katy Perry and Angelina Jolie, before her departure in 2009. This needs to be seen to be believed.

Doctor Who

Gillan’s big break came in 2009 when she was cast as Amy Pond, companion to the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith. She made her first on-screen appearance in “The Eleventh Hour” in series 5, before returning as a regular character for the sixth series.

During her tenure Gillan won six awards, including the National Television Award for Best Drama Performance in 2012. Amy Pond was created to be a role model for all, with Steven Moffat stating that “a generation of little girls will want to be her, and a generation of little boys will want them to be her too”.

Gillan was reportedly last to audition for the role, her second appearance in the series after a one-off appearance as a Soothsayer in 2008. Gillan did return for a cameo role in “The Time of the Doctor”, Matt Smith’s final appearance in the titular role.

Not Another Happy Ending

In 2013, Gillan played the lead role in the Scottish indie rom-com Not Another Happy Ending, starring alongside Freya Mavor (Sunshine on Leith) and Stanley Weber (Outlander).

The film was partially fundraised through the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, and premiered at the Edinburgh international Film Festival in June 2013. When discussing the role, Gillan joked that she was happy to be involved in a Scottish production “that isn’t about drug use or fighting the English”.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Gillan’s next big break came when she landed the role of the villanous Nebula. Gillan trained for two months to get into shape and even shaved her head. As if that wasn’t enough, she also had to endure four and a half hours of makeup a day in order to transform into the character.

Originally intended purely as a villain, Nebula’s characterisation evolved and allowed her an increased presence in this year's sequel, with a key emphasis on the sisterly relationship between Nebula and Gamora (Zoe Saldana). Originally meant to die in the first movie, Nebula instead survived to become a (very) reluctant member of the Guardians team, a testament to Gillan's fan-pleasing charisma and screen presence.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

This Christmas sees Karen return to the big screen as a key character in the Jumanji sequel, alongside Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch), Jack Black (Goosebumps) and Kevin Hart (Ride Along).

Originally assumed to be a reboot of the 1995 Robin Williams classic, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is in fact set more than 20 years after the events of the first film, with a modern twist to the story: Jumanji is now a video game and we the audience are taken inside its remarkable world. 

Gillan plays Ruby Roundhouse, the avatar of a young girl played by Morgan Turner – check out the trailer below.

Future projects

With Nebula set to appear in Avengers: Infinity War and the as-yet-untitled follow up, Gillan has also written and directed her feature debut The Party’s Just Beginning, in which she also stars.

We can’t wait to see where her career takes her next. Are you excited to see Karen in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle? Tweet us @Cineworld and be sure to check it out when it hits our screens on 20th December.

Hannah Dixon is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.

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